Open Data for Sustainable Development


According to the open data handbook, Open data is data that anyone can access, use, or share. It is the idea that some data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents, or other mechanisms of control. Advocates of open data argue that these restrictions are against the common good and that these data should be made available without restriction or fee. The goals of the open data movement are like those of other “open” movements such as open-source, open hardware, open content, open government, and open access.

Open Data plays a critical role in improving governance by exposing and preventing mismanagement and corruption. It also helps ensure environmental sustainability through transparent data that can help reduce pollution, conserve natural resources, and build resilience to climate change.

Why “Open”

Availability and Access: the data must be available, and at no more than a reasonable reproduction cost, preferably by downloading over the internet. The data must also be available in a convenient and modifiable form.

Re-use and Redistribution: the data must be provided under terms that permit re-use and redistribution including the intermixing with other datasets.

Universal Participation: everyone must be able to use, re-use, and redistribute – there should be no discrimination against fields of endeavour or against persons or groups.

It is so important to be clear about what open means — Interoperability. It denotes the ability of diverse systems and organizations (different components) to work together (inter-operate). In this case, it is the ability to interoperate – or intermix – different datasets. This interoperability is key to realizing the main practical benefits of “openness”, that is, the dramatically enhanced ability to combine different datasets together and thereby to develop more and better products and services.

However, the key point is that when opening data, the focus is on non-personal data, that is, data that does not contain information about specific individuals, some kinds of government data, and national security data.

Open data impacts everybody. Through it, we can improve how we access healthcare services, discover cures for diseases more efficiently, understand our governments better, and of course, travel to places more easily. When big companies or governments release non-personal data, it enables small businesses, citizens, and medical researchers to develop resources that make crucial improvements to their communities. Open data has the power to create and transform a better future for everyone and supports sustainable development. It is changing and shaping our world.

What makes data open

As mentioned earlier, open data is data that anyone can access, use, and share. Open data must have a license that says it is open data. Without a license, the data cannot be reused. The license might also say:

  • That people who use the data must credit whoever is publishing it (attribution).
  • That people who mix the data with other data must also release the results as open data — share-alike. For example, the Ghana Education ministry makes available open data about the performance of schools in Accra. The data is available as Excel and is available under the Open Government License, which only requires re-users to say that they got the data from the Ministry of Education.

Good open data can be linked to so that it can be easily shared and talked about. It is available in a standard, structured format so that it can be easily processed. It also has guaranteed availability and consistency over time, so that others can rely on it. Open data is traceable, through any processing, right back to where it originates, so others can work out whether to trust it – integrity. Open data must be shareable, structured, reliable, and traceable.

With data quality issues, as the world bank puts it, data origin or attribution can be difficult to determine. Knowing where data originates and by what means it has been disclosed is key to being able to trust data. If end users do not trust data, they are unlikely to believe they can rely upon the information for accountability purposes. Similarly, if people think that data could be tampered with, they are unlikely to place trust in it; full comprehension of data relies on the ability to trace its origins. Without knowledge of data attribution, it can be difficult to interpret the meaning of terms, acronyms, and measures that data creators may have taken for granted but are much more difficult to decipher over time.

Poor quality data, lack of information about data attribution, and data stewardship issues present common barriers to the implementation of Open Data initiatives. 

What the future holds for open data

The growth of data is the next great thing. With available data, we can respond to problems around us, such as financial, transport, science and environment, natural disasters, and climate change, etc., and to which we can have structured solutions.

It helps us plan, account, and monitor our responses. With open data, open systems, open communication, open government, open health, etc., responses become more reliable and appropriate. This propels the engine of growth. For instance, in health, open systems require setting up information management systems to gather information (with all resources – both manually and remote/mobile platforms) and making that usable and accessible in the future. This must not be personal/private data but reusable data useful to the public that can shape ideas and inform how issues/problems can be managed and responded to. Examples of such data; budget, statistics, distribution of resources, etc.

Open data does not work in isolation. Goes hand in hand with the right bylaws or bills, guiding what kind of data can be made open. Notably, Ghana’s Right to Information bill is a right of access to information or part of the information in the custody of any public institution. In this regard, data protection plays a vital role in the open data ecosystem. It deals with the compliance framework (as a tool) and to what extent data can be made open.

The right use of data collected transcends into good information. Information is key. With open data, there is more open engagement. It is more about promoting civic engagement (health, education, local government, business, etc.) and decision making. It increases citizens’ voice and accountability.

Open data is a great resource that is yet largely untapped. Many individuals and organizations collect a broad range of different types of data to perform their tasks. Government is particularly significant in this sense, both because of the quantity and centrality of the data it collects, but also because most of that government data is public data by law, and therefore could be made open and made available for others to use.

This is of much interest because there are many areas where open data is expected to be of value, with already existing examples of how it has been used. There are also many different groups of people and organizations who can benefit from the availability of open data, including the government itself. At the same time, it is impossible to predict precisely how and where the value will be created in the future, as developments and the nature of innovation often comes from unlikely places.

The writer  Richard Kafui Amanfu is a Director of Operations, Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana)

For comments, contact author [email protected] or Mobile: +233244357006

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