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Abstract Actively promoted by a broad spectrum of stakeholders, the Open Government Data movement is gaining considerable traction, illustrated by the rapid proliferation of initiatives worldwide. While the preponderance of early experiments emerged in advanced economies, developing countries are increasingly optimistic about proactively releasing public sector information to achieve a multitude of policy goals. However, to what extent is Open Government Data replicable in developing countries, and what factors must be addressed if it is to be a catalytic change agent rather than mere development fad? Structured in four sections, this paper provides a literature review of the Open Government Data movement to date, critically assessing its transferability to developing countries and identifying challenges and limitations that will determine its relative social impact. The first section examines the philosophy, drivers and history of Open Government Data. The second section analyzes the modes of public sector information release featured in developed countries, assessing the validity of underlying assumptions regarding supply and demand when applied to developing countries. The third and fourth sections illuminate factors contributing to the success or failure of public sector information initiatives, drawing upon the cumulative experience of e-government, ICT penetration, institutional reform as well as Open Government Data initiatives to inform future efforts.
Introduction Since 2009, a wave of governments, primarily in North America and Europe but including notable examples in middle income and developing countries, have launched Open Government Data (OGD) initiatives to proactively release public sector information via online data catalogues. OGD proponents extol its potential to achieve a broad spectrum of public policy goals, including: enhanced economic growth, improved transparency and accountability, more efficient and effective provision of public services, as well as strengthened citizen participation in governance. Developing country leaders, international donors and civil society are increasingly promoting OGD as essential to good governance and growth. The successive launches of the World Bank’s Open Data Initiative, the international Open Government Partnership, and Kenya’s Open Data portal are emblematic of this enthusiasm. Despite its appeal, the emergent Open Government Data movement evidences problematic assumptions that may relegate it to development fad rather than catalytic change agent, if ignored. After decades of investment to alleviate poverty and improve governance in developing countries with mixed results, it is understandable why the international community and developing countries want to view Open Government Data as a catalyst to remedy persistent problems. Poor governance is chronic in many countries as citizens suffer under dysfunctional institutions, endemic corruption and the abdication of their governments in the provision of public goods and services. Despite exceptional economic growth in countries such as China and India, persistent inequities prevail both between and within middle and lower-income countries. Finally, the limited voice and rights of citizens in many states leave them with little recourse to fight political and economic repression or productively contest the failure of their governments to fulfill their duties. This search for a definitive solution is combined with opportunism seeking to exploit two recent developments for improved governance and growth: the unprecedented proliferation of information communication technologies (ICTs) and a ground-swell of grassroots movements organizing themselves through social media to demand political reform and improved public services. Middle-income and developing countries have been adopting new ICTs, predominantly mobile phones, with impressive speed, drastically increasing the ‘connectedness’ of citizens to information. The ‘Arab Spring’, a series of demonstrations and uprisings of young people throughout the Middle East, was also instructive in awakening the world to the disruptive potential of social media to create internal pressure for reform.4 Despite this confluence of promising events, the extent of Open Government Data’s impact and its transferability to middle income and developing countries must be assessed on the validity of its assumptions. Implicit in the OGD concept, are predictions regarding the demand and supply of public sector information. The OGD movement assumes that the public has the will and capacity to use open government data to achieve social and commercial value. However, this rosy scenario ignores stark realities of digital exclusion, low information capabilities and constrained civic space that characterize many developing countries. The OGD movement also assumes that governments can be convinced to mandate release of public sector information and that, once agreed, they have the endogenous capacity to implement such an initiative. However, this disregards enervating influences of patronage networks, corruption and low civil service capabilities that characterize some developing country contexts. Finally, advocates generally assume that the models of OGD release featured in developed countries will seamlessly translate into functional modalities in the developing world, irrespective of differences in environmental conditions and the relative capacities of key societal actors. It is the contention of this paper, that if the Open Government Data movement is to achieve its aspirations, potentially flawed assumptions must be exposed and intentionally remedied. To this end, this paper begins by chronicling the philosophy, drivers and history of the Open Government Data movement. The second part critically assesses the transferability of OGD concepts and modes of release in middle income and developing countries. Finally, the third and fourth parts of the paper identify underlying challenges and limitations of the OGD movement to inform future efforts.
4 Artwell Dlamini. “Arab Spring is a Game-changer in the Corruption Fight.” Business Live. May 9, 2011. http://www.businesslive.co.za/incoming/2011/05/09/arabspring-is-game-changer-in-corruption-fight.
Part 1: Philosophy, History and Drivers of Open Government Data The Open Government Data movement rose to prominence in 2008 with the codification of eight core principles calling for the release of government data that is: complete, primary, timely, accessible, machineprocessable, non-discriminatory, non-proprietary and license free.5 The movement gained momentum quickly, attracting influential, high-level champions in the US and UK, as well as grassroots support from civil society groups. Subsequent to the US and UK launches, more than 100 OGD initiatives have proliferated around the globe at city, state and national levels.6 Documenting the evolution of the Open Government Data movement to date is a useful starting point for considering the extent of its impact and potential for replication. 1.1. Defining Open Government Data As a movement still in its formative stages, Open Government Data does not have one universally agreed upon definition, with advocates stressing different points. A frequently cited definition comes from the Open Knowledge Foundation and articulates the ethos of OGD as the ability for anyone to “use, reuse and redistribute [a piece of content or data] – subject only to the requirement to attribute and share-alike”.7 Three foci are commonly highlighted in the literature on ‘Open Government Data’: A focus on government: Public bureaucracies generate considerable information as a result of their activities, including: budgets, plans, reports, social statistics, etc. OGD recognizes the social value of this information to provide insight into the priorities, efficiency and effectiveness of government, as well as its commercial value as fuel for innovators to develop new products and services.8 A focus on openness: Citizens have a legitimate interest in, and can make productive use of, government information for the benefit of themselves and society, at large. Therefore, OGD asserts that all government information should be accessible and usable by everyone.9 A focus on data: Citizens can use government information in its finished10 form, as well as repurposing underlying or ‘raw’ data in new forms. OGD uniquely emphasizes that governments should proactively disclose both their final information products, as well as the datasets undergirding them.11
1.2. Paradigm Shifts Inherent in the Concept of Open Government Data The Open Government Data movement embodies a paradigm shift that effectively re-conceptualizes the relationship between a government and its citizens.12 OGD involves a realignment of power dynamics as the public sector relinquishes its role as ‘information gatekeeper’ in lieu of a new role as ‘information publisher’.13 The concept of a ‘gatekeeper state’ originated with African historian Frederick Cooper to describe the tight control of natural resources exerted by colonial and post-colonial governments intent on using them to maintain their power base.14 In the era of OGD, information (or data) is a new resource form that governments seek to control. The premise of OGD controverts the idea of proprietary government ownership of its information, outlining a revised role for government as publisher of information upon which the public should proffer its own ‘representations and interpretations’.15 This involves a significant reorientation of expectations regarding a government’s obligations to its citizens explored below.
Open Government Data Working Group, “8 Principles of Open Government Data”, last modified December 8, 2007. http://www.opengovdata.org/home/8principles. Fundacion CTIC, “Public Dataset Catalogs Faceted Browser”, (Open Data @ CTIC – Sandbox to CTIC, 2011), http://datos.fundacionctic.org/sandbox/catalog/faceted/. 7 “Open Knowledge Definition”, accessed July 8, 2011, http://www.opendefinition.org/. 8 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access: Open Government Data and the Right to (Re)use Public Information” (2011), 7, http://www.access-info.org/documents/Access_Docs/Advancing/Beyond_Access_7_January_2011_web.pdf. 9 Ibid. 10 ‘Finished form’ in this instance refers to government information that has been interpreted to some degree such as through visualization or aggregation; whereas ‘raw’ data implies minimal or no interpretation. 11 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 5. 12 Tim Davies, “Open Data, Democracy and Public Sector Reform,” (MSc diss, University of Oxford, 2010), 16, http://practicalparticipation.co.uk/odi/report/wpcontent/uploads/2010/08/How-is-open-government-data-being-used-in-practice.pdf. 13 Tim Davies, “Open Data, Democracy and Public Sector Reform,” 5. 14 Frederick Cooper, “Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present: New Approaches to African History.” Cambridge University Press. New York, NY. 2002., 5. 15 Tim Davies, “Open Data, Democracy and Public Sector Reform,” 5.
First, OGD implies changing the default assumption regarding public information so that the prevailing norm is that the data available to the public is complete, rather than selective, and withholding information is the exception rather than the rule. While it is desirable for all government data to be open, certain exceptions can be mediated through the use of a ‘public interest test’ to prevent disclosure of information that would abrogate individual privacy rights or endanger national security.16 Second, OGD necessitates a shift from making information available in response to a specific request, known as ‘reactive disclosure’, to preemptively releasing information, commonly referred to as ‘proactive disclosure’.17 OGD is interested in catalyzing proactive disclosure of as much government information as possible to maximize social and commercial value through its timely dissemination and adaptation.18 Third, OGD requires more than accessibility in theory, but also in practice, measured by its usability. There are two dimensions of accessibility essential to the OGD ethos. If open government data is to be usable, citizens must easily find it. This raises issues of ‘discoverability’ and the need for searchable, public interfaces that catalogue and present datasets in a coherent manner to interested users.19 Furthermore, once citizens have discovered information of interest, they should be able to obtain the data in forms that facilitate its use with minimal barriers. Common considerations include the use of open file formats as opposed to proprietary platforms, as well as file types that are machine-readable;20 enabling automated processing of the data.21 An additional dimension of accessibility is that it is non-discriminatory and available to all without retribution.22 Fourth, central to OGD is the idea that citizens should be able to use and reuse23 data through sharing it in its original form and/or create new forms with minimal limitations.24 OGD emphasizes that while finished or aggregated information is of value, governments should also make available the most raw or unadulterated forms of primary data possible, with minimal aggregation to facilitate maximum creative usage.25 Removal of user-fees and use of creative commons licenses are helpful to facilitating reuse of OGD, however, these are best practices rather than agreed upon standards.26 The existence of machine-readable formats dictates the extent to which data can be manipulated, used and reused. 1.3. Motivational Drivers of Open Government Data Although the preponderance27 of government data catalogues launched to date are from OECD countries,28 the emergence of Open Government Data initiatives in countries such as Moldova, Timor-Leste and Kenya demonstrate widespread interest in its potential, irrespective of income group or region. Motivational drivers encouraging the propagation of OGD are numerous and, at times, provoke conflict between factions within the movement as to which should be prioritized.29 Beth Noveck, a US official involved with OGD, characterized this ideological tension as pitting “good government reformers” against “open government data innovators” with the former emphasizing accountability and the later emphasizing collaboration.30 Despite the unresolved debate,31 four notable OGD drivers can be identified, including: transparency and accountability, economic growth and innovation, inclusive participation and government efficiency.
Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 74. Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 69. 18 Ibid. 19 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 8. 20 PDF is an example of a file format that is not ‘machine-readable’, however, is used frequently for the digitization of paper records. 21 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 9. 22 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 69. 23 ‘Reuse’ implies that the data is used in a different way than its original form, such as through the use of mash-ups with other datasets to create new information. 24 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 9. 25 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 31. 26 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 46. 27 According to the data.gov, out of 21 international OGD portals launched as of July 2011, only 6 were from non-OECD countries: Hong Kong (China), Kenya, Moldova, Morocco, Singapore and Timor-Leste. 28 Data.gov. “Open Data Sites”. Accessed July 12, 2011. http://www.data.gov/opendatasites#mapanchor. 29 Vadym Pyrozhenko, “Implementing Open Government: Exploring the Ideological Links between Open Government and the Free and Open Source Software Movement” (paper presented at the 11th Annual Public Management Research Conference at Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, 2011), 3, http://www.maxwell.syr.edu/uploadedFiles/conferences/pmrc/Files/Pyrozhenko_Implementing_Open_Government.pdf. 30 Pyrozhenko, “Implementing Open Government”, 4. 31 Ibid.
