In December 2007, the idea of making data open as a tool for public good and governance started taking form in a meeting in San Francisco consisting of thinkers and internet activists. Around a year later, Barack Obama signed presidential memoranda that placed data front and centre in serving the public followed by the development of the US’s first online portal for open data with other countries following suit shortly.
Open data inherits its spirit from open-source coding practices that have been in place for far longer. Open source is code that is free to reuse for the common good. The code reused is shared back to the platform contributing back to common knowledge. Open data follows the same principles at its core as open-source: transparency, participation and collaboration. Data is collected from government departments and private companies and made accessible through an online portal. The data is free to redistribute and reuse.
Having a public repository of updated and accessible datasets provides 4 major benefits:
- Transparency and Accountability: More data being public and accessible allows for greater visibility on important areas like health, education and economy. The performance and impact of government policies, companies and even individuals can be assessed much better and more checks and balances can be implemented.
- Informed Decision Making: As the information being accessible increases, the cumulative knowledge of a population can be seen to grow significantly leading to better and more informed decision making not only in assessing governments and policies but also in social and economic situations.
- Economic Innovation: Open data is seen as a great catalyst in creating economic opportunity. An increase in the information available can help identify more gaps in the market. This leads to not only an increase in innovation in existing businesses but also generates new economic avenues as more businesses form to fill newly discovered market gaps.
- Increased Civic Participation: Civic participation is seen to greatly improve as the average citizen becomes more aware of things around them. Issues like health, law, education and environment get more attention leading to more feedback, expression and even solutions generated from the community.
Pakistan currently ranks 72nd in a list of 94 countries in terms of accessible public data. This comes from challenges that are partially due to the nature of developing countries. Internet access, skills and language barriers and computer literacy all form obstacles in ensuring an effective open data system. On the policy side, collecting, verifying and maintaining digital databases still proves to be a challenge for most public departments. However, initiatives such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bureau of Statistics and Open Data Pakistan show the tide turning towards a future with progressive governance, innovation and informed decision making.