Inside the Open Data Barometer

April 22, 2015 2:09 pm PST | Data as a Service

The World Wide Web Foundation (WWWF) is on a mission: “To advance the open Web as a public good and basic right.” Its recent report, Open Data Barometer (ODB) Second Edition, packs 62 pages with riveting insights and ideas on the global status of open government, and how technology is – and isn’t – making transparency possible. Don’t have time to read it all? No problem. At Socrata, we eat, sleep, and breathe open data, and we’re here to deliver what you need to know.

Get to Know the WWWF

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web, created the WWWF in 2009 to help deliver on his original plan for an open Web, accessible and valuable to everyone. That’s right — every one of us, on the entire planet. The WWWF envisions everyone, everywhere with, “equal access to knowledge, voice, and the ability to create.” That’s a huge and compelling vision, and the WWWF is implementing it with boots-on-the-ground open data work in four key areas, worldwide.

First, it conducts research, and promotes research capacity, to better understand open data’s uses and impact. Second, it champions innovation, including the Open Contracting Data Standard, which is ushering data on the planet’s $9 trillion in government procurement into the daylight of public domain. Next, the WWWF’s work in, “training & capacity building,” aims to bring citizens in developing and emerging economies into the circle of knowledge and opportunity enjoyed by people in developed nations. Last, it promotes engagement via the Open Government Partnership, uniting 80 governments and 120 non-governmental organizations in the sharing of open data best practices.

Why a “Barometer”?

At its heart, the open data movement is all about people. Communities alter over time, government administrations change hands, entrepreneurs step forward with innovative technologies, civil strife spawns new obstacles – and that’s just the short list of what can help or hinder the progress of open data. So, the WWWF has developed barometer methodology to assess whether the movement toward “open by default” is going up, down, or holding steady.

The barometer approach, “provides a global benchmark,” but it also offers localized comparisons of the rises and falls in particular areas of open data progress, focusing, “on the broad capacity, potential, and policy progress of countries.” To do this, the WWWF clustered countries surveyed into four categories: High-capacity, emerging & advanced, capacity constrained, and one-sided initiatives. This format enables open data champions to delve into patterns and influences relevant to specific issues and particular places, over time.

If You Have Only 15 Minutes

Read the Key Findings. Here, the WWWF gives a nod to the Open Data Charter, signed by the G8 nations in 2013, as well as to the 2014 pledge by G20 countries to fight corruption with open data.

Then, the ODB gets out its magnifying glass: Despite the high notes sounded by government leaders in 2013 and 2014, “core data on how governments are spending our money and how public services are performing remain inaccessible or paywalled in most countries.” Furthermore, notes the WWWF, “proactive disclosure of government data is not mandated in law or policy as part of a wider right to information, and privacy protections are weak or uncertain.”

The Key Findings also cover five steps needed to ensure, “a genuine revolution in the transparency and performance of governments,” as well as six major areas of policy initiatives and concerns. Finally, they offer quick descriptions of the four clustered categories, and the cluster-by-cluster rankings of the 86 countries covered by the ODB.

How Reliable Is the ODB?

In true transparency style, the WWWF devotes nine pages of the report to the ODB’s methodology, explaining, “in detail the construction of the Open Data Barometer rankings.” Data enthusiasts can delve into the sub-index structure, read the checklist questions, and evaluate the terms and definitions supplied to the field experts whose responses form the body of the ODB.

But here’s the quick story: The ODB Second Edition’s methodology, “broadly replicates that used in 2013,” the first version of the ODB. Tried and true, it draws on three kinds of data: The WWWF collected expert survey responses from country specialists. These responses were, “peer-reviewed, re-scored by researchers where required, and cross-checked by the research coordination team.” In addition, “technical specialists investigated the availability of 15 kinds of data within each country,” answering detailed checklists – again, all peer-reviewed. Finally, the WWWF drew on secondary data, “each selected on the basis of theory and their ability to measure important aspects of readiness,” not covered in the WWWF’s own research.

Bottom line on the ODB: global, reliable, and revealing.


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