Open Data Index: Mapping the state of open government data

In October 2013, ahead of the annual Open Government Partnership (OGP) summit in London, Open Knowledge International (formerly the Open Knowledge Foundation) launched the Open Data Index, the first major assessment of the state of open government data in the world. The Index ranked 70 countries according to the availability and accessibility of data in ten key categories.

The ranking in the Index is based on the Open Data Census, an Open Knowledge International initiative launched in April 2012 to coincide with the OGP meeting in Brasilia. The Census is an ongoing initiative, led by a global community of open data advocates and experts with the aim of mapping and evaluating the progress of the open data movement around the world.

The Census is based on peer-reviewed submissions and measures the openness of data in ten key areas, including those essential for transparency and accountability (such as election results and government spending data), and those vital for providing critical services to citizens (such as maps and transport timetables).

The ranking, which is annually released as the Index, recognises that progress in open government initiatives is not just about the number of datasets released. Taking more of a ‘quality over quantity’ approach, the Index focuses on whether key data sets are publicly available and evaluates whether these data sets are truly open data by determining whether they are available under an open licence and in machine readable formats, characteristics vital for compatibility and interoperability.

Rufus Pollock, Founder and President of Open Knowledge International, explains:

“In the last few years there has been an explosion of activity around open data and especially open government data. Opening up government data drives democracy, accountability and innovation. However, for the true benefits of open data to be realised, governments must do more than simply put a few spreadsheets online. The information should be easily found and understood, and should be able to be freely used, reused and shared by anyone, anywhere, for any purpose.”

Making data open in this manner, enables citizens, organisations and businesses to create new insights and services, without limiting the potential innovations of others. The Open Data Index places a premium on these factors, key to the open knowledge movement, when assessing the openness of datasets around the world.

2013 Open Data Index: Highlighting the successes and challenges of the open data movement

The UK and US topped the 2013 Index, followed by Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. Of the countries assessed, Cyprus, St Kitts & Nevis, the British Virgin Islands, Kenya and Burkina Faso ranked the lowest. Many countries were not assessed, often due to lack of openness, including 30 countries who are members of the Open Government Partnership.

The results made it clear that while some progress had been made, much remains to be done. Overall, the Index revealed that only 12% of the key datasets were available as fully open data, meeting the basic legal and technical requirements for free reuse and therefore meeting the basic requirements needed to achieve the maximum benefit from open data. More surprisingly, only less than half of the key datasets in the top 20 countries were available to re-use as open data. Even the UK and US, who ranked first and second respectively on the Index, had much room for improvement. For example the Index showed that the US has not provide a single consolidated and open register of corporations - a critical element of ensuring businesses know who they are trading with, and eliminating tax evasion - while the UK Electoral Commission does not allow the open reuse of UK election data.  

In a press release Pollock said:

 “We’re delighted that many G8 countries have indicated their support for open data but today’s results show that progress is lagging behind promise. We call upon them to make good on their commitments and take a leading role in opening up the world’s data, to enable real transparency and accountability.”

Impact of the first Index results: Igniting discussions and inspiring the open data movement

The Open Data Index was received very positively, as governments and CSOs made it a key reference point at the 2013 OGP summit.

Christian Villum, Community Manager at Open Knowledge International, witnessed the Open Data Index being put to good use at the OGP summit. He said:

“The Index not only ignites discussions around important issues of government transparency, but also encourages civic participation, which is vital to an open government.”

UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, spoke at the summit and announced plans to release more data on the ownership and control of UK companies and called on the other world leaders present to push for more open government policies.

“We have got to translate words into deeds. We can’t just talk about open government, we’ve got to deliver. This year, during Britain’s presidency of the G8, we promised a big push on transparency: in payments for natural resources, in open data and in property rights. We got world leaders to sign up to a declaration which, in clear and plain language, commits us to action in all of these areas,”

David Cameron, UK Prime Minister

Andrew Stott is the former Director for Transparency and Digital Engagement for the UK Government, and led the work to open up government data and create the data.gov.uk. Stott observed that the first release of the Index had been influential and that “the psychology of it has been quite powerful”.

