Ireland and the Open Data Index: Path to “democracy, accountability and innovation”.

Government

Current experiences in the collection and use of data got me thinking.

I recently started collecting data for a business project. Basic stuff really. During a meeting with business colleagues, I indicated that, for management and control purposes, I was collecting this data. At which point, my colleague instructed me not to collect the data. He asked: “why would you need to know that information”? Indeed (I thought)…..mmmm…..(I said)…..hence I got thinking……

I am teaching a group of students the art of control and coordination through knowledge and information for an Organisational Theory class. From an organisational perspective, when it comes to information and knowledge or rather the control of such, the following is typically considered important: who knows what, who needs to know what, who is willing to reveal what they know, who can use what they know and what others don’t know to their own advantage and to others disadvantages.

Ok, all sounds great. But from the experience above, it is pretty obvious I’m falling into one of the latter categories and that makes me unhappy. So, it got me thinking about what I know, what I would like to know and what information or knowledge people are keeping from me! (ah, yes, the conspiracy).

During a recently class in Digital Humanities we reviewed an “open heat map” (http://www.openheatmap.com/). This data visualisation mapping tool is very cool, but only as useful as the data that populates it. Data, typically sourced through governments (or crowdsourced). So, I started thinking about government data and access to open government data and asked all those questions again: who knows what, who needs to know what, who is willing to reveal what they know, who can use what they know and what others don’t know to their own advantage and to others disadvantages. Having spent a few years in the United States, I know the Americans “used” to be good at this. But how do we fare here in Ireland?

The Open Knowledge Foundation, through their website Open Data Index, rank 70 countries and their ability to provide open data, based on contributions from open data advocates and experts around the world. Below is a summary of Ireland’s ranking versus the United Kingdom’s, since comparing Ireland to the US might be considered slightly unfair.

Ireland - UK - 1

Source: www. https://index.okfn.org/country/

The Open Data Index looked at government data from the following categories: transport timetables, government budget, government spending, election results, national maps, national statistics, legislation, postcodes/zipcodes and emissions of pollutant. Each category has been ranked based on the following (icons):

labels

The rankings are colour coordinated, where green means yes, red means no, blue is ‘unsure’ and grey represents no data available.

As you can see, in terms of information and knowledge or rather the control of information and knowledge, the Irish government are not very transparent relative to the United Kingdom (UK). Ignoring the postcode/zipcode category, as they do not exist here in Ireland (yet), the lowest ranking data set in Ireland is government spending at 10% versus the UK at 100%. Surely this is an area of significant interest to the Irish citizen considering the economic crisis which has been playing out over the last five years. Legislation is the second least accessible source for open data at 35% versus the UK at 90% and the third lowest data ranking is allocated to the Government budget at 45% versus the UK’s 90%. Again, another important data set for the citizens of Ireland. Below is a chart comparing Ireland and the UK, highlighting these three areas.

ireland-v-uk

Source: www. https://index.okfn.org/country/

According to Rufus Pollock, Founder and CEO of the Open Knowledge Foundation:
Opening up government data drives democracy, accountability and innovation. It enables citizens to know and exercise their rights, and it brings benefits across society: from transport, to education and health. There has been a welcome increase in support for open data from governments in the last few years, but this Index reveals that too much valuable information is still unavailable.

If, according to the old adage, information is power and the Irish government either does not have the data available to make it public (a bigger issue perhaps) or they choose not to; one thing is certain, policy making will still remain the stronghold of the politicians until this type of data is made available to all. Maybe we need to think about this the next time an Irish politician speaks about “democracy, accountability and innovation” during an inevitable election campaign.