Governments worldwide are making a steady progress with realising the open data initiative. Several national governments have created web sites to distribute a portion of the data they collect, enhance collaboration and create culture for open government data. A list of over 200 local, regional and national open data catalogues is available on the open source datacatalogs.org project, which aims to be a comprehensive list of data catalogues from around the world. Prominent examples include such countries as United Kingdom, Norway, United States, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, France or South Korea, and international organisations such as OECD or World Bank. Everyone seems to agree that open data is a great tool for governments to improve their service to citizens, civil society and business. But are they taking the full advantage of it?
Government only publishes the data once, but the citizens consume it in many ways: interactively online, using visualisations, via downloads, through an API, or over mobile devices. Even better, they are are empowered to distribute the data online and enrich it through social interactions. With every interaction open government data becomes more relevant and useful. However, in order to serve the public, government data has to meet several criteria:
Availability - Enables governments to publish open data in a reusable format
Transparency - Empowers citizens with more visibility of governments’ services
Added Value - Enables independent software vendors (ISV) to develop new applications that create more economic value locally
Non-discriminatory - Developers working on new applications and services can use the free and customisable source code
Non-exclusivity - Available as open source starter kit
Cost provisioning and delivery still seem to be among the biggest barriers to open government. Public bodies often store data on their own servers, not readily available for external, scalable access. There is also prevalence of open data that is in application-specific, non-reusable formats that lack terminology and data consistency.
Data classification and potential reuse can be solved by government agencies actively engaging with independent software vendors and citizens. Increasing participation of the public and developers could help immensely with identifying high-value data sets, and holding accountable those that decide what will be opened and what will not. Moving towards open government is less about technology and more about cultural change in agencies and creating an ecosystem that focuses on both types of data to be made open: operational data used to stimulate economic/social growth and transparency data used to ensure accountability. Many international and national assist with standards, partnerships, market formation, technical details, creating political will, and oversight. The Open Government Partnership - key global initiative with 55 member countries – seeks to secure commitments from its members to promote open government and share best practices in implementation.
On the technology and operational side, big data and crowd-sourcing tools and cloud computing are making it easier to collect, store, distribute and analyse data. Government should make sure their open data frameworks publicly available for developers in all developing languages, together with tools, sample code and documentation to make it easier to reuse the data. They should also focus on publishing open data to the cloud to improve cost- efficiency, to enable reuse features and give non-discriminatory availability for developers and independent software vendors (ISVs). From there, assessing relevance and usability of government data sets becomes easier and more efficient.
Many agencies have yet to understand that open data is a means, not an end. More than the fact that you publicise the data matters how you do it and what is its value. Agencies need to remember that open data is based on the participation and collaboration of people who are interested in the data and its benefits. Only by making sure that the information they share is reusable, fully available, transparent and non-discriminatory governments can become truly open and collaborative.
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