Open Data Barometer: 2013 Global Report launched

Open Data BarometerLast Thursday the study I’ve spent the last five month working on with the Web Foundation was formally launched in the Open Government Data Working Group session of the Open Government Partnership Summit. The Open Data Barometer takes a look at the context, implementation and emerging impacts of open government data in 77 countries around the world.

Last week’s launch included both an analytical report and quantitative datasets for the secondary indicator and expert survey data collected in the study. I’ll be writing more in the coming weeks here about the process of designing and carrying out the study, and reflecting on how it might evolve and be built upon in future. But for now, here’s a link to where you can download the report and data, findings from the exec summary, and a few charts pulled out from the overall report.

Executive Summary: 2013 Global Open Data Barometer Report

Open data is still in its infancy. Less than five years after the first major Open Government Data (OGD) portal went live, hundreds of national and local governments have established OGD portals, joined by international institutions, NGOs and businesses. All are exploring, in different ways, how opening data can unlock latent value, stimulate innovation and increase transparency and accountability. Against this backdrop of rapid growth of the open data field, this Open Data Barometer global report provides a snapshot of OGD practices at national level. It also outlines a country-by-country ranking. Covering a broad sample of 77 countries, it combines peer-reviewed expert survey data and secondary indicators to look at open data readiness, implementation and emerging impacts. Through this study we find that:

  • OGD policies have seen rapid diffusion over the last five years, reaching over 55% of the countries surveyed in the Barometer. The OGD initiatives launched have taken a range of different forms: from isolated open data portals launched within an e-government framework, through to ambitious government-wide OGD implementations.
  • But – there is still a long way to go: Although OGD policies have spread fast, the availability of truly open data remains low, with less than 7% of the dataset surveyed in the Barometer published both in bulk machine-readable forms, and under open licenses. This makes it unnecessarily difficult for users to access, process and work with government data, and potential entrepreneurs face significant legal uncertainty over their rights to build businesses on top of government datasets.
  • Leading countries in the ODB are investing in the creation of ‘National Data Infrastructures’ to provide a foundation for public and private innovation and efficiency. They have high-level and broad-based political backing for the OGD initiatives, and are investing in capacity building with entrepreneurs and intermediaries. They are also focussing on building communities around open data, convening government officials and outside stakeholders to understand more clearly how data can be harnessed for economic and social progress. However, no countries can yet claim to fully be ‘open by default’, and embedding OGD practices across government is a key future challenge.
  • Mid-ranking countries have put in place some of the components of an OGD initiative, such as an open data portal and competitions or events to catalyse re-use of data, but have often failed to make key datasets available, and are lacking in important foundations for effective open data re-use. Absence of strong Right to Information laws may prevent citizens from using open data to hold government to account, and weak or absent Data Protection Laws may undermine citizen confidence in OGD initiatives. In addition, limited training and support for intermediaries may mean data cannot be mobilised to generate economic and social benefits.
  • Low-ranking countries have not yet started to engage with Open Data, and many developing countries lack basic foundations such as well-managed and digitised government datasets. In these countries, interventions to support OGD may look radically different from the leading OGD initiatives surveyed in the Barometer – with opportunities for open data approaches to be used to generate, as well as use, public information.
  • The Barometer ranks the UK as the most advanced country for open data readiness, implementation and impact, scoring above the USA (2nd), Sweden (3rd), New Zealand (4th), Denmark and Norway (joint 5th). The leading developing country is Kenya (21st), ranking higher than rich countries such as Ireland (29th) and Belgium (31st). However, no country can yet claim to be fully ‘open by default’.

Furthermore, in offering the first global snapshot covering both OGD policy and practice, the Barometer highlights:

  • Different countries and regions face different challenges in pursuing OGD – including the need to build government data collection and management capacity; the need to support and equip innovators and intermediaries to use data; and the need to secure civil society freedoms that will enable the use of open data for effective transparency and accountability. There is no one-size fits all approach to OGD. 
  • Key datasets such as Land Registries and Company Registries are least likely to be available as open data[1], suggesting that OGD initiatives are not yet securing the release of politically important datasets that can be vital to holding governments and companies accountable. 
  • In most countries, key datasets for entrepreneurship and improving policy are not available as open data, and when published are in non-standard formats. For example, even in the case of public transport, where data standards are well established, just 25% of countries surveyed have machine-readable data available. Mapping data is also often unavailable in digital forms, or only available for a fee, suggesting that inefficient charging for public data continues to be an issue in many countries. 
  • Categories of data managed by statistical authorities are the most likely to be accessible online, but are often only released in very aggregated forms and with unclear or restrictive licenses. Adding a focus on open data to statistical agency capacity building may assist in making key datasets available as bulk, machine-readable open data, contributing positively to the ‘data revolution’ (UN, 2013). 
  • Strong evidence on the impacts of OGD is almost universally lacking. Few OGD programmes have yet been evaluated, and the majority of discussion of impacts remains based on anecdote. The Barometer asked about six kinds of OGD impact (government efficiency, transparency and accountability, environmental sustainability, inclusion of marginalised groups, economic growth, and supporting entrepreneurs). In countries with some form of OGD policy (n = 43) in 45% of impact questions no examples of impact could be found, and on average evidence of impact was scored at just 1.7 out of 10.  Scores were particularly low for inclusion and environmental impacts of OGD, suggesting an area in need of further focus.

It remains very early days in the development of OGD practices. The World Wide Web has now been with us for almost 25 years, and, even so, many governments, businesses and civil society groups are still in the early stages of learning how to harness its potential. The open data vision is a bold one: but one that will take considerable work to make a reality. It cannot just be a case of ad-hoc dataset publication, but needs attention paid to legal, social, economic, technical, organisation and political dimensions of open data publication and re-use. This year’s Open Data Barometer provides a baseline for tracking how we collectively progress in the open data arena in years to come.

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