Open Data Day 2021: Open Data in a Changed World
by the Open Data Watch Team
6 March 2021
The first week in March 2021 marks several important milestones: Today is Open Data Day and yesterday the 52nd session of the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC) came to an end. Though this year’s UNSC was virtual, Open Data Watch participated in many side events and hosted an unofficial side event of our own for the launch of the Open Data Inventory (ODIN) 2020/21 together with the UN Statistics Division, St. Lucia, Suriname, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan. Amidst a UNSC unlike any other and a COVID-19 pandemic that continues to challenge lives and statistical systems across the world (see our forthcoming blog on March 11), we wanted to reflect on where open data stands.
What have we learned since the last Open Data Day?
As we mark the eleventh Open Data Day, we have reasons to be optimistic. Although open data was not featured on the shortened agenda at UNSC 52, the principles of open data are being taken onboard throughout the UN’s data operations and guidance, whether through a handbook on statistical development, open licensing in metadata standards, or developments of data systems based on open data standards (SDMX). As part of the advisory group to UNSC, we are delighted to be part of some of these initiatives and contribute to the discussions on how to make open data the default for operations of national statistical systems.
Figure 1 ODIN overall scores, 2020
At the local level, 79 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 in our newly released ODIN report: The coverage and openness of most countries’ official statistics have improved since 2018 (the last edition of ODIN), and for the 187 countries included in ODIN 2020/21, the five elements of openness increased by 30 percent from 2016, while the five elements of coverage increased by 25 percent. And while ODIN scores have consistently been higher in wealthier countries, lower-middle-income countries have demonstrated the most rapid progress over the last five years, increasing their scores by 39 percent since 2016.
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.
How open are data on health systems amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for high-quality, timely, and interoperable health data. Based on an analysis of five data categories in ODIN that include measures of individual’s health and the functioning of the health system, we find that foundational health data systems are in place but inadequate to ensure no one is left behind.
Figure 2: Average coverage and openness scores for health-related data categories, 2020
Consistent with the general trend in ODIN scores, the coverage and openness scores for the five health-related data categories have improved from 2018 to 2020. As shown in the figure above, Population and Vital Statistics ranked highest on coverage and openness among health-related data categories in 2020 by a significant margin. As part of a country’s foundational data systems, information on a country’s population numbers recorded by the census, along with birth and death rates, are relatively available, but with important exceptions, as Open Data Watch’s work on CRVS systems with the Centre of Excellence (CoE) at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and UNFPA has highlighted.
The data category of Food Security and Nutrition has the lowest score for coverage and openness among the health-related categories, which highlights potential difficulties decision makers face when tracking critical issues of human health and welfare. A low coverage score indicates that much of the data needed to track the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the number of undernourished or nutritionally challenged people in the world is not widely available, which has potentially dangerous implications for the ability of domestic and external relief programs to adequately provide resources.
What is the way forward for data producers and users?
The results of ODIN 2020/21 provide a snapshot of the current state of openness and coverage of official statistics. While informative, it is only one part of the solution to ensuring the right data are available for decision-making and impact. National statistical offices (NSOs) play a major role in making improvements, but they can’t do it alone. To achieve a data ecosystem where data are valued and used, all stakeholders must be involved. It is up to policymakers, citizens, and journalists to use the information available and make informed decisions and share evidence-based news with the public.
Identifying existing datasets for priority dissemination is the first step to leveraging open data for action during the COVID-19 pandemic. The UN Statistics Division has identified resources to understand the state of open statistical data in a country, examples of data published by others that are critical to understanding COVID-19, and initiatives underway that use data to stop the pandemic. For data related to COVID-19 and beyond, ODW is working with countries to improve their open data practices, both through our ODIN country engagements and ongoing work with countries as part of an Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) project examining data openness and use. In addition, through our work with PARIS21 on data portals using our Data Site Evaluation Toolkit (DSET), we are helping countries not just open data but link them to effective use.
Where do we go from here?
The lesson throughout our work but especially during the COVID-19 pandemic is that open data is not an end in itself, but a tool whose ultimate value is determined by its use, such as using it to diagnose hot spots in COVID-19 outbreaks or to map the vulnerability of women in countries worldwide. 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 various opportunities to highlight open data, including at the rescheduled World Data Forum in October 2021. We invite you to use ODIN to inform your country’s open data policies and follow along with our Twitter account.