Open Data Day 2023: Tracking Progress and Charting a Path Forward
By Shaida Badiee
8 March 2023
This week marks the celebration of Open Data Day.
Started in 2010, Open Data Day is an opportunity to show the benefits of open data and encourage the adoption of open data policies in government, business, and civil society. For Open Data Watch, it is also a time to recognize the key role national statistical offices (NSOs) play in collecting, publishing, and disseminating the official statistics the world needs.
This year’s Open Data Day comes at a particularly important time. As global crises, like the war in Ukraine and the need for humanitarian assistance in Turkey and Syria, continue, open data must be harnessed to help solve complex social, cultural, economic, and political problems — and we must look to NSOs as partners to do so. But while open data can be a powerful resource for informing policies, increasing transparency, and measuring progress, making data open requires commitment, organization, and technical capacity. It also requires an understanding of where we are today, where we want to be tomorrow, and the knowledge to get us there.
Open Data Watch’s newly released Open Data Inventory (ODIN) — the only global assessment of the openness and coverage of official statistics — offers a path forward.
The state of open data around the world
Despite the recognized importance of open data and the celebration of it each year since 2010, the world is seeing a reversal of progress on the openness and availability of official statistics. ODIN shows that most countries have struggled to publish data since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
ODIN measures a country’s data coverage and data openness, targeting specific stages of the data value chain to better understand the evolution of data from collection to analysis, dissemination, use, and the final impact of data on decision making. Data coverage gaps identify issues primarily in data collection and governance in the earlier stages of the data value chain, while data openness gaps identify dissemination issues, such as open formats and licensing issues that affect data use and impact.
Figure 1: The Data Value Chain
Figure 2 shows the ODIN score assigned to each country in 2022. Since the last ODIN assessment in 2020 the median score of all countries have seen the smallest increase since 2017, and 85 countries — almost half — have lost ground. More specifically, ODIN finds that changes in countries coverage scores have stagnated since COVID-19 began while openness scores have only marginally increased. Countries can then use this information — what data are unavailable and what data are not open — and make the necessary changes to close the gaps.
Figure 2: Open Data Inventory (ODIN) overall scores, 2022
Tackling climate change requires data but they are not open enough
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognizes the importance of data for building country capacity to assess climate change and prepare policies to adapt to and mitigate its effects. While ODIN does not have a dedicated set of climate change indicators, the ODIN Environment category looks at data on Agriculture and Land Use; Resource Use; Energy; Pollution; and the Built Environment of households. Climate change directly impacts these data categories, with the most vulnerable countries being hit the hardest.
Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are especially vulnerable to climate change: In the span of the last two decades, SIDS have experienced 20 natural disasters a year. Despite the greater need for climate-responsive data, there is a large difference in the median Environment score for SIDS and non-SIDS countries in every year. The scores for SIDS countries rose slowly through 2018 and, after a sharp increase in 2020, their score fell in 2022. With limited environmental data, they lack the tools needed to build greater climate resilience.
Facing the challenges of climate change, open energy data is critical because energy production and use is at the core of climate change mitigation. Unfortunately, a large decrease in the coverage scores for Energy Statistics along with an even sharper drop in their openness scores contributed to the decline in Environmental Statistics. While energy statistics should include disaggregations of energy use and production by energy type — a more useful set of data in a world where the demand and supply of energy are rapidly changing — in many cases, countries only publish open data on electricity. With open climate change data we can track and measure progress and have the tools to hold countries and corporations accountable.
Gender data gaps are putting SDG 5 [Gender Equality] at risk
Open data is a powerful tool to help achieve gender equality, which is the fifth of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by enabling countries and the global community to create gender-sensitive policy responses. However, major gender data gaps exist, especially in the areas of food security and nutrition, crime and justice, health outcomes, and the built environment. This lack of open gender data has hindered the ability of countries and the global community to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and other pressing socio-economic matters and improve the lived experience of women and girls.
ODIN finds that gender data are less available than non-gender data categories. Many statistical systems are still struggling to regularly produce gender data, resulting in coverage scores for gender data that are a third lower than non-gender data categories. Once the gender data are available, ODIN finds little difference in openness. This points to a growing need to prioritize and refocus our efforts on regularly producing and disseminating gender data.
Partnerships to build capacity
Making data open requires commitment, organization, and technical capacity from National Statistical Offices (NSOs) — many of which are already resource constrained. External partners can support NSOs in their efforts and reduce the burden, filling in the gaps where needed. Since 2015, ODW has expanded its program to include direct engagement with NSOs to transform ODIN assessment results into practical policy and technical advice on data quality, sharing, and other best practices. As a result, most countries also see an increase in their ODIN score after implementing such improvements.
Outside of working directly with NSOs, partnerships between different expert communities also help. ODW has participated in the Data for Policy series of Conferences, which have been vital for discussion and generating understanding by bringing together experts in data science and policy, including researchers in different disciplines, people in government and those with insights from different sectors. In 2022, this included examining how open data intersected with issues such as politics and trust, capacity and technical resources, and use and impact. Data for Policy, and the open-access journal Data & Policy at Cambridge University Press, are examples of platforms that can help reduce silos and build cross-sectoral collaborations.
While there is much to celebrate on Open Data Day, the recent decrease in ODIN scores shows that we cannot lose sight of the work that remains. Data gaps particularly those in the environment and gender sector, coupled with gaps in capacity and resources are a troubling combination. Understanding such problems is the first step to solving them. While ODIN provides a diagnosis, organizations like Data for Policy can implement the cure through research and partnership.