1.3.1. Transparency and Accountability It has been well documented that lack of transparency encourages corruption and inefficiency. Institutional reform scholar, Robert Klitgaard effectively sums up the challenge with the statement, “corruption equals monopoly plus discretion minus accountability”.32 Open Government Data represents a radical shift from a government culture concerned with security, turf33 and proprietary information to one of transparency where the default has become unlimited access. Many OGD advocates emphasize its ‘spotlight effect’ in removing the veil of secrecy enshrouding the public sector’s activities, thus facilitating greater scrutiny through reduced monopoly of information.34 Going beyond transparency, OGD is promoted as an essential ingredient in achieving a stronger ‘feedback loop’ of accountability.35 Citizens were previously seen as passive, producers or contributors of data, whereas OGD redefines the role of citizens as active, consumers of data.36 With open access to government data, individuals and groups can better evaluate public sector performance and advocate for improved service delivery. 1.3.2. Economic Growth and Innovation Stressing the social and commercial value of government data, some Open Government Data proponents are motivated by the collaborative potential for entrepreneurial individuals, private sector and civil society organizations to innovate off the data as a ‘platform’37 for new services and public goods.38 These innovations may fuel economic growth through increased business opportunities or leverage ‘crowd-sourcing’ to remedy persistent social problems.39 This argument has been prominent in OGD’s ascendance in middle income and developing countries, exemplified by Kenya’s linkage of OGD with its economic growth strategy and bolstering the expansion of the ICT sector.40 Considering vast challenges faced by these countries, integration of OGD within a broader government strategy with visible development benefits enhances its popularity. 1.3.3. Inclusive participation Open Government Data asserts an expanded interest of citizens; not only in what government does, but also in the data it produces. Proponents of OGD emphasize its potential to redress information asymmetries between government and the public, which hampers inclusive participation in the civic space.41 The emphasis on inclusion also implies an interest in bolstering the ability of all segments of society to influence public sector officials, circumventing exclusive influence loops of patronage networks and lobbying by elites. OGD is promoted for its ‘democratizing effect’, facilitating a more civically literate public able to contribute meaningfully to national dialogue on government priorities and policies.42 Open government data is seen as enhancing citizens’ capacity to engage in three mechanisms: “formal political participation” such as voting in democratic contexts, “collaborative planning and budgeting”, and “market participation of citizens as consumers of public goods”.43 1.3.4. Government efficiency Connected with efforts tied into ‘digitizing government’44 or ‘e-government’, some advocates have promoted the ability of Open Government Data initiatives to catalyze greater government efficiency through improved
32 Robert Klitgaard. “Three Levels of Fighting Corruption.” Remarks to the Carter Center Conference on Transparency for Growth in the Americas. May 3, 1999. http://www.cartercenter.org/news/documents/doc1193.html. 33 Francis Fukuyama,. “State Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century.” 2004: Cornell University Press. Ithaca, NY, 53. 34 Davies, “Open Data, Democracy and Public Sector Reform,” 5 and 36. 35 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 80. 36 Glover Wright et al., “Open Government Data Study: India”, (Open Society Foundation, 2011), 14, http://www.transparency-initiative.org/reports/open-governmentdata-study-india. 37 Pyrozhenko, “Implementing Open Government”, 14. 38 Noor Hujiboom and Tijs Van den Broek. “Open Data: An International Comparison of Strategies,” European Journal of e-Practice 12 (2011), 4, http://www.epractice.eu/files/European%20Journal%20epractice%20Volume%2012_1.pdf. 39 Ibid 40 Ndemo, Bitange. “Freeing Kenya’s Data”. Presentation at the World Bank Institute, Washington, DC, July 13, 2011. http://www.livestream.com/worldbankafrica/video?clipId=pla_8dc3cbce-cf6e-4345-91bb-ffeda3a2720f&utm_source=lslibrary&utm_medium=ui-thumb. 41 Davies, “Open Data, Democracy and Public Sector Reform,” 36. 42 Hujiboom and Van den Broek, “Open Data: An International Comparison,” 5. 43 Davies, “Open Data, Democracy and Public Sector Reform,” 33. 44 Davies, “Open Data, Democracy and Public Sector Reform”, 37.
information infrastructure, inter-agency coordination and workforce capacity. In this context, public sector officials are both suppliers and consumers of information. Government bureaucracies supply information to support efficient provision of public services electronically. In breaking down information silos45 between agencies, government officials can also consume information from other parts of the bureaucracy to benefit their work. This argument is popular among proponents of New Public Management seeking to foster productive competition for providing public services between government agencies and with the private sector.46 Government efficiency has also served as a motivation in places such as Moldova and India, where OGD progress is conceptually linked to ‘modernizing’ government47 and improving service delivery.48 1.4. Evolution of the Open Data Movement: Chronology and Philosophy The earliest forays in proactively releasing public sector information via online portals occurred at a subnational level as early as October 2008, with the District of Columbia (DC) championing “Apps for Democracy”, a ‘civic hacker49 competition’, to facilitate development of applications featuring newly released government datasets.50 The DC experiment and other pilot projects provided a valuable ‘demonstration effect’ for later national level initiatives, first in the US and UK and then elsewhere.51 In January 2009, US President Barrack Obama released a “Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government” calling for government that embodied three principles: transparency, participation and collaboration.52 This paved the way for the launch of data.gov in May 2009, as a “curated web portal” making increasing numbers of datasets from US government agencies publicly available.53 Prime Minister Gordon Brown catalyzed the OGD movement in the UK with the appointment of Tim BernersLee, a leading thinker in the world of semantic web and linked data, to assist the government’s efforts in the area of open government in 2009.54 Four goals were outlined as the drivers of the UK’s OGD push, including: transparency and accountability, citizen-led public sector reform, economic and social innovation and gaining prominence in semantic-web. An additional extrinsic motivator was external pressure arising from a political scandal.55 The UK launched data.gov.uk in April 2010, making 3,000 raw datasets publicly available.56 While Open Government Data’s emphases on datasets, electronic interfaces and proactive disclosure are relatively new, at least three other historical movements have influenced its genesis, including: right of access to information, good governance and the free and open source software movement. Right of access to information (ATI)57 advocates explicit legal recognition of citizens’ right to government information. The motivating driver of ATI is responsive, transparent government rather than commercial value or collaboration, per se. Historically, ATI’s emphasis has been on the government’s obligation of ‘reactive disclosure’. Emerging dialogues among ATI advocates and with their OGD counterparts indicate growing ideological convergence, evidenced by a stronger recent emphasis on proactive transparency within the ATI
Fukuyama, “State Building”, 53-54. Justin Longo. “#Open Data: Digital-Era Governance Thoroughbred or New Public Management Trojan Horse?” Public Policy and Governance Review. Vol. 2, Issue 2. (2011): 38. doi: 10.1002/pmic.201190079. 47 World Bank. “Moldova’s Governance e-Transformation Project Aims to Improve Public Services and Transparency by Opening Data and Leveraging Innovative Technologies.” June 9, 2011, http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/NEWS/0,,contentMDK:22936610~pagePK:64257043~piPK:437376~theSitePK:4607,00.html?cid=3001_4. 48 Wright et al., “Open Government Data Study: India”, 18. 49 Rebecca Hogge defines ‘civic hacking’ as employing information communication technologies for enhanced civic life or to solve particular social problems. Becky Hogge, “Open Data Study” (Open Society Foundation: 2011), 8, http://www.soros.org/initiatives/information/focus/communication/articles_publications/publications/open-data-study-20100519.Hogge. 50 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 17 and 87. 51 Hogge, “Open Data Study”, 5. 52 Pyrozhenko, “Implementing Open Government”, 2. 53 Hogge, “Open Data Study”, 5. 54 Hogge, “Open Data Study”, 4. 55 Hogge, “Open Data Study”, 18. 56 Hogge, “Open Data Study”, 4. 57 Right of access to information initiatives are also referred to as Freedom of Information (FOI).
movement.58 Recognizing the mutually reinforcing potential, the 2011 International Conference of Information Commissioners passed a resolution promoting Open Data principles as desirable for governments in fulfilling their ATI commitments.59 Good governance serves as a second influential movement for Open Government Data, particularly in its foci of transparency, citizen participation, and feedback loops.60 E-democracy61 and e-government62 can be seen as a more recent manifestations featuring use of digital technologies to achieve good governance goals such as improved service delivery and responsiveness to citizen feedback.63 OGD has, at times, been explicitly included as a priority within a comprehensive e-Government strategy using information communication technologies (ICTs) to disseminate information and encourage citizen participation;64 however, it is equally possible that OGD occurs later, or not at all.65 The Free and Open-Source Software Movement (FOSSM) has informed Open Government Data from its inception through the present day.66 The concept of a ‘hack’ as an innovative technical solution,67 the belief in free information, the civic-mindedness of the ‘hacker’ community68 and the emphasis on ‘citizen collaboration’,69 all originated in the early days of FOSSM and are now prominent in OGD. The disruptive potential of ICTs has also informed OGD with its potential for technological leap-frogging70 and as a mechanism for the inexpensive release and application of data at scale.71 1.5. Open Government Data Distinctive Attributes Although substantively informed by Access to Information, good governance and the Free and Open-Source Software, the Open Government Data movement is distinctive in its collective emphases on: (1) norms rather than rights; (2) disclosure for social and commercial value rather than responsiveness to citizen claims; (3) raw data rather than ‘interpreted’ information; and (4) information in formats facilitating re-use and interpretation. While the ability to use and reuse government data implies a right to do so, unlike Freedom of Information (FOI) or Access to Information initiatives, Open Government Data is concerned with actual practice mediated by ‘normative frameworks’ rather than formal legislative frameworks.72 This distinction means that OGD can theoretically bypass the prolonged negotiations with recalcitrant legislative bodies that ATI campaigns have to navigate.73 However, while governments may view selective disclosure under OGD as relatively innocuous, as citizen demand grows and information is reused in new ways, this calculus may shift, with OGD becoming more controversial than at first glance.74 OGD has also provoked criticism from rights advocates concerned that
58 Freedominfo.org. “Info Commissioners Approve Resolution on Transparency,” October 5, 2011, http://www.freedominfo.org/2011/10/info-commissioners-approveresolution-on-transparency/ 59 Ibid. 60 Hujiboom and Van den Broek, “Open Data: An International Comparison,” 2. 61 Per Harrison et all, ‘e-democracy’ is focused on the application of the Internet and ICTs to “amplify the political voice of ordinary citizens” in political processes.” Teresa M. Harrison, Santiago Guerrero, Brian G. Burke, Meghan Cook, Anthony Cresswell, Natalie Helbig, Jana Hrdinova and Theresa Pardo. “Open Government and E-Government: Democratic Challenges from a Public Value Perspective,” 2. Center for Technology in Government U/Albany. Paper prepared for the 12th Annual International Digital Government Research Conference, June 12-15, 2011, College Park, MD, USA, 2011. 62 Per Harrison et all, ‘e-government’ focuses on the “use of technology to enhance the quality and cost-effectiveness of routine activities undertaken by public organizations”. Harrison et all, “Open Governemnt and E-Government,” 2. 63 Alexander Schellong and Ekaterina Stepanets, “Unchartered Waters: The State of Open Data in Europe”, (CSC: 2011), 1. http://assets1.csc.com/de/downloads/CSC_policy_paper_series_01_2011_unchartered_waters_state_of_open_data_europe_English_2.pdf 64 Schellong and Stepanets, “Unchartered Waters”, 18. 65 Wright et al., “Open Government Data Study: India”, 7. 66 Pyrozhenko, “Implementing Open Government”, 23. 67 Pyrozhenko, “Implementing Open Government”, 17. 68 Pyrozhenko, “Implementing Open Government”, 18. 69 Pyrozhenko, “Implementing Open Government”, 24. 70 Wright et al., “Open Government Data Study: India”, 39. 71 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 11. 72 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 8. 73 Becky Hogge, “Open Data Study” (Open Society Foundation: 2011), 22. 74 Marcos Mendiburu. Interview by Samantha Custer. In-person and email. Washington, DC. August 16 and September 19, 2011.
