Beyond FOI: Open data for development
Erwin A. Alampay
14 April 2016
The recent electoral debates have touched on freedom of information (FOI), largely in the context of transparency and combatting corruption. What has been neglected in the debate is the discourse of how greater openness in accessing government information and data also leads to development.
Two hackathons are scheduled in the coming weekend. One involves ‘hacking’ health information; the other pertains to election data (note: this is not the same hacked data taken from the COMELEC that is in the news). What these events aim to highlight are the possible applications that can be derived from making the available data in the repositories of government open, free, and reusable for stakeholders and the general public.
There is also another data set that many sectors want to see “opened”, one that is current and relevant, and that would be helpful for development. This pertains to climate and disaster information that reside in the University of the Philippines. The potential applications for these are many, such as geographic and hazard maps, land use planning, flood modeling, among others. Agencies such as DENR, DA, NDRMMC and local government units request similar systems (e.g. GIS mapping systems). Open environmental data is especially critical in the context of El Niño and the need for expedient action and response from government and non-government stakeholders. Unfortunately, if the available data remains closed (in the true definition of the word, open data means it is accessible, free to use, reuse, and redistribute), this potential remains untapped.
According to the 2016 World Development Report, many of the ‘digital dividends’ in today’s society remain unfulfilled due to analog components that act as barriers. In this case, barriers include institutional policies and organizational turfing that hinder the timely and optimal use of publicly-funded, publicly-relevant, and developmentally useful data.
The Department of Science and Technology and UP, as a public service university, should take the lead in opening data on climate and the environment. Doing so will give a signal to other government agencies that siloed information and monopolizing data is backward, if not harmful. (In fact, in other countries, government-funded research make explicit in their contracts that data generated from it is made open). Opening data will lead to more collaboration and innovation, and is the way forward in the knowledge economy. It will save government money and lead to more effective and efficient services.
Beyond transparency and the mitigation of corruption, opening data for the purpose of harnessing the knowledge for development, founded on trust and partnership across stakeholders, is a freedom that information can bring. It is a new mindset that our next elected leaders in government and research institutions should learn to embrace.
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