Transparency is a way off

Open data progress is slow, warns Web Foundation

Accessible open data about government spending and services remains a pipe dream across most of the world, an 86-country survey by the World Wide Web Foundation has found.

The second edition of the Open Data Barometer, which came out on Tuesday, showed that fewer than 8 percent of surveyed countries publish datasets on things like government budgets, spending and contracts, and on the ownership of companies, in bulk machine-readable formats and under open re-use licenses.

This is particularly disappointing as both the G7 and G20 groups of countries have said they will try to create more governmental transparency by providing open data that anyone can crunch and build new businesses upon. Globally, the report states that “the trend is towards steady, but not outstanding, growth in open data readiness and implementation.”

According to web inventor and Foundation founder Tim Berners-Lee:

The G7 and G20 blazed a trail when they recognised open data as a crucial tool to strengthen transparency and fight corruption. Now they need to keep their promises to make critical areas like government spending and contracts open by default. The unfair practice of charging citizens to access public information collected with their tax resources must cease.

The G7 (which was the G8 before Russia left last year) signed a charter in 2013 in which the advanced economies said they would be open “by default”, and would publish key datasets in that year.

Now, out of those nations, only the U.K. has an open company register and only the U.K. and Canada publish land ownership data in open formats and under open licenses. Only the U.K. and the U.S. publish detailed open data on government spending, and only the U.S., Canada and France publish open data on national environment statistics. Open mapping data is only published in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany.

As you can no doubt tell, the U.K. is the global leader in this field, followed by the U.S., then Sweden, then France and New Zealand in tied fourth place – France is improving rapidly, having been in 10th place in 2013. G7 members Japan and Italy languish in 19th and 22nd place respectively, publishing almost no key datasets as open data except for Japan’s crime statistics. (Incidentally, the University of Chicago’s Jens Ludwig will be giving an interesting talk about tackling crime with data at our upcoming Structure Data conference in March.)

Of those in the “emerging and advancing” cluster of countries, Spain and Chile (up 10 places on 2013) are on top of the pile with rankings of 13th and 15th place respectively. The worst performer out of all the surveyed countries was Burma.