Governments ‘locking data away’

The World Wide Web Foundation, founded by web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has launched the fourth edition of the Open Data Barometer, a global snapshot of how governments are using open data for accountability, innovation and social impact.

Covering 115 countries, the study found that early open data leaders are stalling, and even backsliding in their delivery of open data. The scores of high-ranking Nordic countries and the United States have fallen this year, and even the UK, an open data champion, has seen worrying changes in key policies. Globally, fewer than one in 10 datasets studied are fully open — unchanged from last year — showing that most countries are failing to make any progress on delivering vital public information.

UK results include (detailed results can be found here):

  • The UK ranks first with a score of 100 in this year’s Open Data Barometer – meaning it remains the champion, globally and regionally.
  • It has fully open datasets for almost all of the datasets we assess: budget, spending, legislation, election results, national statistics, health, education, environment, map data, public transport timetables, international trade, crime.
  • UK appears to be softening some of its policy commitments through a new ‘open government data when appropriate’ default policy.

Open data is data that is available for everyone to use and reuse, and allows citizens to hold governments to account for the decisions they take and the money they spend. Facing a global trust crisis, governments have an opportunity to engage with citizens and regain credibility by opening up their data.

Yet the report finds that, at a global level, data on key accountability metrics such as government spending, public contracts, company ownership and land ownership are among the least open and often poor quality. Government spending data — which helps people track where their taxes go — is open in just 3% of countries.

The report argues that leaders must focus on opening up the data that matters most: data that can help solve people’s most pressing problems — from transport to education to healthcare. And government must make sure these benefits are for everyone, through dedicated efforts to involve marginalised groups and ensure they can take advantage of the data available.

Committing to opening up data for accountability, economic growth and social good is a long-term process. To stay on the right track, the report suggests that governments must adopt the international Open Data Charter principles, ensuring open data programs are consistent, responsible and sustainable through political cycles.

Commenting on the Barometer findings, Senior Researcher and report author Carlos Iglesias said: “It’s frustrating to see virtually no improvement since last year, and some early leaders turn their backs on the open agenda. This failure to progress is a missed opportunity for governments to be transparent with citizens and win back trust. Yet, with some relatively simple steps, governments could drastically improve their scores. For instance, adding open licences to existing datasets would double the number of open datasets.”

Access the full report and data explorer online at http://opendatabarometer.org/. The report is also available to download.

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