its lack of emphasis on legal rights allows governments to “hide behind promises to release more data”, without codifying their duty to respond to citizens’ requests for information.76
Open Government Data encourages disclosure of information primarily for its commercial and social value, rather than as a legally obligated responsiveness to citizen claims. Despite its eschewing of legislative guarantees, it has been argued that an Open Data initiative could “stimulate greater demand for information”, thereby mobilizing public pressure for “better access [to information] regimes”.77 Although ATI disclosure provisions do not specify reusable formats,78 OGD is one vehicle that governments might use to fulfill their disclosure obligations.79 Transparency and governance oriented movements alike emphasize the importance of citizen awareness regarding the activities of their governments. However, the public sector information often in focus in these dialogues are finished products such as budgets, plans, reports, expenditures, policies, etc. While Open Government Data expects that all these finished products should be available to the public, it goes a step further in calling also for the release of ‘raw’ or ‘un-interpreted’ datasets that can be shared and used in new ways. Open Government Data emphasizes the release of public information in formats facilitating re-use and interpretation to a greater degree than previous movements. The interpretative function of third-party intermediaries such as civil society organizations or private sector enterprises gains additional prominence in assisting citizens in making meaning from ‘raw’ public datasets.80 1.6. Open Government Data for Social Accountability A critical contention of Open Government Data is that the proactive release of public sector information will lead to improved governance, increasing the social accountability of government bureaucracies to their citizens. Accountability implies81 the existence of a ‘social contract’82 between a central authority and the public, in which citizens relinquish certain ‘natural rights’ in return for protection or public goods provided by their government. It is upon the integrity and validity of this social contract that the legitimacy of the modern state relies.83 The normative construct of accountability has been defined both narrowly, specifically to the idea of ‘giving account for ones actions’84 in the “use and allocation of public resources”,85 as well as broadly including notions of responsibility, fairness, integrity and transparency.86 The relevant actors in view within accountability have expanded from a circumscribed emphasis on individual citizens and their interactions with the state to an expansive conception of a collective civil society87 capable of coordinated action.88 Social accountability, therefore, amplifies the effect of traditional, internal mechanisms of accountability within the government with the added voice of civil society.89 Open Government Data, in increasing the transparency of public sector information, theoretically reduces information asymmetries for citizens and civic groups, strengthening their ability to monitor the performance of
Freedominfo.org. “Views on Open Data Contrast During ICIC Sessions,” October 6, 2011, http://www.freedominfo.org/2011/10/views-on-open-data-contrast-duringicic-sessions/ Becky Hogge, “Open Data Study” (Open Society Foundation: 2011), 21-22. 77 Freedominfo.org. “Views on Open Data Contrast During ICIC Sessions” 78 Mendiburu. Interview. In-person and email. 79 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 11. 80 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 79. 81 D. Miller, J. Coleman, W. Connolly and A. Ryan, eds., The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Thought. (Blackwell Publishing: 1991), 478. 82 See John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Immanuel Kant (1650-1800) 83 Miller, The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Thought, 279. 84 M. Bovens, “Analysing and Assessing Accountability: A Conceptual Framework.” European Law Journal, Vol. 13, Issue 4 (2007): 450. 85 Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, A Manual for Trainers of Social Accountability (Manila, Philippines: ANSA-EAP, 2010), 10. 86 R. Mulgan, Holding Power to Account: Accountability in Modern Democracies. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2003, ?. 87 E. Peruzzotti, “The Workings of Social Accountability: Context and Conditions.“ Paper prepared for the Workshop ‘Generating Genuine Demand with Social Accountability Mechanisms’, Paris World Bank Office, November 1-2, 2007 – Paris, 3-4. 88 Ibid 89 Peruzzotti, “The Workings of Social Accountability”, 4.
public officials, contest policies or demand action. However, while open government and freedom of information are helpful inputs90 to social accountability such as through enabling evidence-based advocacy,91 transparency does not automatically produce scrutiny and therefore is insufficient.92 If Open Government Data is to realize its claims of improved accountability, policy makers and advocates must substantively address the capacity of citizens and civic groups to: confidently navigate the data and its underlying systems; and meaningfully engage with their governments to plan and negotiate change.93 The Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP) identifies four catalytic ingredients for social accountability to flourish: organized and capable citizen’s groups; responsive government; access to and effective use of information; and sensitivity to culture and context.94 The presence of these ingredients within a society cannot be taken for granted, and yet they are only minimally addressed in the rhetoric of the Open Government Data movement to date. The stakes are much higher in countries where citizens have only limited capacity or civic space to organize themselves and demand good governance from their governments.
Part 2: Transferability of Open Government Data to Developing Countries Actively promoted by international donors, transnational civil society and governments, Open Government Data initiatives are proliferating worldwide at a rapid pace. While the first wave of OGD initiatives were predominately from higher-income OECD countries, the next wave is likely to include a far greater number of lower and middle income countries than previously, evidenced by those countries that have announced imminent launches of official government data portals or open data policies.95 This phenomenon provokes questions regarding the transferability of modalities from Open Government Data’s first wave into developing country contexts with drastically different capacities of societal actors and environmental conditions. 2.1. The “Next OGD Frontier”96: Open Government Data for Development? Open Government Data has garnered considerable interest as a means to achieve a wide array of public policy goals, including: improved transparency and accountability enhanced economic growth, more efficient and effective provision of public services, as well as strengthened citizen participation in governance. If developing countries could harness the full benefits of an OGD initiative to realize the degree of positive change that it promises, then it would be transformative indeed in improving governance, alleviating multi-dimensional poverty and strengthening civic engagement by all segments of society. However, the extent of Open Government Data’s impact and its transferability must be assessed on the validity of its assumptions regarding supply, demand and default models of OGD release applied to middle income and developing countries. 2.2. Models of OGD Release: Limitations of ‘Transfer and Diffusion’ Most nascent Open Government Data initiatives, regardless of the relative level of development of the country involved, frequently cite the US and UK as the examples they want to emulate.97 In this respect, the modalities used by the US and UK to catalyze and implement their OGD initiatives have become the default ‘model’ for the release of public sector information worldwide. This ill-advised perspective has been reinforced by OGD advocates promoting a ‘transfer and diffusion’98 approach to OGD that assumes the universal applicability of
Bovens, “Analysing and Assessing Accountability”, 453. Department for Communities and Local Government, Decentralisation and the Localism Bill: an essential guide (London: Crown Copyright), 17. 92 Bovens, “Analysing and Assessing Accountability”, 453. 93 Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, A Manual for Trainers of Social Accountability, 53. 94 Ibid. 95 Please refer to Annexes 1 and 2 for more information. 96 Aman Grewal and Carlos de la Fuente. “The Next OGD Frontier: Low and Middle Income Countries”. Open Knowledge Foundation Blog. Posted March 22, 2011 by Jonathan Gray. 97 This assertion is based on the author’s review of public statements made by governments announcing an Open Data initiative and/or describing the purposes of launching an online data catalogue, a significant number of which singled out the US and UK initiatives as models. 98 Christianthi Avgerou articulates ‘transfer and diffusion’ as an approach to “ICT innovation in developing countries as a process of diffusion of knowledge…transferred from advanced economies and adapted to the conditions of a developing country.” This concept has been extended here for use in the context of OGD.
the models used in advanced economies regardless of significant contextual differences in less developed countries.99 Implicit in this model of OGD release, are predictions regarding the demand and supply of public sector information. The OGD movement assumes that the public has the will and capacity to use open government data to achieve social and commercial value. The OGD movement also assumes that governments can be convinced to mandate release of public sector information and that, once agreed, they have the endogenous capacity to implement such an initiative. 2.2.1. Three Actor Groups Working in Tandem Analyzing the evolution of US and UK initiatives, Becky Hogge identified three actor groups as instrumental to the success of Open Government Data: top-level political leaders, mid-level government bureaucrats and civil society.100 Private sector organizations, in stressing the economic benefits of OGD, have also been influential in furthering initiatives in developed countries. Political leaders acted as high-level change agents, providing the political will and mandate to overcome the inertia of entrenched bureaucratic silos and secrecy that could inhibit the release of government data. These leaders forged effective partnerships with technocratic champions to garner further credibility for the initiative with the public and galvanize sustained progress101 within their government bureaucracies. Mid-level bureaucrats were a primary ‘supply-side’102 driver of Open Government Data based on their willingness and capacity to release datasets for public use. In many OGD initiatives, top-level mandates were instituted to convince mid-level officials that they would be rewarded and not reprimanded for making their information available103 and tangible examples of productive third party use of the data further smoothed the way by converting new mid-level OGD champions.104 Civil society was a critical ‘demand-side’105 driver of OGD. ‘Civic hackers’ created new applications featuring government data to provide new public services or goods. Traditional civil society organizations (CSOs) were key ‘intermediaries’ assuming both interpretative and communicative functions in helping citizens understand the implications of data pertaining to various issues.106 The private sector also contributed to demand, advocating for the OGD’s release to generate commercial value107 and producing applications to repurpose government data. Better-resourced and institutionalized than ‘civic hackers’, ICT companies supported the development of advanced features, data-mashups and visualizations using OGD.108 2.2.2. Mature versus Uneven Endogenous ‘Demand’ for Open Government Data Open Government Data initiatives in developed countries have operated under certain assumptions regarding the ease of mobilizing endogenous demand at both an institutional and individual level. The OGD model, to date, has presupposed well-developed grassroots institutions in the form of civil society organizations and private sector ICT companies that serve as intermediaries to help citizens make sense of government data and as innovators to develop new public goods and services. In developed country contexts, it is not unreasonable to presume the existence of a mature civil society and private sector capable of massing
Chrisanthi Avgerou. “Discourse on ICT and development”. Information technologies and international development, 6 (3). 1-18. 2010. SC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. LSE Research Online April 2011. http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/35564, 4. 100 Hogge, “Open Data Study”, 7. 101 Hogge, “Open Data Study”, 4-5. 102 Greg Michener and Katherine Bersch. “Conceptualizing the Quality of Transparency.” Paper prepared for the 1st Global Conference on Transparency. Rutgers University. Newark: NJ. May 17-20, 2011, 13. 103 Hogge, “Open Data Study”, 16. 104 Hogge, “Open Data Study”, 13. 105 Michener and Bersch. “Conceptualizing the Quality of Transparency”, 13. 106 Oren Perez. (2009). “Complexity, Information Overload and Online Deliberation.” Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society, 2009; Bar Ilan Univ. Pub Law Working Paper No. 10-09. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1031510, 18. 107 Pyrozhenko, “Implementing Open Government”, 34. 108 Robinson et all, “Government Data and the Invisible Hand”, 9-10.
