How open data policies can drive innovation and growth

BY

NIGHT OWL

Anna Mae Lamentillo.jpg

Access to information is essential for society to survive and thrive.

According to the United Nations (UN), access to information creates empowered citizens, who are able to make informed choices, to monitor their government, and to know about decisions affecting their lives. In fact, when UN Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, they recognized the “right to information as a prerequisite and key driver for achieving sustainable development.”

Now, with information and communications technologies (ICT), governments can efficiently share data to the public and allow them to use the same through open data policies.

The concept of open government data is becoming an important tool for countries to drive growth and development. Open data refers to information that is machine-readable or can be downloaded from the Internet, and can be freely shared and used by the public. 

Open government data helps improve the effectiveness of governments in delivering better public services. It also promotes transparency. Although transparency does not automatically mean greater accountability, open data policies and practices can definitely foster and strengthen accountability of public officials because citizens are informed about what their governments are doing.

Moreover, open data policies will help build an environment that promotes innovation. Government data can greatly benefit not only public institutions, but also the private sector, civil society, citizens, and the wider economy.

For instance, open government data allows businesses to re-use them to produce value-added products and services, which will eventually allow them to generate more income, create more jobs, pay more taxes, which will all benefit both local and national economies.

Several nations have already established their open data policies and have their respective open data portals as reported in the publication, “Open [Government] Data Policies and Practices: Select Country Cases” implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kazakhstan and the Astana Civil Service Hub (ACSH). 

Among the advanced countries in this area include Canada, Estonia, the Republic of Korea, as well as the European Union. 

Canada’s open data portal presents all available datasets by policy domain on its main page. There’s also an advanced search mechanism with numerous filters for more convenient use in searching for datasets.

Estonia’s open data portal features a selection of data that have been characterized as open. It contains at least 1,573 datasets from 2,220 publishers. Many datasets are machine-readable, supported by Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and accompanied by manuals and other documentation.

Meanwhile, the main feature of South Korea’s open data portal is the Data Catalogue, where users can search for datasets using advanced search filters and keywords, download datasets in various formats, and access APIs. The portal also provides tools for visualization of datasets, crowd-mapping, and collaboration platforms where developers can exchange their experiences and use cases.

In the Philippines, usage of data generated and collected by the government is still sub-optimal. There are still several barriers—including the lack of standardized government online data that impedes interoperability, and the absence of policies that encourage the publication of data in open formats—which hinder us from utilizing the full benefits of having and accessing government data. 

The UNDP-ACSH publication lists down the open data principles that will guide governments in evaluating the extent to which government data are open and accessible to the public, to wit: completeness (all public data that is not subject to valid privacy, security, or privileged limitations are made available); primacy (data are as collected at the source, not in aggregate or modified forms); timeliness; ease of physical and electronic access; machine readability; non-discrimination (data are available to anyone, with no requirement of registration); use of commonly owned standards; license-free (data are not subject to any copyright, patent, trademark, or trade secret regulation); permanence; and usage costs.

Open data policies are essential to government function, citizens’ participation, private sector growth, and the nation’s overall development. It is vital that we start working on this and be able to optimize the information and data that we have so that in the race towards sustainable and inclusive development, we are not left behind.