TECH | Apr 17, 2019

Open Data Barometer

Limited use, few investments and positive impacts still to be measured: the World Wide Foundation report, which describes the situation of Open Data in more than 30 countries.

Less than 1 of 5 datasets is published in open formatOpen Data seen as isolated projects and actions by Governments, without a medium and long term strategy. Countries like the United Kingdom and the US, worldwide leaders for opening data, have seen their score decrease over the last five years.

If it is true that the Open Data Barometer measures the state of health of Open Data around the world, the summary contained in the report leads to possibly thinking that the patient is not actually an imaginary invalid.

Prepared by the World Wide Web Foundation, the report which involves 30 countries, including all those belonging to the G20, annually details the situation concerning the publication of data in open format. The 2018 report, which like the other editions, considers the maturity level of the initiatives and their implementation in terms of type, number, quality of data released, analyzes the impact along 3 lines: social, economic and political, also drawing up a ranking and giving the opportunity to compare online the various countries examined.

What has changed in the last 5 years?

The fifth report on Open Data draws up a first five-year balance sheet of the analyzed situation, highlighting the fact that open data policies have improved but have led to modest results, with almost no progress compared with the number of datasets actually available around the world: they are in fact less than 10% of the total and often refer to data of little use, qualitatively poorly maintained and incomplete.

The resources allocated to Open Data projects have proved to be the weak link in the chain, given that Governments lean towards open-washing, a term which derives from “greenwashing” and which makes us think of Open Data as a quality label, similar to the “environment-friendly” or “green” sticker displayed on all supermarket shelves. A sticker, however, that does not correspond with useful projects for citizens.

Limits also occur in the weak legislation, which prevents the growth of Open Data, and in the low emphasis given to the impact that open data can have on a social and economic level. “Few programs have been adequately evaluated and most discussions around open data are based on anecdotes rather than on empirical studies”, reads the report.

The situation in 2018

Last year, despite the various critical points highlighted, showed a marked improvement as regards the countries cataloged as leaders, which in some cases achieved a double-digit progress in five years, with an increase in their scores of over 50%. Despite this, however, various parts of the report emphasize the need for Governments to make a concrete commitment which goes beyond loose promises. “Governments must give priority to important investments useful for the governance of open data”, states the report, and they must guarantee a unified strategy that avoids the risk of open data from only a part of the PA, with isolated, often useless, projects.

Italy ranks among the “mid-table” countries, not a leader, but neither a country which lags behind. If we look at the historical trend of the last five years, we see that the line shows a slight improvement which has characterized our country on a year on year basis.

Recommendations for Governments

The report contains a series of recommendations for Governments, which can be summarized in the open by default principle, a principle which must be applied by means of clear plans, guidelines and procedures for open data, in the construction and consolidation of an open data infrastructure able to improve data quality and interoperability through specific management systems and, last but not least, the identification of a specific purpose pursued through the publication of Open Data.

Why Open Data?

The report details several best practices brought as examples of positive impact on the lives of citizens. “There are clear social and economic advantages for Governments which commit to open data. The impact analyzed in this historical moment represents only a part of the impact which is possible with the availability of open data and people able to use these in the best possible way”. The push which comes from the report is therefore to continue to open data and above all to measure the effects of this opening to improve the publication process.