Snapshot: how open are our Governments? (2017 update)

A brief examination of the state of Open Government in the Caribbean, based on the results of the latest global study, published by Open Knowledge International

 

In this age, in which words like ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability’ – and more so the lack thereof – have resulted in the downfall of many companies and governments, there has been a concerted effort over the past 20 to 30 years for governments, in particular, to become more open. Although many governments have been making records available under freedom of information laws, technology and the digitisation of records have been making it easier to not only access, but also process, the sizeable datasets that governments tend to possess..

The Global Open Data Index (GODI) is an annual exercise, conducted by Open Knowledge International, to determine the extent to which countries worldwide have been publishing open government data. To be clear, “Open data and content can be freely used, modified, and shared by anyone for any purpose” (Source:  Open Definition).  Hence this principle would be at odds with the proprietary posture many Caribbean government ministries, departments and agencies frequently adopt when asked to provide or share material that should (in fact)  be publicly available.

Methodology

For the 2016/2017 GODI exercise, and according to the Open Knowledge International website, the openness of data for the following 15 categories was examined, each of which had to provide useful information to the public:

  1. Administrative Boundaries
  2. Air Quality
  3. Budget
  4. Company Register
  5. Draft Legislation
  6. Election Results
  7. Government Spending
  8. Land Ownership
  9. Locations
  10. National Laws
  11. National Maps
  12. National Statistics
  13. Procurement
  14. Water Quality
  15. Weather Forecast

Further, for each category, the data published ought to have specific properties, or characteristics, which the survey would need to confirm. For example, and in order for government budget data to qualify for assessment, it must be online and include the following:

  • Budget for each national government department ministry, or agency
  • Descriptions for budget sections
  • Level of granularity (Budget separated into sub-department, political program, or expenditure type)

Additionally, it was also crucial for each dataset to be examined for openness, based on the Open Definition (see above) and the Open Data Charter. Thereafter, the results were tallied and countries awarded a score as a percentage to reflect the degree of openness of their government data. The higher the score, the more open and accessible government data is; the lower the score, the more difficult it is to access government data (see Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 1: 2017 GODI scoring spectrum (Source: Open Knowledge International)

How open are Caribbean governments?

In the 2016/2017 GODI exercise, 94 countries worldwide were assessed, including 10 Caribbean countries: Antigua and Barbuda; the Bahamas; Barbados; Dominican Republic; Guyana; Jamaica; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; and Trinidad and Tobago. However, in the previous year, Dominica and Grenada had been included, and the exercise covered 122 countries.

Exhibit 2: 2016 GODI scores for select Caribbean countries (Source: Open Knowledge International)

data in the Caribbean is still poor: ranging from a score of just 5% in Antigua and Barbuda, to 27% in the Dominican Republic.  Although according to the scoring spectrum (Exhibit 1), scores up to 85% point to data that might be be open, but “with the limitation that users have to register online for download” (Source: Open Knowledge International), the low scores in the region suggest considerable strictures still exist.

Unfortunately, most Caribbean countries did not score much better in 2017 than they did the previous year, as shown in Exhibit 3. In many instances, their scores were worse. In that period, scores ranged from 7% in Saint Kitts and Nevis, to 42% in Jamaica, but for example, in the case of Jamaica, its score dropped by 18 percentage points to 26% in 2017.

Exhibit 3: 2015 and 2016 GODI scores for select Caribbean countries (Source: Open Knowledge International)

What do the latest scores tell us?

Over the past two years, and the Caribbean countries examined have not made any major improvements in making government data more open. ALthough there might have been some developments within the past year, they we not significant enough generally, and more so when compared with the strides other countries globally have made. Having said this, and as indicated above, there is still a culture within the region, and especially among public authorities, of hoarding information. Among government officials, the reluctance can stem from concerns about releasing sensitive information, but frequently that concern is indiscriminately applied.

On another note, it must be highlighted that none of the 94 countries assessed scored over 80%, that is, within the range “public access” and fully being “open data”, per our scoring spectrum (Exhibit 1). The top ten scoring countries were: Australia (79%); Taiwan (79%); France (73%);  Great Britain (73%); Canada (69%); Denmark (67%); New Zealand (65%); Brazil (64%); United States (64%); Latvia (64%). It therefore means that globally, governments can still make more data open, and/or more easily accessible.

 

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