Open Data Day 2020: Where do we go from here?
by the Open Data Watch Team
7 March 2020
Today marks Open Data Day as well as the end of the 51st session of the United Nations Statistical Commission, the highest-level body governing official statistics. Several Open Data Watch (ODW) team members attended this year’s gathering where we hosted a side event on open data together with the UN Statistics Division and Statistics New Zealand. Let’s use this occasion to reflect on where open data stands and what’s next.
The world has made significant progress on open data
As we mark the tenth Open Data Day, we have reasons to be optimistic. After the adoption of the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data in 2017, the Statistical Commission has included open data on its agenda for every session since 2018. In 2019, a Friends of the Chair working group was created to incorporate open data into the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics. In a sign that 2020 is a special year for open data, this working group presented at the Statistical Commission’s 51st session a report on open data that adopted the principle of ‘open by default,’ accompanied by background documents on the implementation of open data in National Statistical Offices (NSOs) and on local-level statistics as open data. These reports and the proposed work program going forward were enthusiastically endorsed by the international community. The working group will continue to support countries in their adoption of open data for official statistics. We are delighted to be part of this work and contribute to the discussions on the forward-looking agenda.
At the local level, 73 national and subnational governments have adopted the Open Data Charter since 2015. We have more evidence that countries are implementing the principles of open data in their official statistics: Since 2016, 68 percent of countries included in our Open Data Inventory (ODIN) have increased their score. We have heard from many countries that ODIN is a useful tool, helping NSOs to advocate for more open data within their governments and take concrete steps towards more open data, no matter the country’s starting point.
Despite progress there is still much to do
Although the open data community has much to be proud of, more work remains. Many countries have adopted open data principles, but the median ODIN score remains relatively unchanged at 42. Only 8 percent of NSOs publish all their official statistics under an open data license. Sectors crucial to Leaving No One Behind also continue to face challenges: In 15 Sub-Saharan African countries that ODW studied, 12 percent of gender-relevant Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators lack sex disaggregation and 35 percent have no data. Domestic resources needed by countries to improve their open data standing are in short supply, as are international resources, where statistics, including open data, receive only a third of one percent of official development assistance (ODA), less than half of what is required by the Cape Town Global Action Plan.
How do we continue to make progress?
The challenges ahead are not so much the production and publication of open data, but the governance and use of open data. New data types must be incorporated into the open data paradigm, including microdata and administrative data, bringing with them concerns about data privacy and data protection. And new data producers must be included in the data ecosystem. Collectively we need to address the needs of all data users, not just the elite. Open data governance is the way to address these challenges throughout the statistical system, ensuring that we continue to move up the data value chain towards greater uptake and impact through data use.
Open data governance encompasses the entire data value chain, stimulating innovation, efficiency, sustainability, growth in use, and increasing the value of data while building trust and safeguarding against the misuse of data. Achieving this requires action along three pillars: Institutions, such as national and international standards around open data; Legal frameworks, including open data licenses and legal mandates for NSOs to pursue open data efforts; and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) capacity of NSOs and data users inside and outside of government.
What can national and international actors do?
In response to these challenges and in order to build a stronger governance model, national actors can build political support by demonstrating the value of open data across government, reviewing current policies on open data licenses, identifying gaps and weaknesses in current systems, prioritizing user-centric solutions, and developing partnerships. International partners and donors should develop guidelines and standards, build partnerships for knowledge sharing and facilitating technical assistance, convene the many actors involved, and leverage more and better funding for open data.
Moving up the data value chain at UNSC 51
Focusing on use and governance of open data resonated throughout UNSC 51. We heard from the international community and partner organizations about the importance of data use to create sustainable data ecosystems from both a financing and an organizational standpoint. We learned about the benefits that come from focusing on the interoperability of data to enable linkages with data from other sectors, thereby enabling complex analysis such as looking at pro-poor social spending and development outcomes. We also heard about the value of more timely data to improve data use as policymakers take advantage of nowcasting and efforts such as Data4Now to improve the availability of timely statistics. Involving the public through data literacy efforts and citizen-generated data is another way to encourage more involvement and socialize the principles of open data.
Finally, the lesson emerged that open data is not an end product but a tool whose ultimate value is determined by its use. As a civil society organization, we take to heart this lesson and mark this Open Data Day as an opportunity to further commit ourselves to building the case for open data and the importance of data use. We look forward to the opportunity of using the momentum surrounding open data this year to further highlight open data for official statistics at the UN World Data Forum in October and invite members of the official statistics world to join us at the International Open Data Conference (IODC) in November. These events present a great opportunity to join the world of official statistics with the open data community to work towards better data for development.