adequate human capital to advocate for the release of government data and to use it to generate new social and commercial value once available. At an individual level, the model assumes a high threshold of digital inclusion and information capabilities109 for citizens to meaningfully participate in, and benefit from, OGD initiatives. Information capabilities goes beyond access, asserting that the biggest predictor of an individual’s ability to benefit from ICTs is their “capability to exert agency in using their livelihood resources, including access to information, to achieve the things they value doing or being in society.”110 Given relatively high levels of ICT penetration and human capital investment, it may be reasonable to take digital inclusion and information capabilities as a given in developed country contexts. Implicit in the concept of endogenous demand and the experience of developed countries has been the existence of adequate civic space for individuals and groups to mobilize themselves in representative institutions and use OGD to engage with their governments on issues of importance to them. Many of the OGD initiatives to date have occurred within the context of democratic systems of government that provide natural mechanisms and protections for citizens to use government information. In contrast to the experience of developed countries, endogenous demand for Open Government Data in developing countries may be weak or uneven due to low digital inclusion and information capabilities among citizens, as well as limited organizational capacity and accountability for third parties. This raises questions regarding the efficacy of applying the default model of Open Government Data release in these contexts. Poor countries and fragile states frequently have less well-developed civil societies either due to limited resources or restrictive policies than developed country counterparts, hampering citizen capacity to mobilize and demand reform.111 Less developed markets and the absence of linkages among ‘civic hackers’ further limits demand for OGD. Francis Fukuyama has cited “insufficient domestic demand for…institutional reform as the single most important obstacle to institutional development in poor countries”.112 It is foolhardy to assume that the realities of insufficient demand do not apply in the context of OGD, and yet the default model views mature endogenous demand driven by the public’s desire for government accountability or efficiency as a given. Middle income and developing countries are leap-frogging legacy technologies and adopting new ICTs with increasing speed, providing some justification for the view that this is an exceptional opportunity for the provision of OGD via electronic mediums. While the potential is significant, the reality in many developing countries is that a fraction of the population, primarily urban elites, has the opportunity to make ‘effective use’113 of these technologies.114 This divergence has been coined the “digital divide”,115 seen as a form of social exclusion.116 Launching an OGD initiative could create a “data divide”, exacerbating inequities.117 The role of intermediaries gains significance as fewer citizens are ‘connected’ to the digital world, which is the case in many middle income and developing countries.118 This raises a policy question regarding how to ensure
Björn-Sören Gigler has operationalized Amartya Sen’s original concept of human capabilities within the context of ICT’s as ‘information capabilities’. Gigler notes four components of informational capabilities pertaining to “a person‘s capability (i) to use ICTs effectively; (ii) to find, process, evaluate, and use information; (iii) to effectively communicate with others; and (iv) to produce and share local content through the network.” Björn-Sören Gigler. “Informational Capabilities – The Missing Link for the Impact of ICT on Development”. Working Paper Series No. 1. E-Transform Knowledge Platform Working Paper. The World Bank. March 2011, 10. 110 Gigler. “Informational Capabilities, 10. 111 Fukuyama, “State Building”, 30. 112 Fukuyama, “State Building”, 30. 113 Gurstein, Michael. “Open Data: Empowering the Empowered or Effective Data Use for Everyone?” Posted September 2, 2010. Gurstein’s Community Informatics. http://gurstein.wordpress.com/2010/09/02/open-data-empowering-the-empowered-or-effective-data-use-for-everyone/. 114 Please refer to Annex 3 for more information on disparities of digital inclusion between and within countries. 115 Avgerou. “Discourse on ICT and development,” 3. 116 Shirin Madon,, Nicolau Reinhard, Dewald Roode and Geoff Walsham. “Digital Inclusion Projects in Developing Countries: Processes of Institutionalization,”2. Paper presented to the 9th International Conference on Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries, São Paulo, Brazil. May 2007. http://www.ifipwg94.org.br/fullpapers/R0040-1.pdf. 117 Gurstein, Michael. “A Data Divide? Data “Haves” and “Have Nots” and Open (Government) Data”. Posted July 11, 2011. Gurstein’s Community Informatics. http://gurstein.wordpress.com/2011/07/11/a-data-divide-data-%E2%80%9Chaves%E2%80%9D-and-%E2%80%9Chave-nots%E2%80%9D-and-open-governmentdata/. 118 United Nations E-Government Survey 2010. Chapter One: Stimulus Funds, Transparency and Public Trust, 19.
that existing third party actors use public sector information in a manner that is productive for society and not exploitative of those that do not enjoy commensurate opportunities due to digital exclusion or limited information capabilities.119 The ‘public domain’ ideal120 of third party groups using OGD to create social and commercial value for society could unintentionally strengthen ‘rent-seeking groups’121 that ‘asymmetrically exploit’ freely accessible information,122 benefiting the interests of some at the expense of others. 2.2.3. Latent versus Constrained Capacity to ‘Supply’ Open Government Data Open Government Data initiatives in developed countries have also operated under certain assumptions regarding the ease of capitalizing on the latent capacity of the public sector to supply OGD, both in terms of incentives and civil service competence. As producers of public sector information, mid-level government bureaucrats were crucial to efforts to move from well-intentioned OGD policies to action in developed countries. However, as previously discussed (section 1.2), bureaucrats often view information asymmetries as a source of power and leverage to pursue their own interests.123 The OGD model presumes the will and capacity of political leaders to address the underlying incentives of civil servants in this extension of the classic ‘principal-agent’ dilemma of public administration.124 Consistent with ‘public choice theory’, governments that effectively use internal checks and balances to increase transparency and align incentives of the bureaucracy with appropriate rewards and punishments increase the likelihood that civil servants will facilitate rather than hinder momentum for OGD.125 The public sector’s commitment to undertake such reforms is highly variable depending on the extent to which politicians must be responsive to election cycles or other forms of public pressure. The OGD model assumes that if incentives are aligned, government bureaucracies have the necessary human and technological resources to fulfill their OGD obligations with minimal intervention. Releasing public sector information via online data catalogues requires civil servants to process information in electronic form, implying the need for sufficient information capabilities, access to hardware and software, and supporting IT infrastructure. In developed countries with professional civil service bureaucracies drawn from a well-educated populace, this assumption may be reasonable. In contrast, the will and capacity of developing country governments to supply Open Government Data may be constrained by enervating influences at all levels including: corruption, patronage networks, limited civil service capabilities and unaccountable politicians immune to electoral pressure. This raises questions regarding whether the default model of OGD release featured in developed country examples is still feasible. Any initiative that seeks to remove a source of power from vested interests produces ‘winners and losers’126, and an Open Government Data initiative is not an exception. In many developing country governments, highlevel leaders use the promise of public sector jobs to satiate political opponents and mobilize support from interest groups. This, in turn, leads to a bloated civil service that may be over populated, under qualified and beholden to patronage networks. These conditions create perverse incentives for civil servants or entire regimes to manipulate information, militate against the loss of a lucrative source of revenue or otherwise dissemble to avoid increasing public scrutiny of their performance.127 In contrast to developed countries, there is also considerable deviation in the technological savvy and information capabilities of civil servants in middle income and developing countries. Computers and digitized
119 120 121
Ibid. Anupam Chander and Madhavi Sunder. “The Romance of the Public Domain.” California Law Review. Volume 92 (2004): 1332. Fukuyama, “State Building”, 30. 122 Chander and Sunder. “The Romance of the Public Domain.” 1368. 123 Hogge, “Open Data Study”, 15. 124 Fukuyama, “State Building”, 47-49. 125 Fukuyama, “State Building”, 50. 126 Fukuyama, “State Building”, 33. 127 Michener and Bersch. “Conceptualizing the Quality of Transparency”, 3
files are recent developments in some government bureaucracies, therefore familiarity with technology is not always a given. Low levels of human capital development among some civil service bureaucracies have a constraining effect on their ability to collect, manipulate and interpret information with a high degree of quality. 2.2.4. Minimalist or Variable Role of Government in Open Government Data There has been divergent thought on the appropriate role of government versus the private sector in Open Government Data. Some advocates urge private sector led development and a minimalist role of government in providing the raw data.128 Other advocates believe that there is benefit to governments assuming a more substantial role to intentionally encourage innovation and use of public sector information. In the ‘default model of OGD’ exemplified by developed countries, the prevailing norm has been a circumscribed role of government primarily limited to publishing datasets, rather than directly developing applications for interpreting data.129 Some governments have augmented this with instigating collaboration and co-production of services featuring OGD with the private sector such as through sponsoring competitions. Implicit in the minimalist role of government advocated in developed countries models of OGD release, is an assumption that the society has the other ingredients it needs to make meaningful use of OGD, including: viable third parties, high degrees of digital inclusion and information capabilities among society at large, etc. While these assumptions may be justified in developed country contexts, the daunting infrastructure and human capital challenges in middle income and developing countries may require different models for OGD to gain sufficient traction to be transformative.130 The optimal allocation of responsibilities between government, the private sector and civil society likely depends on the relative strengths and weaknesses of these actor groups in a particular context. 2.3. Exogenous Demand and Supply: Unique to Developing Countries The default model of Open Government Data practiced in developed countries features supply and demand almost exclusively arising from endogenous forces such as reformist politicians, competent bureaucrats, empowered citizens and mobilized civil society. However, as discussed previously, internal OGD momentum may be severely hampered in developing country contexts, either from under-developed demand or unwillingness to supply. This prompts the question of whether it is possible to compensate for constrained endogenous supply and demand with external forces. 2.3.1. International Donors and Conditionalities One such exogenous force unique to the experience of middle income and developing countries is the role of donors as a potential catalytic actor for OGD. Donors can indirectly influence developing countries through releasing their own data, such as the World Bank’s Open Data Initiative,131 or directly tie development assistance to progress on OGD, effectively creating a new form of governance conditionality.132 The use of donor-driven conditionalities in development has been controversial and their effectiveness highly variable. Regardless of the mixed record of tying aid to particular policies or actions, broadly speaking there is consensus that conditionalities are most successful in bringing about the desired result if they are used to bolster, rather than replace, fledgling endogenous demand for reform.133 For example, donor requirements that countries make progress on releasing their public sector information could provide much needed leverage to reform-minded technocrats or nascent civil society seeking to mobilize support for controversial OGD initiatives. Another catalytic role for international donors is to document lessons learned from OGD experiences worldwide and to provide technical assistance to developing countries seeking to unleash the transformative potential of OGD to achieve progress in a variety of policy areas. Donors could provide a much needed bridging function in
128 129 130
Robinson et all, “Government Data and the Invisible Hand”, 1. Hogge, “Open Data Study”, 14. United Nations E-Government Survey 2010. Chapter One, 18. 131 Hogge, “Open Data Study”, 35. 132 Hogge, “Open Data Study”, 37. 133 Fukuyama, “State Building”, 36.
