Adoption of open data in developing countries

Developing countries are lagging behind in the adoption of open data at government level, in the overall availability of data, and in the use of open data for transparency and accountability.

The Open Data Barometer is an annual worldwide survey of government commitments, implementation and impact. The most recent (3rd) edition found open data initiatives in place in 55% of the 92 countries surveyed, and that civil society and technology communities were using government data in 93% of countries, even where data was not yet fully open (World Wide Web Foundation, 2015).

However, the survey shows a marked difference between the availability of data in developed and developing countries. Nearly half of the open datasets found were in 10 OECD countries, and very few were in Africa. In a ranking of countries surveyed, 26 of the top 30 were high-income. Of DFID programme countries, India ranks the highest at 38th, followed by Kenya in 42nd place and Rwanda in 46th.

Regarding the types of data released, datasets related to tackling corruption were the least available. Just 2% of countries published fully open, detailed data on public spending, and 1% published open company data. Further, the survey finds that in many countries political commitments have not translated into systematic plans backed by budget allocations and capacity development.

Research by the Open Data Institute found that many government open data initiatives are fragile. They rely on strong leaders instead of embedded change; they lack feedback loops among users, intermediaries and producers; and their national data infrastructures continue to create barriers and uncertainty (Smith & Carolan, 2016).

There are also some worrying signs that current programmes may be weak or inadequately designed so that they are generating risks or negative consequences:

  • The Open Data Barometer found institutional foundations for openness “under threat”, with freedom of information and protection of citizens’ right to privacy declining (World Wide Web Foundation, 2015).
  • The Open Rights Group found signs that open data programmes in some developing countries had “little consideration of privacy” (Open Rights Group, 2014).
  • MySociety found that the primary beneficiaries of civic technologies built on government data or services are privileged populations (Rumbull, 2015).