Open Data Barometer: data poverty the next frontier of widening inequality
Web Foundation · April 20, 2016
Over half of countries studied now have open data initiatives, but still less than 10% of the government data vital for sustainable development is open
Today the Web Foundation, set up by World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, announced the results of the 3rd Open Data Barometer, a global snapshot of the state of open government data in 92 countries. Open data is data that is openly published online and is free for all to access and reuse. For the first time, over half of the countries in our study have open data initiatives in place.
However, faster progress on translating commitments into action is needed to close data gaps in the developing world, the study warns. Fewer than 10% of the datasets surveyed were open, and most of these are in the rich world: nearly half of the open datasets in our study are found in just 10 OECD countries, while almost none are in African countries. Although many developing countries have pledged to open up more data – with 10 additional developing countries making open data commitments last year alone – a lack of resources and weak data infrastructure are limiting implementation.
This data divide is depriving developing countries of the information tools they need to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals on education, health, environment, and rule of law, the study warns:
- Combatting corruption: Only 2% of countries in the study publish detailed public spending data and only 1% publish open company data – the two worst performing datasets in our study. Contracting data performs slightly better, with 8% of data open. Publishing this data in reuseable, machine-readable formats is essential not only to pierce the veil of secrecy but to help corruption fighters unravel the complex webs through which illicit money circulates.
- Improving health & education: Only 13% and 11% of countries respectively publish open data on the performance of health and education services, while only 15% release open demographic data that can be combined with health and education data to identify ways to improve outcomes for women, girls and poor communities, for instance.
- Tackling climate change: Fighting global warming and related problems such as deforestation, flooding and falling crop yields requires sifting through vast amounts of data, yet little of this data is readily available online in machine-readable formats. Only 13% of countries release open environmental data, 5% have open land registries and 12% publish open map data.
Analysing the reasons for slow progress and limited impact, the study found that in many countries political commitment to open data has not yet been translated into a systematic plan backed by budget allocations, performance indicators, and capacity development across the whole of government. Institutional foundations for openness are also weak and under threat: scores in areas such as freedom of information and protection of citizens’ right to privacy declined this year.
Commenting on the findings, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and Founding Director of the Web Foundation said: “Inequality and poverty are about more than income – they are also about information. Seven years after I first demanded that governments open up their data to all, open data initiatives are now in place in more than half of countries we track. Yet their quality is variable, and benefits are concentrated in rich countries. Now is the time to resource and implement open data throughout the world, through projects such as the international Open Data Charter.”
Anne Jellema, Web Foundation CEO, said:“Trying to use traditional data sources to tackle complex development challenges like climate change and hunger is like tunnelling through rock in the dark with a teaspoon. It takes ages and you may come out in the wrong place. Making development data open is vital for fast and accurate collaboration on the SDGs, and the urgency now is to move from promises to implementation.”
Jose Alonso, Web Foundation Open Data Programme Director, said: “To unlock the true potential of open data, we need unprecedented collaboration, increased investment and genuine commitments to transparency. The energy around the Sustainable Development Goals, in tandem with the current public anger around corruption and fraud, represents an opportunity for sustainable change we must grab with both hands.”
The full report is available for download and the data can be explored using our visualisation tool. You can follow the Web Foundation’s updates and analysis on the findings by following us on Twitter @WebFoundation #ODBarometer.