As citizens demand accountability, governments keep data locked away

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The World Wide Web Foundation, founded by web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, launched the fourth edition of the Open Data Barometer, a global snapshot of how governments are using open data for accountability, innovation and social impact.

Kenya ranked 35th with a score of 40 in this year’s Open Data Barometer – up 7 places since last year and 1st in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Commenting on the Barometer findings, Senior Researcher and report author Carlos Iglesias said in a press statement,“It’s frustrating to see virtually no improvement since last year, and some early leaders turn their backs on the open agenda. This failure to progress is a missed opportunity for governments to be transparent with citizens and win back trust. Yet, with some relatively simple steps, governments could drastically improve their scores. For instance, adding open licences to existing datasets would double the number of open datasets .”

Covering 115 countries, the study found that early open data leaders are stalling, and even backsliding in their delivery of open data. The scores of high-ranking Nordic countries and the United States have fallen this year, and even the UK, a traditional open data leader, has seen worrying changes in key policies. Globally, fewer than one in 10 datasets studied are fully open — unchanged from last year — showing that most countries are failing to make any progress on delivering vital public information.

The Open Data Barometer also showed that Kenya had improved in environment data although data was not available in bulk or up-to-date. Legislation data (no longer available in machine readable format) and election results data (no longer available in machine readable format or with an open license) are no longer open.

Open data is data that is available for everyone to use and reuse, and allows citizens to hold governments to account for the decisions they take and the money they spend. Facing a global trust crisis, governments have an opportunity to engage with citizens and regain credibility by opening up their data.

Yet the report finds that data on key accountability metrics such as government spending, public contracts, company ownership and land ownership are among the least open and often poor quality. Government spending data — which helps people track where their taxes go — is open in just 3% of countries.

The report argues that leaders must focus on opening up the data that matters most: data that can help solve people’s most pressing problems — from transport to education to healthcare. And government must make sure these benefits are for everyone, through dedicated efforts to involve marginalised groups and ensure they can take advantage of the data available.

Committing to opening up data for accountability, economic growth and social good is a long-term process. To stay on the right track, the report suggests that governments must adopt the international Open Data Charter principles, ensuring open data programs are consistent, responsible and sustainable through political cycles.

“The case for open data is clear. Citizens have a right to access the data their taxes pay for, and use it to engage in public decisions and improve their lives. Governments need to stop dragging their feet and make government data open by default,” concluded Web Foundation Policy Director, Craig Fagan.

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