In January 2015, the World Wide Web Foundation’s Open Data Lab in Jakarta brought together stakeholders from across Asia to explore the state of open data in their countries and consider how progress on open data could lead to better political, economic, and social outcomes.
Back then, with open government data in its infancy, very few governments had implemented open data initiatives and few user groups made use of the data that was published.
What has changed in the past four years? This is the question I look to answer in a new publication, The State of Open Data: Histories and Horizons. My chapter reviews how countries in Southeast, South, and East Asia have fared in open data initiatives since that 2015 workshop.
Here are the top three findings from the chapter:
- Data availability is improving, but still limited. Data disclosure is not common practice at subnational levels.
The Open Data Barometer shows that these countries have made progress in disclosing data. To date, there have been over 200 portals that disclose datasets in the region across varying levels of government. However, many of the key datasets required for holding governments to account generally remain unavailable, such as spending and contract data. Furthermore, the majority of data disclosure is at the national level.
- Data use is increasing, but is concentrated in high-income countries.
The Open Data Impact Map reports that in East Asia and the Pacific region, the organisations using open data tend to be concentrated in higher income countries. Widespread use of open data, particularly by non-state actors outside of the private sector, is limited.
- While new civil society actors working on open data have emerged, they are fragmented. Open data initiatives face sustainability problems.
In the last three years, we have seen a growing number of actors in the open data space in most countries in the region. New cross-regional partnerships and cross-country networks have also emerged. Yet, in general, these networks and collaborations remain disconnected and are externally-led, donor-dependent, and sporadic.
To move open data efforts forward, the chapter recommends that:
- Open data activists advocate for countries to publish more quality open datasets. Open data advocates should to push for legal frameworks to support data disclosure, to call for right-to-information laws, and to establish national open data policies. These steps are all part of the greater goal of encouraging the publication of more high-quality data.
- Open data actors strengthen coordination for more collective action and impact. Closer coordination between networks within and across countries will enable better collaboration, more efficient use of resources, and strengthened collective impact.
- Practitioners, researchers, and academics should improve the evaluation of outcomes of open data use. Universities and research institutes in the region should document open data practices, looking at both the successes and failures in order to share lessons learned and influence the design and implementation of future initiatives.
- Donors must continue to fund new open data initiatives and help scale successes. Until sustainable business models are developed, open data initiatives need the support of donors. New and innovative projects will not see the light of day without donor support.
- National governments should bring open data discussions to subnational spaces. Ensuring that subnational governments are participating in open data initiatives is critical because it is in these local spaces where open data appears to have the most clear impact.
To explore the findings and recommendations in full, read the chapter online at the State of Open Data website. The State of Open Data: Histories and Horizons is available in print from African Minds.
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