Open Data Barometer: Progress from 2013 to 2015

May 18, 2015 10:01 am PST | Data as a Service

In 2013, the World Wide Web Foundation (WWWF) and the Open Data Institute (ODI) combined efforts to produce the Open Data Barometer (ODB 2013) a detailed analysis of the readiness, implementation, and impact of open data in 77 countries. WWWF continued the project in Open Data Barometer 2015 (ODB 2015) , with an expansion to 86 countries.

Commitments to open data ran strong in 2013. The then-G8 (now the G7) signed onto the Open Data Charter, “to become ‘open by default’ and to ensure that data is reusable by all,” states the ODB, “in order to spur innovation and increase government transparency.” The G20 followed suit, by championing open data in its November 2014 Anti-Corruption Action Plan. 

The high aspirations of 2013 didn’t translate into reality in 2015, though. “The G7 still needs to do much more to fulfill their Charter commitments,” the WWWF finds, and “G20 countries have even further to go,” before datasets vital to accountability are easily accessible online, for all. The obstacles to progress in the G7 and G20 nations reflect challenges across the countries surveyed for the ODB 2015.

Readiness: Systems Are Key

“Effective open data policies require a degree of collaboration between the state, private sector, and civil society,” explains the ODB 2015, including, “governments with the capacity to create, manage, and publish data, and third parties with the technical skills, freedoms, and resources to use data as a tool for change.” Factors affecting nations’ readiness include legislation ensuring freedom of information and data protection, data skills and training among citizens, and city-level transparency initiatives.

The WWWF emphasizes the need for legislation, infrastructure, and systems to sustain readiness – rather than reliance on trailblazing individuals who eventually change jobs and locations. For example, Kenya showed strong promise in the ODB 2013, having launched its Kenya Open Data Initiative in July 2011, “in front of a 3,000 strong audience, including many of the technologists and developers who had advocated for the project.” Kenya’s initiatives included hackathons, training for data journalists, and the Code for Kenya incubator.

In ODB 2015, though, the WWWF notes challenges to Kenya’s open data momentum, highlighting the comments of Dr. Bitange Ndemo, former Permanent Secretary to Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communications, and pioneer of Kenya’s Open Data Initiative. Ndemo contends that to revive the stalled initiative, the nation must, “digitize all of our registries and enact two critical bills that are in Parliament, the Freedom of Information (FOI) and the Data Protection Bills.”

Implementation: Don’t Wait

Implementation scores reflect “the extent to which accessible, timely, and open data is published by each country government,” explains the WWWF in ODB 2015. The WWWF prized timeliness in the ODB 2013, asserting, “The perfect should not be the enemy of the good: Government should get data online, and then should work to improve it.”

From ODB 2013, the WWWF sees a slight, general uptick in the implementation scores of ODB 2015. Progress is slow, though. The WWWF believes, “At the current rate of improvement, it will be decades before the datasets we survey are provided as open data across the world.” In both the ODB 2013 and the ODB 2015, WWWF observes a prevalence of purely statistical datasets like a census, versus limited availability of datasets on government accountability.

Timeliness remains a top concern in ODB 2015. When governments don’t release data promptly, “civil society and private firms are less likely to rely upon, and build tools and services on top of open datasets,” points out the WWWF. In comparing findings to the ODB 2013, WWWF finds many open datasets, “were from previous years; in other cases, the original source data from departments showed no signs of recent update.”

Impact: Under Construction

Experiences of citizens, government professionals, and entrepreneurs demonstrate the impact of open data in a country, but are difficult to locate and quantify. In both ODB 2013 and ODB 2015, “the Open Data Barometer asks researchers to identify case studies in media or academic literature,” by way of determining a nation’s impact scores, explains the WWWF.

“Most evidence of open data impact remains anecdotal or captured in journalistic rather than academic reviews,” comments the WWWF in ODB 2015. Stories tend to cover outputs, rather than how opened datasets affect communities, government operations, and private enterprise, affecting the generally low impact scores across the ODB 2015.

The WWWF analyzes specific areas of data impact, finding the ODB 2013 stories, “were most likely to focus on accountability, closely followed by entrepreneurship.” In contrast, for ODB 2015 overall, “Entrepreneurial open data use has overtaken accountability as the most observed impact,” as compared to ODB 2013, though, “within ‘emerging and advancing’ countries transparency and accountability impacts come top.”

What Comes Next?

In ODB 2013, the WWWF noted the fast spread of open government policies around the world, but believed countries were, “still a long way from seeing widespread implementation and impacts of those policies.” In ODB 2015, the WWWF finds, “there is still a long way to go to put the power of data in the hands of citizens.” It identifies five key steps needed for a true revolution in government transparency, including contextualization of open data tools to reflect local needs, and renewed leadership from top elected officials.


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