“Even countries that are doing quite well like to be recognised for that. Since the Index came out, a number of countries - including the Russian, Indonesian, German and Belgian Governments - are using it as a yardstick for their achievements or lack of it. So, despite some criticisms of their methodology from countries that did not do as well as they would have liked, it has been incredibly valuable in stimulating a bit of positive rivalry between countries,”

Andrew Stott, former Director for Transparency and Digital Engagement for the UK Government

He continued with examples of the UK and the US, where, following the release of the Index, some pressure had been applied on the data owners who had cost the countries marks in specific areas. He also said that there were many countries who had released data sets in bulk, but got showed up by the Index results which focused on the most useful data sets.

Work has also been ongoing to get those countries not already on the Census on board. Villum, Community Manager at Open Knowledge International and community liaison for the Census, feels that they have been quite successful in inspiring new countries to join the Census, considering the relatively short time since the launch of the Index. He hopes that in time the Index can include all countries, and be improved to become a key point of reference for governments, CSOs and citizens alike.

Since the successful release of the first Index results, members of the Open Knowledge Network have also been working on a new collaborative project, the Local Open Data Census. The local Census would allow citizens around the world to run local versions of the popular Open Data Census and rank cities in terms of openness. In February 2014, on Open Data Day, the first round of Local Census instances have been activated, and many of community-driven sprints were successfully organised around the world to populate the local Censuses with city-level data.

 

Snapshots of Global Impact

France

The 2013 Index, ranked France as 16th out of the 70 countries, and highlighted their lack of ‘openness’ in areas of legislation, government spending, company registers, national maps, and postcodes.

Since then, Open Knowledge’s French local group has been working hard to try and improve their ranking in the next Index rankings. Pierre Chrzanowski, who is on the Board of Directors for Open Knowledge France and is one of the editors for the Index, organised a meeting with the French Ministry of Finance and used the Index as a tool to present the need to increase fiscal transparency in France.

After a successful round of discussions, we learnt that the proposal to open up spending data would be discussed in a dedicated thematic debate later in 2014, with the aim of bringing together the ministries and administrations concerned.”

Pierre Chrzanowski,

Board of Directors for Open Knowledge France, and Open Data Index Editor

There has also been progress with legislation datasets - in a meeting with the Agency for Administrative Information the Index was used to highlight that the available datasets were not machine readable nor publicly available, leading to those datasets being fully opened up now in France.

Chrzanowski also gave examples of other organisations working to improve the French standing on the Index:

“Open Data Soft, an open data company, saw from the results of the Open Data Index, that the postcode dataset was not available in France. This resulted in a few rounds of discussions with open data communities here. They then decided to produce their own dataset, and published it on their website in open data format. Later, they used the Open Knowledge network to communicate the work,”

Chrzanowski emphasised that the Index has enabled them understand their national situation better and has helped them target their advocacy efforts to areas where the French Government is currently lagging behind. It has also meant wider media coverage on the topic of open data, and it has also acted as an excellent point of reference when dealing with the public sector.

“Journalists like the ranking of the Index, more than just qualitative analyses. For instance, they used the results of the Index to question Henri Verdier, the Head of the Open Data Initiative in France, about the French Open Data policy. It not only gives you access to the media, it also gives you also more legitimacy when dealing with Public Sector - they know you know what you are talking about when you are basing things on the Index results,”

He hopes that the progress made in the last year can be maintained and that the focus can now be shifted to more thematic and issues specific data sets, like health data, spending data and company data, and also to introduce other key data sets to the Index, like cadastral data (record of land and property boundaries for national maps).

 

Russia

Russia received a much lower ranking than France, with the Index highlighting problems in all of the key areas and demonstrating that none of the datasets were openly licensed. However, the Russian Government has reacted positively to this and started using the Index as one of the key measurements of progress in open data.

