Regional Perspectives on the State of Open Data

Over the last ten months our fantastic team of authors, reviewers and contributors have been working to create short summary articles that take stock of the open data landscape in particular communities, amongst particular stakeholder groups, in different regions, or in light of key cross-cutting issues. We started with an open brainstorm (environment scans), and have used these to create peer-reviewed chapters, containing examples, case studies, and recommendations for further reading.

Ahead of the International Open Data Conference in Buenos Aires, we’re publishing quick-read ‘key points’ summaries, as well as public drafts of a number of chapters.

We’ve also blogged an overview of the whole project so far here.

Below you can find the regional key points.

Each group of authors has taken a different angle on their region: picking out significant themes ranging from government focus and civil society engagement, to the particular opportunities and threats ahead. However, across all the chapters a number of messages show through.

Firstly, we see author advocacy for a move towards the local. Whilst the global spread of open data primarily took place through national government action, a number of our chapters highlight the importance of embedding open data practice at the local level where they believe it is going to connect better with people’s lives. Secondly, the important role of civil society-led networking in spreading open data ideas comes through, yet so too the challenges of sustaining civil society activities. Lastly, the importance of context cannot be underestimated: each region (and each subregion within them) has its own history and political dynamics that shape the opportunities for open data. Whilst there is no one-size fits all approach to open data, studying how it plays out in these different contexts can provide useful transferable lessons.

Open Data & Sub Saharan Africa

Authors: Leo Mutuku (Intelipro) & Teg-wende Idriss Tinto (CAFDO)

  • The open data movement in Sub-Saharan Africa has evolved substantially over the last seven years, but is still far from mature. There are promising examples of civil society intermediaries using data to support citizen engagement with government.
  • Although the main source of data is often official statistics, Open Government Data initiatives are rarely hosted by NSOs, but instead by ICT/Communications ministries, or ministries of finance. Private sector engagement is very low compared to other regional contexts.
  • Open data is seen as a secondary priority, separate to other development agendas such as physical infrastructure, agriculture, education, water and health. There remains a perception that open data is an external priority, owned by funders, rather than adopted and valued to serve domestic agendas.
  • Strict definitions of open data can act as a barrier to data production: there can be great utility in data which does not meet the full open definition, but that can still address social or government needs if made more accessible.

Read the full public draft of this chapter

Open Data & Southeast, South and East Asia

Authors: Michael Canares (World Wide Web Foundation)

  • From 2012–2014, open data initiatives emerged in Asia, but were often little more than ‘data dumping’, plagued by data quality problems. More recently, substantial progress has been made with the quality and coordination of initiatives improving.
  • Civil society are active in creating and curating access to data, to support development planning, and in some cases, political advocacy and scrutiny of governments. New civil society actors working on open data have emerged across the region, although there are questions over their sustainability.
  • Open data use is increasing, but is largely concentrated in high-income countries. Supply-side initiatives are primarily at the national level, and still need to permeate to the local level.
  • The ODAsia 2020 vision calls for: country governments to show stronger leadership and commitment to open data; sector and movements to improve collaboration on open data initiatives; and increased citizen capacity to use and benefit from open data.

Read the environment scan

Open Data & Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Authors: Lejla Sadiku (UNDP)

  • Initial enthusiasm for open data in Eastern Europe and Central Asia was rooted in the transparency and anti-corruption agenda, and certain countries trajectory towards EU integration. Over time, there has been a shift in narrative to focus on how open data may support efficiency gains, competitiveness and private sector innovation.
  • The majority of open data portals in the region are run by governments. Some governments, notably here Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, have published vast amounts of data online.
  • Notable global success stories from the region include ProZorro — the open contracting data initiative created in Ukraine, and access to medicines data initiatives in Serbia.
  • The region has also seen civic technology organisations engage in substantial capacity building efforts for data journalists, and in Kosovo and Georgia networks of young women have been established, counterbalancing male domination of the civil technology sector. There are opportunity to build on these trends in future

Read the environment scan

Open Data & Latin America and the Caribbean

Authors: Silvana Fumega (ILDA) & Maurice McNaughton (Caribbean Open Institute)

  • Shared language, regular convenings, strong civil society networks, technical capacity, and engagement from governments have all led to the growth of an distinctive Latin American open data movement, with widespread support for a range of sector-specific open data initiatives.
  • In the Caribbean, donor support has helped influence and resource a series of thematic initiatives on agriculture, tourism and election monitoring, with the primary actors being from civil society and academia. However, a lack of sustained political engagement has frustrated efforts to build wider open data movement and infrastructure.
  • Comparing regional experiences is instructive: illustrating the challenges of work across language barriers, the different drivers for open data, and the importance of vibrant civil society in sustaining open data activity through political change.

Read the full public draft of this chapter

Open Data & Middle East and Northern Africa

Authors: Stefanie Felsberger (Access to Knowledge for Development Center, American University in Cairo), Nancy Salem (Access to Knowledge for Development Center, American University in Cairo) & Nagla Rizk (Access to Knowledge for Development Center, American University in Cairo)

  • The MENA region has seen varied progress on open data, from civil society efforts focusing on social issues, to government-led open data initiatives that place an emphasis on economic development.
  • The region faces substantial challenges of data scarcity: with gaps in data collection, data publication, and a lack of continuity and updates when data is released publicly.
  • Improved regional networking is needed to bring together the scattered initiatives that are working directly on open data, and to make sure other data-literacy and capacity building initiatives address openness as well as more general data skills and use.

Read the full public draft of this chapter

Open Data & Western Europe

Authors: Rufus Pollock (Open Knowledge International) & Danny Lämmerhirt (Open Knowledge International)

  • Certain european countries have played a leading role in setting the open data agenda, with governments pioneering open data policies, licences and practices on a European and global level, building on existing Public Sector Information (PSI) policies, geospatial data infrastructure, and work on creating a ‘digital single market’. However, ‘open data maturity’ varies substantially between countries.
  • There has been strong interaction between civil society, government and private sector in creating Europe’s open data landscape. The creation of civic organisations and groups was promoted by transnational civil society networks and peaked between 2010 and 2014. Collaborations currently focus on local, regional or sectoral collaborations.
  • A number of European governments, and the European Union, have been major funders of open data initiatives: seeking to improve government practice, increase the accessibility, usability and use of government data, and stimulate private sector engagement with open data.
  • Basic open government data practices are reasonably embedded in Europe, but with other data-related policy agendas gaining attention (e.g. data protection), and volunteer advocacy in need of new energy, there are threats to the sustainability and progress of open data movements that need focussed attention.

Read the environment scan

Open Data & North America and Australia and New Zealand

Authors: David Eaves (Harvard Kennedy School)

  • The shuttering in 2017 of open.whitehouse.gov illustrates the risks that face open data movements in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States: with high-level leadership on open data, and access to certain datasets, vulnerable to changes of administration. However, open data practice at local levels has proven reasonably resilient so far.
  • The last decade of open data work has encouraged governments to perceive their data as an asset that needs to be managed, and to improve internal capacity on data use and analytics. In particular, open data has played an important role supporting cross-agency collaboration.
  • Direct citizen demand for data from national open data portals remains low, and highly concentrated. This can leave initiatives struggling to define success then they operate on a simple logic that open data will boost citizen engagement.
  • More work is needed to both define what ‘success’ of open data initiatives looks like, and to monitor progress towards that with the right kinds of tools.

Read the environment scan

Want more? We’ll be publishing the full State of Open Data collection, with additional and updated chapters in early 2019. Follow us @stateofopendata for updates.