Infokelele

Open Access and Open Data for the Information and Knowledge Economy

Open Data: How transparent are the kings’ garments?

Posted by infokelele on May 11, 2012

Big data can improve innovation, competition and productivity. This is true for both the public and private sectors but with a caveat – only if harnessed in the best possible ways.

Open Data (OD) is increasingly becoming part of big data. This post will focus on Open Data.

There are many sources and types of Open Data. Many are governmental but international organizations such as the World Bank are also major players.

Governments tend to be the ones most in the spotlight because after all, the democratically elected ones are supposed to be answerable to their citizenry. It is for this reason that many country’s constitutions begin with the declaration “We the people ……” But this notion is sometimes more an ideal than a reality.

If governments are such a major player in individuals’ lives, it should come as no surprise that citizens demand appropriate access to all the wealth of information and data that governments collect from them and store. As a matter of fact, governments should always be in the forefront of proactively providing access to these kinds of information and data.

Legitimate questions that emerge for governments to perform this role include whether the technical components of the data at their disposal encourage easy usage, wider sharing and reuse. This would enable the maximum number of people possible to gain productive access to this data. Along with this requirement goes the data quality because if it is not reputable then there is no credibility and if it is not credible then it is of no value. But before you even begin to talk about any of these, the data needs to have been digitized.

The source code is also just as important because if the data is not easily editable then it cannot be classified as open even if access is being granted readily and freely and legally. Proprietary data sources can also not be classified as open because re-use is severely limited. So standards specifications is obviously a big thing.

The legality of this data is also a major concern. Lest governments remain shrouded in a cloak of mystery because the legal provisions are inadequate to authorize wider sharing of data within their confines.

But let’s say the government has gotten right all the above factors, the journey would still not be complete unless there is an affordable and widely accessible communications platform. Pursuing policies that lead to wider adoption of broadband services and other technology products and services seem to be the answer. The mobile smart phone is already proving to be a great asset in this direction. Creative public private partnerships have been used with telecom service providers in some countries to make this a reality.

In many societies, there have been at least three forces pushing for open government data with varying degrees of success. Civil societies tend to do this through the way they know best – mass action advocacy but also through collaboration with governments. Internal champions within the public service have been the other change agents and in some instances, political leaders have provided the much needed putsch against institutional inertia. Political will remains a much needed asset.

These seem to have been the common thread within many governments that have already opened up their data to the public such Kenya and the United States.

Progress is being made but a lot is yet to be known about the economic, social and political impacts of opening up data to the public.

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