by Viviana Zalles
During my time as an intern at Open Data Watch, I reviewed the availability and openness of data in poor, developing countries. I wanted to get a general idea of what the data environment looks like in the developing world. I asked myself: “If I were a citizen of country X and I wanted to find data about my country, could I do so and how difficult would it be?” A plausible starting point would be the country’s official statistical website. I began my search in Africa.
To evaluate the openness of websites, I looked at the breadth (temporal and topical) of the data, their availability for download in a machine-readable format, and the lack of legal restrictions for their use. These are common elements of most definitions of “open data,” (see Eric Swanson’s “How Open are Official Statistics” on the Open Data Watch website) and they are a good stepping stones for assessing the openness of statistical websites.
I found that the range of openness of the websites I reviewed was very large. And while most countries have a long way to go in making their statistical data available, there are some examples of websites that are on the right track.
One that stood out is published by Benin’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Analysis (http://www.insae-bj.org/). They have economic, demographic, and social data available for download in Excel format as well as PDF. The economic section covers the longest time period, providing annual data from 1991 through 2013. More recent data are available for the consumer price index, but only in PDF format. Metadata are also available in PDF format. A significant omission was the lack of licensing terms.
When it comes to breadth of coverage and timeliness, Kenya’s National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) stands out. Not only is it one of the most frequently updated sites (http://www.knbs.or.ke), it also has a very user-friendly interface. Although this might seem like a superficial aspect of a statistical website, it is not negligible: the goal of open data is to make data freely available to everyone and anyone. Having a website that is easy to navigate is an essential part of this.
Another country that is admirable from a data perspective is Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso has two websites, which together provide access to the country’s statistical data: the National Institute of Statistics and Demography (http://www.insd.bf/n/) and the National Statistics Council (http://www.cns.bf/). The first publishes economic, socio-demographic, and poverty related statistics at the national and regional levels. It is fairly up to date compared with others of its kind in the region (the latest numbers correspond to July 2013) and it is easy to navigate, but it does not allow users to download the data and the licensing terms are not explicitly stated. The second website stood out to me because it is something that I have not encountered elsewhere: it comprises a list of each sector of the government and lets you see the statistical publications released by each. This is particularly useful because often the data gathered and published by other ministries or departments are not available 0n the national statistical agency’s website. Instead of having to browse through each department’s individual website, every publication is accessible through this centralized website, which clearly benefits the users. It is a valuable way of making data accessible to the public.