working with developing country leaders to identify models of OGD release that are conducive to the particular contextual realities of developing countries. 2.3.2. Externally Induced Supply: Peer Pressure and ‘Demonstration Effect’ Small-scale pilots and sub-national experiments predated national initiatives in many developed country examples, providing ‘proof of concept’ for political leaders and advocates to mobilize support. In developing countries there is considerable opportunity for OGD innovation at a state, district or city government level. Private sector or civil society organizations publishing their own data or limited government data can also spark cross-border initiatives such as India’s Reserve Bank134 releasing datasets on the Indian economy later mimicked by the Bank of Thailand.135 Subsequent countries embarking on OGD initiatives can learn both from ‘early adopters’ and current OGD efforts in middle income and developing countries, providing the opportunity for South-South learning. Kenya’s leaders are aware of their ability to influence neighboring countries within the East African Community with their OGD initiative.136 Countries in other regional groupings could do the same, unleashing the next wave of OGD worldwide. 2.4. Form vs. Substance: Realizing the Potential of Open Government Data for Development Writing on the concept of ‘the public domain’, Anupam Chander and Madhavi Sunder have rightly exposed the dangerous myth of ‘the commons’ as the great equalizer and provider of benefits to all without harm.137 Exploitative use of ‘freely accessible information’ from land titling138 to patenting of indigenous knowledge139 lends credence to the claim that the ability of citizens or groups to benefit from resources in the public domain is highly correlated to their relative capabilities to harness their livelihood resources to realize their goals.140 This can lead to widely divergent results in the context of developing countries already rife with socioeconomic inequalities.141 The prospect of Open Government Data in middle income and developing countries has several potential outcomes depending on how it is conceptualized and implemented. OGD could be a largely benign force, more hype than substance, neither catalyzing significant improvements nor causing undue harm. Alternatively, OGD could be a potentially destructive force, providing an additional tool for entrenched elites to exploit informational resources to their own ends at the expense of the less empowered. Or, OGD could live up to its transformative potential and facilitate equitable economic growth, inclusive participation of all segments of society and more accountable and efficient governance. Intentional investment in bolstering endogenous demand and supply for Open Government Data through improving digital inclusion and expanding information capabilities of citizens could make a tangible difference in their derived benefit from OGD.142
Part 3: Limitations and Challenges Influencing Open Government Data ‘Take-Off’ and Institutionalization With developed and developing countries seeking to launch Open Government Data at an unprecedented rate, identifying the factors contributing to the relative success or failure of these initiatives is increasingly imperative. However, as most OGD initiatives are still in their infancy, assessing their social impact and progress is difficult. Considering the experience of e-government to date and anecdotal lessons learned from the two earliest OGD initiatives in the US and UK are the best benchmarks that can be used for analysis. The
134 135 136
Wright et al., “Open Government Data Study: India”, 23. Wright et al., “Open Government Data Study: India”, 24. Bitange Ndemo. “Freeing Kenya’s Data”. 137 Chander and Sunder. “The Romance of the Public Domain.” 1331. 138 Chander and Sunder. “The Romance of the Public Domain.” 1346. 139 Chander and Sunder. “The Romance of the Public Domain.” 1348. 140 Chander and Sunder. “The Romance of the Public Domain.” 1331. 141 Chander and Sunder. “The Romance of the Public Domain,” 1354. 142 Gigler. “Informational Capabilities”, 19.
release of public sector information is arguably an extension, or sub-set, of e-government as a service or good provided to the public through an electronic medium, creating similar dynamics to that of OGD. As articulated in section two, most new OGD initiatives are explicitly seeking to emulate the US and UK examples, thereby making those experiences particularly instructive. Regardless of the model of release utilized, it is helpful for analysis to compartmentalize an OGD initiative into two stages: initial ‘take-off’ and sustained institutionalization. ‘Take off’ of OGD in this context considers factors pertinent to the initial launch or deployment of Open Government Data. Institutionalization, as used here, implies addressing challenges pertaining to the scope, impact and implementation of OGD that will influence its sustained progress in the long-term. Constrained resources and governance characteristic of many developing countries exacerbates the difficulty of overcoming limitations and challenges influencing the takeoff and institutionalization of Open Government Data. However, developed countries, while potentially better resourced, are not immune. Irrespective of a country’s means, policy makers must successfully address obstacles to both the ‘take-off’ and institutionalization of OGD to realize its transformative potential. 3.1. Cultivating an Enabling Environment for Open Government Data ‘Take Off’ Four environmental factors have the ability to bolster or retard the initial take-off of an Open Government Data initiative, including: (1) legislative and regulatory frameworks; (2) national information infrastructure and policies; (3) government legitimacy and civic space; and (4) organizational culture and norms of the bureaucracy. The extent to which governments successfully leverage these factors to cultivate an enabling environment will inject considerable momentum into OGD initiatives, whereas if not sufficiently addressed they can constitute a significant limitation. 3.1.1. Conducive Legislative and Regulatory Frameworks Even though Open Government Data primarily focuses on actual practice rather than legislative frameworks, obligations arising from existing legislation can help or hinder OGD take-off. Well-developed legislative and regulatory frameworks in areas including: individual privacy, access to information (ATI), and intellectual property can reduce transaction costs for private sector or civil society actors to reuse OGD.143 Conversely, insufficient clarity and inconsistent enforcement inhibits both OGD demand and supply. Privacy laws seek to balance protection of individual personal information and anonymity with societal goals of increased transparency. Lack of standards in this area can inhibit the availability of valuable public sector information such as census data or household surveys as agencies are uncertain of what is acceptable to share. Conversely, established privacy laws could overemphasize individual privacy concerns to the extent that it is problematic for government agencies to release information. For example, the public’s concern over potential breaches of confidentiality and anonymity with publishing of personal information has been identified as a limiting force in the US implementation of open government144 as well as in encouraging citizen use of egovernment services.145 Governments face a challenge of striving to achieve equilibrium in ensuring protection of individual privacy with clear and transparent standards, while preventing overly restrictive legislation from becoming an impediment to the release of public sector information.146
143 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access: Open Government Data and the Right to (Re)use Public Information” (2011), 7, http://www.access-info.org/documents/Access_Docs/Advancing/Beyond_Access_7_January_2011_web.pdf., 38. 144 United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Challenges to Utilizing Open Government Data.” Accessed August 17, 2011. http://portal.hud.gov:80/hudportal/HUD?src=/open/plan/challenges. 145 Valentina (Dardha) Ndou, “E-Government for Developing Countries: Opportunities and Challenges.” Electronic Journal on Information Systems in Developing Countries, (2004): 20. http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCIQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fciteseerx.ist.psu.edu%2Fviewdoc%2Fdownload%3Fdoi%3D10.1.1.12 7.9483%26rep%3Drep1%26type%3Dpdf&rct=j&q=egovernment%20for%20developing%20countries&ei=S0JETtfSNM3pgAeE9_neCQ&usg=AFQjCNEkpvikREuH3-ZUjgvh1en1Zs_y3w. 146 Subhajit Basu, “E-Government and Developing Countries: An Overview,” International Review of Law, Computers and Technology, Volume 18, Issue 1 (2004): 123. doi: 10.1080/13600860410001674779.
Access to information legislation enshrines the right of citizens to request information and delineates “the public sector’s duty to proactively disclose certain basic categories of information”.147 While the introduction and “enforcement of ATI legislation is not a guarantee or an essential prerequisite of an Open Data initiative”, ATI laws create “a culture of greater transparency and recognition that information belongs to the public”.148 This, in turn, reduces the ability of governments to obfuscate and validates the claims of citizens to public sector information. Similarly, while “governments may fulfill their proactive disclosure obligations without an OGD initiative, countries with existing ATI enforcement bodies such as Chile, Mexico and India are exploring potentially beneficial linkages”.149 An OGD initiative’s long-term viability tenuously relies on adherence to “principles and administrative directives” which are difficult to enforce and may be overturned by successive political regimes.150 In contrast, ATI initiatives, in “regulating the legal obligations of a government through international covenants and domestic laws, increases capacity for enforcement.”151 Governments seeking to ‘lock in’ reforms for future generations and remedy a potential liability stemming from OGD’s voluntary nature would benefit from pursuing legislation that embodies OGD principles. This may either be developed as an expansion of an existing ATI regime, or as a complement to it. Intellectual property legislation, including articles pertaining to copyright and patent, seek to delineate acceptable use and reuse of materials, both proprietary and in the public domain. When intellectual property legislation clearly permits the use and reuse of public sector information with minimal barriers, it can be a substantial boon to the use of OGD as it has been for e-government initiatives.152 However, in the absence of transparent intellectual property standards, third party actors become unwilling to invest in developing new applications around government data, concerned that they may face fines, retribution or appropriation of their work. Furthermore, intellectual property legislation that treats public sector information as proprietary and applies significant restrictions will have deleterious effect on its usage by third parties. Developed countries generally have well-established frameworks and enforcement mechanisms on issues of privacy, intellectual property and copyright, facilitating the reuse of public sector information. Conversely, many middle income and developing countries are still in the process of developing such legislation, potentially undercutting an OGD initiative’s success. 3.1.2. Sufficient National Information Infrastructure and Policies The technological backbone of an Open Government Data initiative is the ‘national information infrastructure’153 that serves as a “common and integrated architecture framework” facilitating data exchange between government agencies and with the public.154 This concept includes several components: telecommunications infrastructure to manage increased Internet and phone traffic,155 seamless connections between front-end web interfaces and back-end information management systems,156 interoperability of systems between agencies or at different levels of government157 and adequate availability of hardware and software within government bureaucracies. Without a strong national information infrastructure, both ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ of OGD suffers.
Mendiburu. Interview. In-person and email. Ibid. Ibid. 150 Ibid. 151 Ibid. 152 Basu, “E-government and Developing Countries”, 129. 153 Y.N. Chen, H.M. Chen, W. Huang and R.K.H. Ching. “Research Note on E-Government Strategies in Developed and Developing Countries: An Implementation Framework and Case Study.” Journal of Global Information Management, Vol. 14, Issue 1 (2006): 26, http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/apcity/unpan028242.pdf. 154 Zakareya Ebrahim and Zahir Irani. “E-government Adoption: Architecture and Barriers,” Business Process Management Journal Vol. 11, Issue 5. (2005): 591, doi: 10.1108/14637150510619902. 155 Chen et all, “Research Note on E-Government Strategies”, 591. 156 Ebrahim and Irani, “E-government Adoption”, 592 and 594. 157 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 18.
While most early Open Government Data initiatives launched data catalogues on the foundation of expansive telecommunications and information infrastructure, this is not the reality in many middle income and developing country contexts.158 Even in developed countries existing information infrastructure may be insufficient, serving as a limiting force. “Inadequate information technology infrastructure” within government agencies charged with implementing OGD has been a limiting factor in the US159 and the relative success of egovernment initiatives has been cited as “directly proportional” to the existence of requisite information technology infrastructure.160 If government bureaucracies are unable to remedy insufficient Internet bandwidth or lack hardware and software to easily post information in a variety of formats, they will be hampered in releasing public sector information to the detriment of an OGD initiative. Beyond technical infrastructure, the prospect of Open Government Data gives rise to a “tsunami”161 of new policy issues from provenance and records management guidelines to standards governing interoperability of information systems.162 The presence of a national information policy can reduce transaction costs for government officials charged with releasing public sector information through the articulation of a defined mandate and transparent standards ensuring consistent implementation. Absence of a policy delineating how agencies should manage various implementation issues pertinent to OGD perpetuates fragmented efforts and impedes progress.163 In developing countries, information policies necessarily must deal with a broader set of issues including strategies for encouraging ICT proliferation and expanding information capabilities of citizens to make use of OGD.164 3.1.3. Government Legitimacy165 and Public Trust Open Government Data is built upon the premise of productive two-way interaction between a government and its citizens, achieved through the publishing of public sector information that is then used by individuals or their intermediaries to contest public policies or otherwise create new social and commercial value. This concept necessitates a degree of trust166 between the parties that the information provided by the government is truthful and accurate and that citizen use of the information will not result in recriminations from the authorities. Public confidence in the veracity of government-published information is critical to Open Government Data take-off, essential to spurring demand and use of public datasets.167 However, the existence of perverse incentives encouraging civil servants or entire regimes to manipulate data168 negatively impacts the acceptance and use of public sector information. Similarly, lack of confidence in the quality of government data stemming from concerns regarding limited data collection capacity or lax standards, inhibits its extensive use.169 The perceived ability of citizens to safely interpret and share public sector information for innovation or contestation of government policies also has a substantial effect on the take-off of an OGD initiative.170 Without adequate social protections in place, use and reuse of OGD will be significantly reduced. Lack of trust is of particular concern in transitional or fragile states where public perceptions of the legitimacy and/or competence of civil servants are low171 and it must be remedied if an OGD initiative is to have a chance of success.
