New Zealand has been ranked joint fourth in the Global Open Data Barometer, which looks at transparency of public sector data across 86 countries.
The report, compiled by the World Wide Web Foundation, examines open data readiness, implementation and impact, and points to a growing divide between countries able to establish and sustain open data programmes and those where open data activities have stalled, moved backwards or not yet begun.
New Zealand takes fourth slot along with France, with the UK leading the charge as number one for openness, followed by the US and Sweden.
Sitting at the bottom for openness was Myanmar, with Haiti at 85 and Mali at 84.
But while New Zealand is holding steady at number 4 – the same position we held in the first report, two years ago – the report says globally, there is still a long way to go to put the power of data in the hands of citizens.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, web inventor and founder of the Web Foundation, says governments continue to shy away from publishing the very data that can be used to enhance accountability and trust.
The report says while governments worldwide have acknowledged the potential of open government data to reduce corruption, increase transparency and improve government services, more than 90% of the countries surveyed don’t publish key datasets in open formats.
“Core data on how governments are spending our money and how public services are performing remains inaccessible or paywalled in most countries,” the report says.
“Information critical to fight corruption and promote fair competition, such as company registers, public sector contracts and land titles, is even harder to get. In most countries, proactive disclosure of government data is not mandated in law or policy as part of a wider right to information, and privacy protections are weak or uncertain.”
New Zealand is listed as a ‘high capacity’ country, with established open data policies, generally with strong political backing.
“They have extended a culture of open data out beyond a single government department with open data practices adopted in different government agencies, and increasingly at local government level,” the report says.
“[These countries] have government, civil society and private sector capacity to benefit from open data.”
The report says high-level political commitment, consistent and sustained support for both national and city-level open data programmes and enhanced ability of government, civil society and entrepreneurs to understand and use data effectively all contribute to successful open data initiatives.
Nick Wallace, public sector analyst for Ovum, says open data strategies are about more than just transparency. Opening up city data provides the raw material for a whole range of new services, he says.
“The report also observes that the presence of city-level open data initiatives correlates with a higher social impact of open data, and argues that opening up city-level data will help complement national initiatives,” Wallace says.
“The most popular open-data-based tools come out of city level data, because such data is relevant to citizens’ daily lives. It is being used to build navigation apps that incorporate real-time public transport information, to map out the cost of renting a house, and to show availability at city bike-sharing terminals.
“The potential social value of city-level data deserves special attention from policymakers.”
He notes that clear presentation of data is important, as ‘unintentional misuse of incomprehensible – or worse, unreliable – data could carry social costs’.
“Open data doesn’t just mean pushing data onto the internet; it means investing in making sure that others can reuse it with confidence.”
Wallace is advocating that instead of spending money on trying to open up cities’ data for them, national governments around the world should help poorer cities’ attempts to develop their own platforms.