Open Data: Open Opportunities

12 Jan 2016

Open Data: Open Opportunities Data is one of the most valuable and least utilized assets of modern governments: Steliana Nedera, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative at the opening of the "Open opportunities" conference

Data is probably one of the most valuable and least utilized assets of modern governments. The primary purpose of open data initiatives worldwide is to help governments, businesses, and societies more smartly utilize the data resources they already possess, and to empower them to compete in this increasingly digital world and successfully leverage the data revolution. Open data refers to digital data that is available online, for free or at a marginal cost, for anyone to use and republish for any purpose, and in a format that can be readily processed and analyzed by computers. Open data initiatives in many cases refer to turning data that is already publicly available into formats that can be reused, making it a powerful resource for private sector development, jobs creation, economic growth, and more effective governance and citizen engagement.

Across the world, local and national governments are learning that smart data management helps them create new businesses and job opportunities, improve efficiency in the provision of public services, improve outcomes for citizens, and increase participation of citizens and society as a whole.

The fact that the European Commission is investing considerable amounts of finances to overcome the problem of delivering large amounts of data for public use is a strong indicator of its significance. Open data has been recognized worldwide as the key enabler for achieving the post-2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Serbia is currently ranked #48 out of 97 countries in the 2014 Global Open Data Index, which measures the openness of data around the world (a decrease from last year). Among the top 20 are countries ranging from the UK to Romania, India, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Uruguay, Germany, and Taiwan.

UNDP’s Open Data initiative aims to change that picture. Joining forces with the World Bank, and in collaboration with our partners at the Directorate for E-Government and Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government, we conducted an Open Data Readiness Assessment (ODRA) in June 2015 – the first step on the path to opening government data in the Republic of Serbia.

During the fall of 2015, we worked with several government agencies to provide the first data sets in the open data format: The Ministry of Education, Science, and Technological Development; The Ministry of Interior; The Public Procurement Office; The Agency for Environmental Protection; The Agency for Medicines and Medical Devices.

These five pioneering institutions have recognized the value that open data can add to their work – through creating efficiencies, engaging the public, enhancing own capacities, and creating space for innovation and entrepreneurship.

These five pioneering institutions have recognized the value that open data can add to their work – through creating efficiencies, engaging the public, enhancing own capacities, and creating space for innovation and entrepreneurship.

The data provided by these early movers has also enabled a test-case demonstration of the value of open data in general.  This was exactly the purpose of the first Open Data Hackathon in Serbia, organized in partnership with SEE ICT at the Startit Center on 4-6 December 2015. Eleven teams comprising activists, programmers, and designers worked for 48 hours to develop 11 applications using the provided open data. All of the developed applications showed creative uses of open data to provide value for citizens, businesses, and government agencies themselves. Many were designed to both generate new data from users and provide feedback to institutions in charge of policy design in the relevant area. A jury selected three best applications to receive awards:

- Safety pin, using Ministry of Interior data to map traffic accidents in Belgrade, combining it with weather data to generate statics, allowing users to plan travel routes as well as to add unreported minor accidents taking place in their communities.

- EjNabavke, an app relying on public procurement data to inform potential bidders of new tenders announced in a given field, by a given institution, or by user-defined keyword, as well as notifying of any changes and progress in the procurement process.

- Androgen, a mobile app using Agency for Environmental Protection data to calculate and predict the concentration of allergens in the air, including search filters by pollen-creating plant.

Hackathon participants have generated a considerable amount of intelligence related to the way public institutions collect and manage their data. Their feedback has been provided to all individual institutions, with recommendations for improving the quality and usability of the data they produce.

Conference “Open Data for Efficiency, Accountability and Development”

The conference held at Belgrade’s Crowne Plaza hotel on 8 December summarized the year’s efforts on open data and established a firm commitment on the way forward in 2016. Attended by over 100 government officials, experts, activists, business representatives, media and researchers, the conference created a genuine platform for dialogue and exchange between all stakeholder groups.

Deputy Prime Minister Kori Udovicki and Minister of Education, Science, and Technological Development Srdjan Verbic both spoke of their vision for open data in Serbia, along with two State Secretaries from the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government, the Director of the Directorate for e-Government, an Assistant Minister from the Ministry of Trade, Telecommunication and Tourism, a representative of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection, as well as World Bank experts.  

During the afternoon workshops, participants further discussed some of the main dimensions of the Open Data Readiness Assessment: the institutional and legal framework for open data, government data management practices, business opportunities and engagement of civil society and the academic community. Conclusions of these sessions have been very much in line with recommendations from the ODRA Action Plan, including the following:

· Establishing a clear leadership and coordination mechanism for implementing the open data program, including a central body and an inter-sectoral working group

· Establishing a Chief Data Officer role in each government body

· Introducing open data into the legislative framework through revisions of the Law on Access to Information of Public Importance, as well as regulating data exchange through the new Law on Electronic Government

· Creating an inventory of all government-held data sets

· Developing a national open data portal

· Developing clear standards for data publication, including protocols for data security

· Implementing extensive trainings of IT managers in public bodies, future Chief Data Officers, as well as across government in general; deepen collaboration with civil society, researchers, and the startup community

· Ensure existing pilot institutions are further supported to continue opening their data and broaden the number of bodies that will provide datasets in an open format, working on the basis of their expressed interest.

The overarching tone of the conference was one of collaboration and partnership, with a consensus on the great potential of open data and a willingness to engage in the initiative through a process of joint learning.

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