Chen et all, “Research Note on E-Government Strategies”, 26. Gwanhoo Lee and Young Hoon Kwak. “An Open Government Implementation Model: Moving to Increased Public Engagement.” Using Technology Series. IBM Center for the Business of Government, 2011. 26. 160 Basu, “E-government and Developing Countries”, 117. 161 Richard Best, Stephen Walker, Trevor Smallwood, Sanjeev Bhagowalia, Sanjeev Bhagowalia, and David L. McClure. “International Open Government Data Leaders - Top Ten Issues and Lessons Learned,” 9. Plenary Session Presentation to the International Open Government Data Conference, November 17, 2010. http://semanticommunity.info/@api/deki/files/1870/=iogdc2010_day3_plenary_3pm.pdf. 162 Best et all. “International Open Government Data Leaders - Top Ten Issues and Lessons Learned,” 15. 163 Ebrahim and Irani, “E-government adoption”, 605. 164 Gohar Feroz Khan, Junghoon Moon, Cheul Rhee and Jae Jeung Rho. “E-government Skills Identification and Development: Toward a Stage-Based User-Centric Approach for Developing Countries.” Journal of Information Systems, Vol. 20, Issue 1 (2010): 8, http://apjis.or.kr/pdf/MIS020-001-1.pdf. 165 Basu, “E-government and Developing Countries”, 120. 166 Basu, “E-government and Developing Countries”, 113. 167 Basu, “E-government and Developing Countries”, 112. 168 Michener and Bersch. “Conceptualizing the Quality of Transparency”, 2. 169 Hogge, “Open Data Study”, 47. 170 Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, “Beyond Access”, 69. 171 Ndou, “E-Government for Developing Countries: Opportunities and Challenges.” 15.
3.1.4. Organizational Culture and Norms of the Bureaucracy Open Government Data necessitates a reorientation in the relationship between a government and its citizens, as well as between internal units of the bureaucracy itself. While enacting a ‘stroke-of-the-pen’ reform172 that mandates OGD is relatively easy, radically altering the underlying norms and culture of the government bureaucracy to effectively implement OGD is an arduous undertaking.173 The organizational culture of bureaucracies have evolved over time, becoming entrenched as the informal rules governing the status quo, and embody the potential to facilitate or hamper new initiatives such as Open Government Data.174 For OGD to take-off, civil servants must navigate a cultural shift from specialized bureaucracies to “networked intelligence”.175 This necessitates embracing values of openness, external orientation and inter-agency coordination,176 which militates against default norms of secrecy, inward orientation and silos often characteristic of bureaucracies.177 The default norm of secrecy can arise from a historical concerns regarding confidentiality or security, as well as from fear of failure or loss of ‘face’ if performance is seen to be lackluster. This can manifest in the arguments that releasing Open Government Data may be dangerous if the public “misinterprets” the information or its release jeopardizes personnel or programs.178 Within complex organizations division of labor and specialization are warranted, however, this can often manifest in dysfunctional conflicts within and between internal units of the bureaucracy as conflicts over “turf”.179 Traditionally, government bureaucracies have evidenced an inward, rather than outward orientation, as civil servants are more often rewarded for pleasing their superiors rather than ensuring high degrees of responsiveness or service for the public. This situation is intensified in countries where civil service appointments are used to reward political loyalty or deter civil unrest from low unemployment. However, the advent of both e-government and Open Government Data introduces the paradigm of the citizen-customer, placing new expectations on bureaucracies to proactively learn the preferences and behaviors of those accessing public sector information to design systems that encourage its use and reuse.180 Furthermore, Open Government Data aspires to provoke co-creation of new goods and services, requiring a much higher degree of engagement with the private sector and civil society than merely being responsive. Together, these new realities necessitate a significant outward shift in orientation for government bureaucracies. Proprietary information and operational systems are sources of power and leverage that are frequently compartmentalized in departmental silos.181 Open Government Data, in advocating the release and sharing of this information, as well as stressing the interoperability of systems to allow for seamless integration of public sector information, upsets current organizational fiefdoms. Countries seeking to catalyze OGD face a considerable challenge in adjusting incentives to make it more ‘costly’ for civil servants to withhold information and encourage the cultural shifts necessitated by OGD.182 Shirley-Ann Hazlett and Francis Hill, writing on the use of e-government for public sector reform, keenly observe that, “the real value of e-government lies in its ability to force an agency to rethink, reorganize and streamline their delivery before going online.”183 This insight is certainly applicable to the implementation of Open Government Data. Launching an electronic portal as a front-end interface to provide public sector
A “stroke-of-the-pen reform”, as characterized by David Ellerman, refers to “a legal act that is effectively self-executing”. David Ellerman. “Notes on Institutional Reforms.” February 2001. http://www.ellerman.org/Davids-Stuff/Memos/Inst-Reform.pdf. Fukuyama, “State Building”, 29. 174 Ibid. 175 Ndou, “E-Government for Developing Countries”, 2. 176 Ndou, “E-Government for Developing Countries”, 3. 177 Ndou, “E-Government for Developing Countries”, 15. 178 Sternstein. “One year in, resistance to open government memo lingers.” 179 Fukuyama, “State Building”, 53. 180 Shirley-Ann Hazlett and Frances Hill. “E-government: the realities of using IT to transform the public sector.” Managing Service Quality, Vol. 13, Issue 6 (2003): 447. doi:10.1108/09604520310506504. 181 Fukuyama, “State Building”, 54. 182 Fukuyama, “State Building”, 32. 183 Hazlett and Hill, “E-government: The Realities of Using IT to Transform the Public Sector,” 448.
information is relatively innocuous184 and could even be largely outsourced and achieved with minimal involvement of government bureaucrats. However, what is being asked of government bureaucracies is considerably more, and therein lies the challenge that countries must overcome for OGD to have the greatest likelihood of success. 3.2. Challenges of Open Government Data Institutionalization Beyond catalyzing initial take-off, governments must also grapple with four challenges inherent in successfully institutionalizing Open Government Data for maximum long-term impact. The first challenge is inclusiveness, particularly ensuring breadth of OGD participation across all social strata. A second challenge is meaningfulness, addressing depth of use of OGD by individuals and groups to achieve substantive social and commercial value. Sustainability is a third challenge government’s face in institutionalizing OGD and includes issues of mobilizing sufficient financial and human resources to ensure the smooth functioning of the initiative beyond its experimental phase. Overcoming resistance refers to the challenge governments’ face in addressing the concerns of those that perceive OGD as a threat to their entrenched interests and information monopolies. 3.2.1. ‘Including the Excluded’: Bridging the ‘Digital Divide’ Realizing the full potential of Open Government Data rests on the assumption of vibrant participation by all societal segments without discrimination. The default model of OGD release has presumed that once public sector information is proactively made available via electronic means, it will be easily accessible by all. However, as discussed earlier (section 2.2.2), substantial access barriers exist for some societal groups, resulting in their ‘digital exclusion’ from the benefits of OGD. Countries seeking to achieve ‘take-up’ of newly released public sector information must overcome the challenge of inclusion, enhancing the breadth of participation by all societal segments and ameliorating technical, economic and socio-cultural access inequities. Technical barriers of access are the most widely discussed in the literature, referring to limitations of national telecommunications and information infrastructure, such as insufficient broadband or unconnected rural areas. This was previously discussed as a technical capacity issue (section 4.1.2) contributing to an enabling environment for Open Government Data; however, there is an important inclusiveness dimension to this. In general, infrastructure disparities are highly correlated with economic and social status as well as geographic isolation.185 Constituencies that are politically well-connected, wealthy and/or geographically situated in proximity to major cities have the potential to disproportionately benefit from OGD due to relatively welldeveloped infrastructure. In contrast, communities that do not share these characteristics are more likely to be underserved by national infrastructure and, by extension, to be underrepresented as active OGD users. Economic barriers refer to the affordability of the requisite technology to access electronic information for the majority of citizens. Affordability can be considered as a function of both the overall penetration of ICTs in a particular market (i.e. – the existence of economies of scale to drive down prices) as well as the ability of individuals to mobilize sufficient assets to purchase the necessary hardware, software and Internet services to benefit from OGD. This barrier is considerably more difficult to overcome in developing countries with considerable poverty at both aggregate and disaggregated levels. Societies able to improve the affordability of ICTs, either through subsidizing them for low-income groups or introducing market-based mechanisms to improve ICT penetration and lower prices, will realize higher participation by the poor than without this intentional assistance. Socio-cultural issues make up an important third category of barriers, which is often overlooked in the literature. The status of women and girls, persons with disabilities, and ethnic and religious minorities are examples of societal mores that could enhance or constrain their ability to benefit from Open Government Data. How progressive are societal norms regarding the ability of women and girls to use ICTs to access the world of information and OGD? Does released public sector information include accommodations for the hearing
Hazlett and Hill, “E-government: The Realities of Using IT to Transform the Public Sector,” 446. See annex 3 for illustrative Internet penetration rates in a sample of leading and lagging countries.
