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Indonesia needs better data governance

Muhammad Daud|

This piece originally appeared in the Jakarta Post.

Data has become an inseparable part of our lives. Without data there would be no quality research, good policies and viable businesses. The annual fiasco concerning forest fires highlights the problem that may arise if we are unable to access and use data properly.

Better data governance or application of open data principles could help the government in solving the complex development challenges it faces. Generally the concept of open data has been closely linked to the larger effort of creating a better and more open government; one that is more transparent, accountable and responsive to its citizens.

Open data can also spur innovation and economic growth. By unleashing malleable datasets, innovators and inventors can build valuable products out of them, and in return can contribute to the economic growth of a country.

A study by McKinsey suggests that open data can help unlock US$3 to 5 trillion in economic value annually. Take the Citymapper application. It helps Londoners, New Yorkers and travelers from around the world navigate the complexity of commuting in both cities. Citymapper is such a great marriage between open data, collaboration and innovation that ultimately brings contentedness to its users.

What actually is open data? Generally open data is data that anyone can access, use and share anytime, anywhere. In Indonesia, the government has, since October 2013, introduced an initiative to improve data governance through the ‘€œOne Data’€ initiative. It is an initiative to improve the government’€™s data interoperability and accessibility, not just within and between government institutions, but also for the public.

This initiative goes hand-in-hand with one of the President’€™s campaign promises to carry out good governance.

Today, the One Data initiative is exercised through the establishment of a national data portal: The portal currently holds up to 1,000 datasets from various government agencies and has become a one-stop source for the public to using government data.

The government’€™s support and working platform are there. Do we have all we need then? Not really ‘€” there are currently two big impediments. First, there is no strong foundation to enable an open data ecosystem to thrive.

A basic open data ecosystem allows for data to be kept in an open format that can be easily reused by the public. On this, there is yet to be clear directives and regulations on how data is produced and managed as part of the government’€™s policy-making process.

Replacing the culture of data management in government with a more efficient one is no easy task. Hence, with the absence of a directive, reforming data governance incurs significant costs, since it requires extra resources both financially and operationally.

The forest fires is a case in point. The use of different data and maps has been reviewed by many as one of the key causes of land disputes and overlapping permits in plantation and mining operations.

In response, the government recently issued a Presidential regulation on a ‘€œOne Map’€ policy to improve land-use management by giving directives to government agencies to produce a single, authoritative spatial map that is unified, accurate and reliable.

The policy and regulation may not be necessary, had open data principles been applied as business as usual in the government.

Second, the advocacy that works around open data issues has to be more specific and be able to address sectoral issues. Until now, most open data advocacy only stops at ‘€œopening up the data’€ and has not touched areas where open data can be used to solve problems.

Advocacy that only focuses on data release has to be shifted into building data products that solve specific social issues in various sectors. Building evidence-based concepts that shows how open data can truly bring value should be the core activity of open data advocacy.

The Citymapper case is perfect storytelling in showcasing the benefits of open data. Seeing the challenges, should we whither? We don’€™t think so. In the current digital age, the opportunities are luckily ample.

Organizations that are actively contributing to an open data ecosystem through different initiatives, like Publish What You Pay for openness in the extractive industry or ‘€œPerkumpulan untuk Pemilu dan Demokrasi’€ (Perludem) for openness in the electoral system and parliament, show how vast the resources are to push data governance into becoming a prioritized agenda.

And now there are even more people with the technical skills who are getting interested in civic issues. Engaging them closely is key to further unleashing the value of open data for the Indonesian people. What should be the future directives?

First, the government may consider developing a single directive that would establish clearer business processes and data standards. Some baby steps to testing the effectiveness of that directive could be done through pilot projects with government agencies that have shown interests to joining the bandwagon.

Second is to create a better data governance ecosystem by strengthening the supply and demand side of data. Data supply can come from both government and non-government sectors.

Combining two streams requires hard work that cannot only come from government but from citizens alike. For open data to truly bring an impact to Indonesia, we as society have to recognize the value of open data and be willing to assist every step of its implementation together.

Open data or better data governance is not the goal but a means to have better development planning and governance. In the end, the one who will truly benefit from open data would not be government, companies, or civil society organizations but us, the Indonesian people as one.

Open Government Partnership