Ivan Begtin, Ambassador for Open Knowledge in Russia and one of the editors for the Index, has led many of the open data initiatives in Russia in recent times. He has found the Index very useful in his work.

“Russian officials use the ranking on the Index as one of KPIs of data openness. It’s been very helpful for us - open data activists - to promote open data and open knowledge in Russia. I am non-governmental member of Russian Open Data Council under the Government Commission on Open Government, and right now I am using the Index methodology and results to explain how open data needs to evolve here in Russia.”

Ivan Begtin,

Ambassador for Open Knowledge in Russia, and Open Data Index Editor

Begtin continued that the primary thing that they were trying to focus on was key datasets being openly licensed as per Russian FOI law, which requires "openness by default". He warned that there are always some officials who want to improve the country’s position on the Index without actual delivering data meeting the essential criteria of openness. Fortunately, there has been many discussions around the topic, and the community has grown around open data.

“The present moment is much better than it was years ago, and the future looks bright. Right now, we have the G8 chapter, which Russia signed up for during last G8 meeting. For us (open data advocates), it is especially interesting to see the growing number of government open data initiatives launched,”

Ivan Begtin

Mexico

Led primarily by civil society organisations, Mexico has joined the open data movement in recent years. The 2013 Index ranked Mexico in the lower half of the table.

Juan Casanueva, one of the editors of the Index and director of SocialTIC, a NGO in Mexico City, said that in Mexico the Index has been effective in increasing citizen engagement around the topic of open data.

“Not only has it helped us internally to follow a methodology for assessment purposes, but also whenever we have presented the Index publicly - especially the assessment for Mexico - we found people do get more involved. It has been a good start,”

Juan Casanueva, SocialTIC

He continued that the Index has also had a strong impact locally, especially in bringing about a positive mood of competition between the cities in Mexico. However, Casanueva stressed that the Index is not a “magic wand”, and has not had the political impact some would have hoped for.

“Politically it has only exerted some pressure, mainly in the area of government spending data. We are pretty much used to being behind in standards from the US and European countries on most topics. There’s more competition between the cities in Latin American countries, than between countries,”

Casanueva concluded by saying that he is looking forward to working on the next assessment of the Index, and expected that the Index would become “more and more relevant” in coming years, as the topic of open data gained popularity in Mexico.

 

Burkina Faso

In the 2013 Index, Burkina Faso was ranked among the bottom five countries in the table. Idriss Tinto, an ambassador for Open Knowledge in Burkina Faso and a contributor to the Index, said that since its release, the Index results have helped open data activists make considerable progress in their discussions with the government on opening up the country’s data.

“Before the Index, we met with some government authorities and spoke to them about our activities and trainings in open data but they did not really pay much attention to what we were saying. After the Index, when they saw the ranking and the data online on the Open Knowledge website, they started listening to us. There's been a good deal of progress in discussions on which data sets we need to open up as a priority,”

Idriss Tinto, Open Knowledge Ambassador Burkina Faso, and Open Data Index Editor

Tinto also gave some concrete examples of how the release of the Index has helped them in their discussions with various government officials and the impact it is having on Burkina Faso’s Open Data movement.

“One good example is the data concerning postal codes in Burkina Faso. Before the Index, we had many difficulties getting information, but after the Index I had the opportunity to speak with Postal Service Director of our country, and explained to me how the postal codes work and how I can find the data. Now, it is so much easier to discuss things - like if we take health, education or sanitation data sets - now the authorities consider us to be doing real work, and are taking us seriously. As a result, it is much easier to access information and data now,”

Idriss Tinto

Tinto expects that Burkina Faso will rank much higher in the 2014 Index results, with increased access to information, a growing community of open data activists, and the work being put into opening up more data sets in Burkina Faso. As Open Knowledge Ambassador for Burkina Faso, Tinto is also working to train people in data journalism and open data so that the data that is being opened up can be put to good use, and to improve citizen engagement, government transparency and accountability.