impaired or blind to equitably benefit? In linguistically diverse societies, is public sector information available to all in the language(s) they best understand? Societies where the status and representation of women and girls, persons with disabilities and ethnic and religious minorities is strong are more likely to achieve more inclusive participation by these groups. However, in societies without these things, social norms could constitute an access barrier limiting the potential participation for traditionally disadvantaged groups. Open Government Data is a new type of resource with the potential to expand the ‘information capital’ of a country’s citizens. However, in order to maximize the benefits and reach of OGD, governments must intentionally remedy digital exclusion among their constituents or risk negative consequences including: exacerbating inequities of marginalized groups, increasing the possibility of exploitation due to information asymmetries and stunted demand for the use and reuse of OGD due to fewer end users. Governments such as India186 and Kenya187 have been experimenting with ‘digital inclusion’ projects to expand access to ICTs through instituting village technology kiosks188 and training in ‘digital literacy’.189 In light of higher penetration rates of mobile phone technology and radio communication, developing countries should consider hybrid delivery platforms emphasizing mobile applications for accessing government data and radio broadcasts for mobilizing citizen awareness. 3.2.2. Meaningfulness: Shallow Versus Transformational Use of OGD Whereas the challenge of inclusion focuses on breadth of citizens’ access to Open Government Data, countries face a related, but distinct challenge to achieve depth of its use by citizens. OGD is ‘meaningful’190 only insofar as citizens and intermediaries have the capabilities to use that information, through the exertion of their ‘agency’, to achieve social and commercial value. Falling under the ‘meaningfulnesss’ rubric are considerations such as: expanding the information capabilities of citizens, ensuring the relevance and quality of public sector information, and encouraging the emergence of productive channels for the use of OGD for citizens to participate in governance, improve livelihoods or produce new goods or services. Assessing the impact of e-government initiatives on public sector reform, Hazlett and Hill aptly assert that the ultimate “success of a system is in the hands of its [end] users”.191 Juxtaposing this conclusion with the harsh reality of low usage levels of online public services in both developed and developing countries,192 it is clear that there is a significant ‘usability’ challenge in the take-up of e-government services by citizens. With existing OGD portals evidencing similarly anemic usage levels,193 it is not unreasonable to conclude that this same obstacle must be overcome for Open Government Data initiatives to become fully institutionalized. Governments seeking to encourage meaningful use of Open Government Data face the same “central paradox” of ICTs more broadly, in that introducing similar technologies in different contexts can lead to highly divergent outcomes in terms of their use and appropriation.194 Writing on the complexity of addressing the usability challenge to achieve “technology-triggered change”,195 Gerardine DeSanctis and Marshall Scott Poole propose a theory of ‘adaptive structuration’, analyzing the symbiotic nature of social systems and use of advanced information technologies.”196
Wright et al., “Open Government Data Study: India”, 18. Bitange Ndemo. “Freeing Kenya’s Data”. 188 Wright et al., “Open Government Data Study: India”, 18. 189 Digital literacy involves the ability to use the hardware and software necessary to understand and interpret electronic information. 190 Gigler defines the ‘meaningful use of ICTs within an ‘ICT impact chain’ as implying the need for several things: ICT capacity-building; local and relevant content; technical local appropriation; and sustainability. Gigler. “Informational Capabilities”, 14. 191 Hazlett and Hill, “E-government: The Realities of Using IT to Transform the Public Sector,” 448. 192 Ibid. 193 Tim Davies, “Open Data, Democracy and Public Sector Reform,” 4. 194 In this context, appropriation refers to the extent that individuals and groups adopt technologies, as well as the processes by which they incorporate them into their lives. 195 Adaptive Structuration Theory (AST) is an extension of the original theories of Structuration and Appropriation put forward by Giddens and Ollman, respectively. AST emphasizes the “mutual influence of technology and social processes.” Gerardine DeSanctis, and Marshall Scott Poole. “Capturing the Complexity in Advanced Technology Use: Adaptive Structuration Theory”. Organization Science. Vol. 5, Issue 2 (1994): 125. doi: 10.1287/orsc.5.2.121. 196 DeSanctis and Poole. “Capturing the Complexity in Advanced Technology Use”, 121.
With its reliance on web-interfaces to release public sector datasets, Open Government Data requires an advanced level of appropriation of both ICTs generally to access and manipulate electronic information, as well as of the OGD portal itself. In light of this, the DeSanctis and Poole framework is pertinent to deconstructing the challenge of achieving meaningful use of OGD. Particularly relevant is the recognition that technology appropriation is disproportionately influenced by the attitudes that individuals hold towards them, including the extent to which “groups are confident and relaxed in their use of technology; groups perceive the technology to be of value to them in their work; and their willingness to work hard and excel at using the system”.197 Access to ICTs, while necessary for the public to benefit from Open Government Data, has also been shown to be insufficient as a standalone.198 If citizens and their intermediaries are to confidently utilize OGD, they must be able to leverage mature information capabilities, combining technological savvy necessary to use ICTs, awareness of electronic portals to access the information as well as adequate cognitive abilities199 to interpret and make meaning from government data. Expanding the information capabilities of their citizens is a difficult task facing the governments of developing countries with comparatively low levels of human capital from constrained educational prospects. Ensuring that the public sector information released in an OGD initiative is both relevant and of high quality is essential if citizens and intermediaries are to view it as valuable in achieving their goals.200 This implies that governments need to invest in developing coherent standards and credible practices for data collection and maintenance, as well as being willing to make available information that is of the greatest interest to their citizens. Otherwise, individuals and third party intermediaries have significantly reduced motivation to make productive use of OGD. At a foundational level, citizens and third party intermediaries must be willing to exert themselves to master the ICTs and systems necessary to fully benefit from Open Government Data.201 Their relative willingness to do so is influenced by their “readiness to use technology”,202 as well as the existence of multiple productive outlets for the use and reuse of public sector information. Hazlett and Hill have characterized ‘technology readiness’ as the degree to which people are predisposed to “embrace and use new technologies for accomplishing [their] goals."203 While individuals may hold unshakable views that are favorable or unfavorable towards technology,204 the existence of increasing opportunities to apply OGD, such as through evaluating public services or participatory budgeting and planning, has a positive effect on usage levels. Governments may also encourage innovation using public datasets through championing competitions or co-creation of new public goods or services. The promise of OGD is in realizing its prolific use and reuse by citizens to achieve a variety of policy goals. The extent to which the public sector, in coordination civil society and the private sector intermediaries, is able to facilitate meaningful use of OGD will increase the depth of citizen participation and, by extension, enhance the overall impact of an OGD initiative. However, if governments are not able to adequately address this challenge, it will have negative repercussions for the lasting impact of OGD, perpetuating merely ‘shallow’205 participation by society.
3.2.3. Sustainability: Ensuring the Long-term Efficacy of Open Government Data
DeSanctis and Poole. “Capturing the Complexity in Advanced Technology Use”, 130. Gigler. “Informational Capabilities”, 25. 199 Perez. “Complexity, Information Overload and Online Deliberation.” 12. 200 DeSanctis and Poole. “Capturing the Complexity in Advanced Technology Use”, 130. 201 DeSanctis and Poole. “Capturing the Complexity in Advanced Technology Use”, 130. 202 Hazlett and Hill, “E-government: The Realities of Using IT to Transform the Public Sector,” 449. 203 Ibid. 204 Ibid. 205 In this context, ‘shallow participation’ is used similarly to the concept of ‘shallow democracy’ portrayed by Oren Perez, reflecting the limited impact of citizen engagement due to constrained cognitive capabilities rather than the idealized view of the “informed citizen”. Perez. “Complexity, Information Overload and Online Deliberation,” 17.
To successfully implement Open Government Data, governments must make substantial investments in improving physical information infrastructure within ministries and throughout the country, as well as recruiting and retaining higher skilled people to meet the need for increased civil service competence. If Open Government Data is to have long-term impact, governments must grapple with the question of how to mobilize sufficient financial and human capital resources to sustain it until it becomes fully institutionalized as part of the bureaucratic system and standardized as a public service. If governments are unable to secure a stable resource base to support OGD, it risks becoming a passing fad or failed experiment. While the marginal cost of making additional government information available is low, developing information infrastructure requires substantial financial investment and ongoing maintenance costs that the government will need to determine how to finance.206 Governments must weigh efficiency and equity trade-offs207 in considering the benefits of maintaining public sector information that is freely accessible to all, versus the realities of constrained revenues and opportunity costs in the face of other priorities. This is further complicated by the reality that central government funding is prone to “feast or famine cycles”,208 highly vulnerable to changing political leadership and economic fortunes. This is certainly true of middle income and developing countries with limited revenues; however, this has even become an issue in developed countries. Debates over fiscal responsibility and austerity measures have brought discretionary public expenditures under scrutiny in both the US209 and UK, including speculation that their OGD portals will need to be significantly reduced in scope. Admittedly, there are political interests and concerns far broader than OGD in play; however, this case still provides a poignant example of the reality of competing policy priorities fighting over limited resources. Options such as instituting user fees for cost recovery, seeking royalties from applications using public sector information, or reducing maintenance costs through privatizing or outsourcing certain functions of OGD have been raised in the literature, however, are not without drawbacks. The political necessity of needing to justify ongoing allocation of resources to sustain Open Government Data raises a problematic question of how these initiatives should measure success.210 Quantitative metrics such as the number of published datasets or usage rates and demographics tell part of the story, but these indicators may be insufficient211 to measure the qualitative dimension of social impact that is of primary interest to policy makers and the public. With the rapid pace of OGD portal launches, identifying optimal indicators and measurement tools to evaluate effectiveness and make changes based on user feedback are imperative to the long-term success of these initiatives. The lack of uniform standards or best practice in monitoring and evaluating for Open Government Data poses a substantial challenge implementing countries as well as to the movement as a whole. 3.2.4. Overcoming Resistance: The Political Economy of Open Government Data As with any reform, there is a “political dimension” to Open Government Data that, if ignored or unsuccessfully managed, can derail the whole initiative at any point.212 This political economy involves the interactions of various stakeholders, possibly having divergent interests, which could help or hinder the institutionalization of OGD through ‘conflict and coalition building’. Open Government Data radically changes power dynamics through reducing information asymmetries, producing ‘winners and losers’.213 Vested interests that benefit from the existing ‘closed’ system of government information will seek to dissemble and delay the progress of OGD. Resistance to OGD may be active in the
206 207 208
Hazlett and Hill, “E-government: The Realities of Using IT to Transform the Public Sector,” 449. Ibid. Ebrahim and Irani, “E-government Adoption”, 605. 209 Alex Howard. “Congress Weighs Deep Cuts to Funding for Federal Open Government Data Platforms.” Gov20.govfresh. April 1, 2011. http://gov20.govfresh.com/congress-weighs-deep-cuts-to-funding-for-federal-open-government-data-platforms/. 210 Hazlett and Hill. “E-government: The Realities of Using IT to Transform the Public Sector,” 450. 211 Ibid 212 Richard Heeks and Carolyne Stanforth. “Understanding e-Government Project Trajectories From an Actor-network Perspective.” European Journal of Information Systems. Vol. 16, Issue 2 (2007): 165. doi: 10.1057/palgrave.ejis.3000676. 213 Fukuyama, “State Building”, 33.
form of traditional elites that feel threatened by the ‘democratization’ of pubic sector information that would disrupt their influence or from corrupt civil servants seeking to maintain the default ‘culture of impunity’ that arises from lack of transparency. Resistance may also be passive in the form of the inertia of existing organizational culture within the bureaucracy that embodies values and norms that militate against the ethos of openness and cooperation that OGD aspires to. Applying ‘actor network theory’214 within the context of e-government, Richard Heeks and Carolyne Stanforth assert that an initiative’s long-term ‘trajectory’ is determined by the existence of three things: a network of resource-providers, a network of implementers, a single connecting channel between these networks.215 Resource-providers serve as champions or patrons of an OGD initiative, facilitating its progress through allocation of money, time or political ‘space’;216 whereas implementing actors are those individuals actually tasked with implementing OGD on a daily basis.217 The “mobilization, interaction and disintegration of these networks of actors” similarly informs the success or failure of efforts to institutionalize Open Government Data as the public sector’s new modus operandi.218 Overcoming both active and passive resistance is essential both for the initial take-off of OGD, as well as to ensure its long-term viability as regimes and political leaders change over time. Consistent with instituting any change or reform, governments will need to determine how to build multi-stakeholder coalitions that provide enough pressure and momentum for OGD to counteract the inertia of the status quo. This will involve “enrolling” the domestic groups that are most likely to benefit from improved availability of public sector information, and effectively “controlling” groups in opposition.219 Reformist political leaders or technocrats, particularly in developing countries, may also be able to leverage external forces such as regional rivalries or donor conditionalities to induce initial acceptance and long-term institutionalization of OGD. 4. Moving Forward: Managing Expectations and Maximizing Success of Open Government Data In ‘democratizing data’, Open Government Data has considerable potential to generate social and commercial value for developed and developing countries alike. However, the OGD movement’s aspirations rest on tenuous assumptions regarding endogenous supply and demand. In a study of e-government initiatives in forty developing countries, Richard Heeks concludes that only fifteen percent succeeded against their stated policy goals.220 Considering the investment of time, human and financial resources that went into their execution, this necessarily sobers optimistic predictions for OGD,221 particularly as US and UK OGD initiatives have experienced challenges of lackluster usage of public datasets222 and sustaining supply of government data beyond ‘early adopter’ agencies.223 Collectively, the experiences of e-government and Open Government Data initiatives indicate that OGD is a high risk, high reward strategy. The prospective social benefits of OGD are attractive, but far from certain and not without cost, further complicated by the fact that while the costs of launching a platform are immediate, the benefits from OGD are more likely to be realized over the long-term. Identifying and remedying obstacles likely to hinder OGD initiatives is important to their ultimate success, both to countries launching OGD initiatives as well as for donors investing in them.
