The Ministry of Technology and Communications has very recently issued a circular announcing the release of the government’s new Open Data Policy. This policy sets the general framework that government entities must follow when releasing their data to the public in a way that should maximise the ability of businesses, journalists, members of the public, and other government entities to benefit from government data.
I recently wrote a report examining the status of open data in the Arab World with Sadeek Hasna. As today is the Open Data Day, I thought it would be a great opportunity to talk about it.
Our report uses the data of the Global Open Data Index to examine the extent to which Arab countries have released their data in an open manner. We decided to focus on a limited number of datasets, namely the annual budget, legislation, election results, and the company register, and looked at how Arab countries succeed or fail in releasing these datasets.
Our report found examples of some good initiatives by Arab governments relating to our chosen datasets such as the website of the Emirati Ministry of Finance (which releases the government annual budget in Excel format making it easy for analysts to process this data), Al Meezan – the legislation website of the government of Qatar (which provides all laws in full text format and adopts a creative commons licence), the Egyptian Presidential Elections Committee website (which provides its election data in Excel format), and the website of the Bahraini Company Register (which provides an excellent search engine to look up company data).
Even though Arab governments have done well in some specific cases, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done. Many government websites release their data as scanned PDF files that are extremely difficult to use, and very few websites give the explicit permission for the users to copy and re-use the data. We could not identify any website that enabled the bulk download of of the datasets in question.
You can read the report on Open Data in the Arab World here.
Image credits: ‘Map of Arabic-speaking countries‘ by Illegitimate Barrister – Licensed by CC Attribution 3.0
Oman ranked at 66 on the Global Open Data Index 2015 making it the highest ranking Arab country on the index. The Global Open Data Index is a crowdsourced survey of the performance of governments in the area of open data. It looks at the extent to which governments release their data in a technically and legally open format that permits the public to copy and re-use this data for both societal and business objectives.
Oman has been actively working in the past few years on the ‘government digital transformation’ project, which is spearheaded by the ITA, but the biggest development in the area of open data did not come from the ITA, it came from NCSI. The NCSI launched earlier this year a fully fledged open data portal in which data is published in a technically and legally open manner. This portal publishes statistics relating to Oman in a variety of areas under machine-readable formats that users are permitted to copy and re-purpose.
It is also great to see that the Omani legislation dataset, which is published by MOLA, ranks 16 globally. This score is probably due to the legal requirements for legislation to be published in the official gazette within a maximum of two weeks and the exemption of legislation from the protection of copyright under Omani law (making it legally open). MOLA is very quick in updating the legislation on its website and announces its weekly updates on both Twitter and Facebook. The benefits of the availability of the legislation dataset are not hypothetical: I personally participate in a project that takes advantage of the fact that legislation is an open dataset in Oman.
Oman is definitely moving in the right direction when it comes to open data, but it has the potential of moving even higher up on the index by making small tweaks to its existing websites. For example, the Company Register at MOCI has digital records of all the information needed for the data index, but currently displays a limited amount of data on its search engine results. Allowing users to view small additional details, such as the address and list of shareholders, could make Oman satisfy the requirement for this dataset. This change will not require any serious financial investment because the data is already available to MOCI in a digital format in their system, all they need to do is display it on the search results.
The Omani government should take note of the Global Open Data Index to evaluate its performance and figure out new ways to make its data more open and consequently more easily accessible to the public. The Global Open Data Index is an easy indicator to understand and can give ideas for practical improvements that could actually be implemented.
Open Data can provide great opportunities to Oman. The government has massive amounts of data about all aspects of life in the country that remain stored without ever getting used or, at best, remain constantly under-utilised.
As part of its normal way of conducting business, the government collects and creates a lot of information. This information includes basic details about the number of accidents that happen on the road, what time of the day they happened, and their exact location; the number of schools in the country, the number and age of students attending these schools; the number of mosques in each city; the locations of hospitals, forecast details, and so many other details about everything in the country.