Open Data in Kosovo – so close and yet so far

The Economist had an article a few weeks ago how internatitional indices have been cropping up all over place, and more specifically how they determine the fate of nations and yet could be abused by massaging the numbers.

Open Data Index is another of these indices, this time on the concept of open data. The survey checks 10 rather simple datasets:

  • Transport Timetables
  • Government Budget
  • Government Spending
  • Election Results
  • Company Register
  • National Map
  • National Statistics
  • Legislation
  • Postcodes/Zipcodes
  • Pollutant Emissions

against 9 questions:

  • Does the data exist
  • Is data in digital form
  • Publicly available
  • Is the data available for free
  • Is the data available online
  • Is the data machine readable
  • Available in bulk
  • Openly licensed
  • Is the data provided on a timely and up to date basis

Out of the 108 countries crowdsourced for this index (mostly me in the case of Kosovo) and checked by reviewers (mostly Besfort Guri in the case of Kosovo), Kosovo ranks 32st with a score of 515 out of 1000. UK scores first, and other usual Open Government well governed suspects follow. So at least  on the ladder we did pretty well on this new thing that still very few people know about in Kosovo (likely because the foreign founders haven’t either 😀 ). This is way better than Kosovo’s normal numbers on other indices.

What gives?

For one, these are simple datasets that most countries have, so the requirements are modest to start with. Here, Kosovo is completely missing two datasets: transport timetables, probably due to nonexistent public inter-city transport, and no postcodes with relevant geographic boundaries.

Our data is in digital format, again not a fancy requirement today since having it otherwise makes it more burdensome for public officials.

Our copyright law is rather good in placing public documents in the public domain so free use, including for commercial use, it not hindered (except for the national map, in this case a simple requirement, but in Kosovo all maps are highly protected and commercialized by the Cadastre agency). The Law on Access to Public Documents is another matter, however, since it stops use of documents accessed through this law “for commercial or propaganda purposes”.

On machine readability, which allows easy manipulation without further human intervention, it startes getting tricky as we are not meeting this requirement on 7 datasets.

On bulk availability — that is all data downloadable in one go — we again miss out on 7 out of 10 dataset. Here we would probably miss all of them if it was not for some of the datasets being quite simple to make sense as Excel files. We have quite a bit of spreadsheets and not enough databases, and when we have good databases such as the case of the business registry, we don’t have access to them in bulk. To get around this problem BIRN tried scraping the public face of it  and I did try without success to FOI the whole database.

We score well on time and up to date provision, but once again requirements are not very high here. Pollution data for air pollution only, for example, are required on a yearly basis.

Where do we go from here?

Some bright spots are already apparent. The guys at Open Data Kosovo with UNDP support have been doing an excellent job liberating and applying data to questions as well as training young people to make use of them. Democracy for Development has launched an indicators’ panel,  GAP has built an open spending tool and FOL has done an asset declaration panel of high officials. And GIZ is very serious about and has a dedicated project to open cadastre data. We need to bring all the data that feeds this work together and coordinate it in an efficient manner.

In the Open Government Partnership Action Plan (Albanian only) (on the drafting of which I participated consulting for Ipko Foundation) we managed to put the following (my translation):

Action Item 12. Government of Kosovo through the state portal will develop policies and
build a portal where it will publish open government data.
Sub-action 12.1 . Government in collaboration with the World Bank will start the procedures for conducting an Open Data Readiness Assessment.

(By 1 September 2014, the Information Society Agency will identify the data at or collected from public institutions by the Statistics Agency, the Treasury and Regulatory Authority of Electronic and Postal Communications and encourage their publication on their institutional web sites.
By 1 October 2014, distribution and licensing policies for the publication of data will be formalized through a Government decision.
By 1 March 2015, a central portal for publishing open data will be built.
By 1 June 2015, public institutions will publish all data collected from there on.
By 1 January 2016, all other archival data will be published.

As far as I am aware, we are behind on the first two items and there are no plans yet to build the government open data portal. Now that the government has been caretaking for the past 5 months, this looks like an overly ambitions plan, but we were not ambitious, since countries like Romania in our neighborhood have had open data portals for years. If anything, we’re behind.

The Readiness Assessment is scheduled to take place in February. And the Office of the Prime Minister in November was discussing amending the Law on Access to Information to include the EU Directive on the re-use of public sector information which will provide a strong legal basis for opening public data.

Fresh devotion needs to be found about this topic once again. Not that I have any illusions that this will be the panacea to the problems we face, but I strongly believe that it will strengthen transparency and evidence-based policy making and be a strong base for all other things well-intentioned people are working on in Kosovo.

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