214 Heeks and Stanforth’s use of ‘actor network theory’ is an iteration of the original theory developed by Michel Callon, Bruno Latour and John Law which “recognizes that entrepreneurs build networks combining technical, social and economic elements and that these elements are both constituted and shaped in those networks.” Heeks and Stanforth, “Understanding e-Government Project Trajectories from an Actor-network Perspective”, 166. 215 The actual categorizations put forth by Heeks and Stanforth refer to resource-providers as global networks and implementers as local networks. Heeks and Stanforth, “Understanding e-Government Project Trajectories from an Actor-network Perspective”, 174. 216 Heeks and Stanforth, “Understanding e-Government Project Trajectories from an Actor-network Perspective”, 167. 217 Ibid. 218 Ibid. 219 Heeks and Stanforth, “Understanding e-Government Project Trajectories from an Actor-network Perspective”, 172. 220 Richard Heeks, “e-Government as Carrier of Context,” Journal of Public Policy, Vol. 25, Issue 1 (2005): 52. http://www.journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0143814X05000206. 221 Ibid. 222 Tim Davies, “Open Data, Democracy and Public Sector Reform,” 4. 223 Aliya Sternstein. “One year in, resistance to open government memo lingers.” Nextgov: technology and the business of Government. January 21, 2010. http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20100121_1046.php.
This paper argues that countries considering an OGD initiative should proactively develop strategies to cultivate an enabling environment for OGD take off and overcome institutionalization challenges. However, while OGD initiatives should plan comprehensively, developing countries and donors should avoid trying to achieve too much too quickly and instead pursue a phased approach with the release of public sector information as a precursor in an intentional progression of increasing breadth and depth of public participation.224 The authors would agree with Gwanhoo Lee and Young Hoon Kwak’s assertion that the pace of implementing open government should coincide with the management capacity and bureaucratic will to navigate new government obligations with each successive stage.225 From a perspective of ‘managed change’, balancing progress towards realizing desired change with the reality of limited organizational capacity and entrenched culture; a sequenced approach to OGD has appeal, particularly given the constrained circumstances of many developing countries.
Lee and Kwak, “An Open Government Implementation Model”, 11. Ibid.
Official Open Government Data Portals by Income Group226
Data Portal Launch Date Data Portal Address
Countries With Online Data Catalogues High income: OECD Australia Austria Bahrain Canada Denmark Estonia Greece Netherlands New Zealand Norway227 United Kingdom United States High income: Non-OECD Hong Kong SAR, China Singapore United Arab Emirates Upper middle income n/a Lower middle income Moldova Morocco Thailand Timor-Leste Lower income Kenya
March 2011 November 2010 May 2011** March 2011 2009 March 2011 July 2010 January 2011 November 2009 April 2010* January 2010 May 2009 March 2011 June 2011 May 2011 n/a April 2011 n/a June 2011 March 2011 July 2011
data.gov.au gov.openadata.at Bahrain.bh/wps/portal/data data.gc.ca digitaliser.dk opendata.ee geodata.gov.gr overheid.nl data.govt.nz data.norge.no data.gov.uk data.gov data.one data.gov.sg government.ae/uae-data n/a data.gov.md data.gov.ma data.pm.go.th transparency.gov.tl opendata.go.ke
This list was generated as of July 2011, and only includes government-mandated initiatives, rather than citizen or private sector-led initiatives. Income groups were categorized as specified by the World Bank. 227 Norway’s open data site is still in beta form as a public blog and data portal in development.
Stated Official Motivations for Launching an Open Data Initiative228
Categories of Motivational Drivers for Open Data Transparency and Accountability X X Economic Growth Innovation Inclusive Participation (e-Democracy) X X X X Government Efficiency (e-Government) X Government Policy/Program Name
Australia Bahrain Canada Denmark
X X X
Greece Hong Kong SAR, China Kenya India
X X X X
Open Government Declaration229 Open Data Platform Beta230 Canada Open Data231 Open Data Innovation Strategy (Offentlige Data I Spil) 232 Estonian Coalition Government Agreement on Open Data233 Geodata.gov.gr234 Data.One235 Kenya Open Data236 National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy - July 2011237 Netherlands eGovernment and Data.overheid.nl238 Moldova Open Data239 Data.gov.ma240 New Zealand Open Data241 Avanza2242 Timor-Leste Transparency Portal243 Putting the Frontline First: Smarter Government244 Open Government Memorandum245 and Directive Singapore Open Data246 UAE E-government and Open Data247
Moldova Morocco New Zealand Spain Timor-Leste United Kingdom
X X X X
X X X
X X X X X
Singapore United Emirates
X Arab X X X
228 This table includes a selection of countries for which there was adequate information available to analyze, either directly from the government (i.e. - press releases, strategies or statements on their data portals) or in the form of credible third party reporting (i.e. – research study, OGD country blog, or news article citing an internal study or government officials). 229 http://www.finance.gov.au/e-government/strategy-and-governance/gov2/declaration-of-open-government.html 230 http://www.bahrain.bh/wps/portal/data/ 231 http://www.data.gc.ca 232 Hujiboom and Van den Broek. “Open Data: An International Comparison of Strategies,” 5. 233 http://www.lapsi-project.eu/eeopen 234 http://www.epsiplus.net/news/news/greece_opens_geo_data_website 235 http://data.one.gov.hk 236 http://opendata.go.ke 237 http://www.dst.gov.in/nsdi.html 238 http://www.epractice.eu/files/eGovernmentTheNetherlands.pdf 239 http://data.gov.md/en/republica-moldova-este-de-azi-printre-primele-16-tari-ale-lumii-care-asigura-acces-la-datele-guvernamentale-cu-caracter-public/ 240 http://data.gov.ma 241 http://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/government-takes-steps-demystify-data 242 Hujiboom and Van den Broek. “Open Data: An International Comparison of Strategies,” 5. 243 http://www.transparency.gov.tl 244 Hujiboom and Van den Broek. “Open Data: An International Comparison of Strategies,” 5. 245 Ibid. 246 data.gov.sg 247 http://www.government.ae/web/guest/uae-data; http://www.i-policy.org/2011/06/new-uae-e-government-portal-launched.html.
ANNEX 3: Snapshot of ‘Digital Exclusion’ Between and Within Countries by 2011 Penetration Rates248 in Regional Leaders and Laggards249
Percentage of Population Using the Internet AFRICA Africa Region Avg Morocco Ethiopia ASIA Asia Region Avg South Korea Timor-Leste EUROPE Europe Region Avg. Norway Kosovo MIDDLE EAST Middle East Region Avg. Israel Iraq NORTH AMERICA North America Region Avg. Greenland United States LATIN AMERICA/CARIBBEAN Latin America Region Avg. Argentina Honduras OCEANIA/AUSTRALIA Oceania Region Avg. New Zealand Kiribati 11.4% 41.3% 0.5% 23.8% 80.9% 0.2% 58.3% 94.4% 20.7% 31.7% 70.4% 1.1% 78.3% 90.2% 78.2% 36.2% 66% 11.8% 60.1% 83.9% 1.8%
http://www.internetworldstats.com/ This table shows a snapshot of the country with the highest (leaders) and lowest (laggards) Internet penetration rates in each world region, along with the regional average for all countries.
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The following section provides the peer reviewers comments (1 of the 4 reviews) which contributed towards shaping this initial draft research paper. Comments prepared by Randeep Sudan leads the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector's practices for e-Government and for Information Technology (IT) industry (October 31, 2011) I have gone through the interesting paper on "Realizing the Vision of Open Government Data: Opportunities, Challenges and Pitfalls". The paper presents a very balanced view of the promise and pitfalls of the open data movement, and is a valuable addition to the literature. I particularly liked how the paper focused on both supply side and demand side constraints including the realities of digital exclusion, low information capabilities, constrained civic space and the capacities of governments. The paper makes mention of data as a "platform" in Section 1.3.2. In fact the concept of "government as a platform" is also very relevant in this context, given its focus on some of the key enablers in terms of applications architecture and infrastructure, that could help scale up the innovative use of data by multiple stakeholders. While mentioning the earliest attempts at the proactive release of public sector information via online portals (2008) in section 1.4, it might be better to recognize the roots of the open data movement to initiatives that predate the examples cited. For example, it might be of interest to make a brief reference to open data in science which established the World Data Center system in the 50s. It may also be useful to update the paper by taking into account the developments that have since taken place with regard to OGP. With reference to Part 3 on the institutionalization and scaling up of open government data, perhaps it would be worth mentioning that open government data should be seen as a major exercise in change management. Some change management frameworks e.g. Kotter's 8 step model could provide a useful frame of reference in this context. There are certain elements that are critical to the success of open data as part of an innovation system. These include for example a robust licensing regime, availability of electronic payment systems, PPP frameworks and institutional mechanisms for partnering with the private sector. Often these elements are missing, thereby significantly emasculating the private sector to innovate using government data. In certain countries one organization is made responsible for obtaining and publishing open data. This model is likely to suffer from problems of sustainability. It would be far more sustainable to systematically develop a sense of ownership and embed the culture of open data in each government agency. This does not detract from the need for centralized coordination of some aspects of open data initiatives. Institutional structures are arguably one of the most important determinants of success in the long run. Countries where the open data initiatives are coordinated by agencies having cross-cutting oversight are likely to witness greater prospects of success. Institutional structures and mechanisms for ensuring adherence to data standards and for adoption of meta data standards, and better coordination across government agencies is likely to ensure that there is proper ownership of data and harmonization of data in government. This would be relevant in the context of Section 3.1 looking at the environmental factors having the ability to bolster or retard the initial takeoff of an open government data initiative. In respect of Section 3.1.1, some additional legal requirements would include whistleblower protection, PPP frameworks enabling the private sector to use government data (e.g. eGovernment Acts) and data licensing regimes. An open data maturity model might be a useful way to look at the various building blocks for open data.
Gartner for instance has come up with an Open Government Maturity Model, which has limitations, but points to a possible approach for identifying gaps and weaknesses. It might be of interest to introduce a brief section on the prioritization of datasets to be opened up. Not all data sets are created equal. Opening of budgetary data for example, especially with regard to government spending at the local level can result in greater transparency and accountability. Feedback loops while being important need to be managed carefully. A government agency can easily be overwhelmed by a large number of complaints. For an example, when I was working in Nellore district in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India, in the late 80s we tried to be responsive to public grievances by inviting members of the public to submit their feedback and complaints to the District Collector's office. Each of these submissions was duly acknowledged and an indicative timeline was given for addressing the feedback/complaints received. However, this resulted in a seven-fold increase in the number of files in the District Collector's Office from the typical number of about 10,000. Given that there was no additional staff provided, the exercise actually resulted in paralyzing the administration's response even to routine matters. It is important therefore that the process of opening up is accompanied by at least some efforts to systematically strengthen the organizational capabilities of government to respond to feedback. I hope these comments are useful. Congratulations once again on an excellent paper!
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