Open Data Barometer: 3 ways governments can stay at the top

In a political climate where ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ have become buzzwords, there is no better time than now for governments to embrace open government data.

But that’s not what’s happening, according to the latest edition of the Open Data Barometer - a snapshot of the state of open data across 115 governments. Still nine out of 10 government data sets are not open by default. At a time when governments should be doubling down on strong data management practices and the publication of open government data to rebuild citizen trust, we have seen several former champions begin to backslide.

Why is this happening?

It’s not easy to stay at the top, but sustained political will is what makes or breaks the success of open data initiatives. While open data commitments form part of the OGP principles and are among the most popular in National Action Plans, they are also often too weak and too limited in scope. Those often emphasize platforms and other technical aspects while almost forgetting about the required cultural change to foster better data governance policies and practices across the whole of government, thus making sustainability difficult to achieve.

When commitments are not strong enough and not embedded throughout a country’s civil service and institutions, progress can be quickly undermined by changing political winds and priorities. In particular, we saw a worrying decline, for example, in the performance of Rwanda, Costa Rica and Ecuador as political will has stalled. Equally troubling is the performance of many Nordic countries this year, where significant declines have been registered:

Governments

Ranking ODB 4th ed.

3rd ed.

2nd. ed.

1st ed.

Denmark

13th

5th

9th

5th

Finland

20th

11th

12th

14th

Iceland

36th

22nd

27th

13th

Sweden

14th

9th

3rd

3rd

 

Open data initiatives can also flounder in cases where the leaders who back them fail to advance wider institutional reforms that encourage a culture of openness, or where political imperatives are not translated into proper data management approaches that ensure the sustainable resources and policies needed for open data to survive political change.

What can the open government community do about it?

Although the performance of some early open data champions is cause for alarm, there are countries bucking this trend, and, through sustained political commitment, they have been able to continue improving their performance. For example, Canada, Mexico, Japan and Republic of Korea have all achieve sustained improvement. Ukraine and Argentina have also seen recent progress as a result of stronger commitments.

To make sure this momentum can be sustained, governments must:

  1. Adopt and implement the Open Data Charter principles. It is not enough to simply adopt the Charter, governments must make sure its principles are embedded throughout the whole of government, and not interpreted as the remit of one department or portal. This will create a strong policy foundation, and ensure government data is open by default.
  2. Decentralise open data across all government agencies and departments. This means implementing a consistent data management strategy that includes guidelines for metadata and publication frequency; data inventories; documentation; quality assurance procedures; and management of user feedback.
  3. Governments must consult citizens and intermediaries when prioritising which open data to publish first. Civil society can offer insight into what kinds of data they as intermediaries want and need, and act as a bridge to use this data to increase citizen engagement.


We hope this latest edition of the Open Data Barometer offers the opportunity for the wider OGP community to reflect on how we’re using data to advance the open agenda, and where we need to go next. We welcome your feedback and thoughts on Twitter @webfoundation#ODBarometer, and invite you to see the full report and data at opendatabarometer.org.

Authors: Carlos Iglesias
Filed Under: Pledge