Open Data Index Stories from Egypt and Oman

Rayna Stamboliyska - December 9, 2014 in Open Data

The Open Data Index team invited the community to send in their 2014 open data stories. Open knowledge enthusiasts from Egypt and Oman, among others, contributed:
Egypt ranked #79 in the 2014 Open Data Index

Last year I contributed to parts of the Index, but the majority of the work was done by Rayna. This year it was a much easier task, since there weren’t many changes to the status of open data in Egypt. Nevertheless, I hope to see progress in the upcoming years as no progress is sometimes considered as regress when other countries are adopting openness more and more. In addition to checking whether last year’s datasets were still up, I also had to check whether they improved or newer datasets were added.

Read the full Egypt and the Open Data Index story.

Oman ranked #93 in the 2014 Open Data Index

Oman has made significant accomplishments in releasing government data to the public, but a lot of effort still needs to be made to make Omani government data open and accessible in the technical and legal sense.

Information collected and created by the Omani government covers all aspects of life, from topography and weather information to population and health statistics. The government uses this information to conduct its business, but afterwards it locks it up in boxfiles and hard drives that nobody has access to. This information can be of great benefit to businesses, academics, and society at large, but only if this information is open to the public technically and legally.

Read the full Oman and the Open Data Index story.

2014 Open Data Index: Slow Progress by MENA Governments in Opening up Key Data

Rayna Stamboliyska - December 9, 2014 in Open Data

Government data still not open enough – 2014 evaluation highlights little change in favour of Mid-Eastern openness

Open Knowledge has published its 2014 Open Data Index which shows that whilst there has been some progress, most governments are still not providing key information in an accessible form to their citizens and businesses. With recent estimates from McKinsey and others putting the potential benefits of open data at over $1 trillion, slow progress risks the loss of a major opportunity.
Rufus Pollock, Founder and President of Open Knowledge, says,

Opening up government data drives democracy, accountability and innovation. It enables citizens to know and exercise their rights, and it brings benefits across society: from transport, to education and health. There has been a welcome increase in support for open data from governments in the last few years, but this year’s Index shows that real progress on the ground is too often lagging behind the rhetoric.

The UK topped the 2014 Index retaining its pole position with an overall score of 96%, closely followed by Denmark and then France at number 3 up from 12th last year. Finland comes in 4th while Australia and New Zealand share the 5th place. Impressive results were seen from India at #10 (up from #27) and Latin American countries like Colombia and Uruguay who came in joint 12th. Sierra Leone, Mali, Haiti and Guinea ranked lowest of the countries assessed, but there are many countries where the governments are less open but that were not assessed because of lack of openness or a sufficiently engaged civil society.

Open Government Data initiatives have a critical impact on countries’ future development, especially in countries having long sufferred repressive regimes and inadequate economic development strategies. Open Data initiatives should focus on enabling access to information that helps improving peoples’ lives and the society at large. Citizens in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have demanded more open and inclusive governments as well as increased transparency and public engagement, pre-requierements for government accountability.

The Index ranks countries based on the availability and accessibility of information in ten key areas, including government spending, election results, transport timetables, and pollution levels, and reveals that whilst some good progress is being made, much remains to be done. Overall, whilst there was meaningful improvement in the number of open datasets (from 87 to 104), the percentage of open datasets across all the surveyed countries remained low at only 11%.

According to the World Bank, access to information and public engagement mechanisms in MENA are among the weakest in the world. This year’s Open Data Index follows up from 2013 and indicates openness of fundamental government data in the region is still far from satisfactory. The 2014 Index includes full scorecards for seven countries (Israel, Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Oman). Updates for Bahrain, Yemen and Jordan could not be submitted in due time, therefore respective scorecards were for now removed.

Both the 2013 and the 2014 editions include Israel, Tunisia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It is noteworthy that each of these countries has shown little progress and has actually gone down in the ranking. Morocco enters 79th, Lebanon — 85th, and Oman nears the lowest-ranking countries at the 93th position. Regardless of their position in the Index, the percentage of open datasets across these countries is less than 50%.

The seven countries from the Middle East and North Africa, featured in the Index, globally show very low openness. Israel ranks close to the average-open countries. The remaining six countries are among the least open, with Oman being within the 10 least open countries worldwide showcasing perfect enclosure of fundamental government data. Tunisia, having recently joined the Open Government Partnership, shows a disappointing commitment towards Open Data, having lost more than 10 ranks compared to 2013. Jordan, the other Mid-Eastern country participating to the Open Government Partnership, is unfortunately absent from the Index but preliminary observations indicate it would not perform better than its MENA neighbours.

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Open Government in Tunisia: “Support us to be supportive and annoying”

Rayna Stamboliyska - June 16, 2014 in Open Government

The regional Open Government Partnership (OGP) Regional Summit took place in Dublin beginning of May 2014. Originally adressing Europe and the Old Continent’s OGP progress, the Summit featured a MENA-related keynote: Selima Abbou, president of Tunisia-based NGO Touensa spoke at the opening. Since its foundation in 2011, Touensa has been particularly active in the fields of transitional justice, citizen oversight of institutional reforms and access to information.

Tunisia has joined the OGP earlier this year. The country is also undergoing a lively transition after former strongman Ben Ali fled the country back in 2011. Selima’s speech kicked off highlighting the key position openness holds for Tunisia, its present and its future: “openness represents the only path that can lead the Tunisian people to recover their dignity and guarantees to their children justice and rule of law.” To achieve this, collaboration between the government and the civil society is crucial. Thus — “support us to be supportive and support us to be annoying.”

Watch the whole keynote here:

Opening up governance: OpenMENA joins public consultation process in Tunisia

Rayna Stamboliyska - May 23, 2014 in Open Government Partnership, Transparency

Our friends at OpenGovTN have asked us at OpenMENA to join a forthcoming national public consultation. The latter aims to build an action plan which will bring greater openness and more collaborative governance to Tunisia. The process, referred to as OGP.Dialogue, will run starting 28 May until September 2014. And we are delighted to be part of it!

Some background, please?

As you may have heard it, Tunisia recently joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Launched back in 2011, the OGP aims “to provide an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. Since then, OGP has grown from 8 countries to the 64 participating countries. In all of these countries, government and civil society are working together to develop and implement ambitious open government reforms.” Prior to expressing interest in joining the OGP, a country has to fulfill several eligibility requirements in four key areas (Fiscal Transparency, Access to Information, Income and Asset Disclosures, and Citizen Engagement). Jordan was actually the first MENA country to join the Partnership.

Tunisia officially joined the OGP earlier in 2014: the country has now to present an action plan where it lists the commitments it makes in order to increase openness, transparency and accountability in the governance process. As per the OGP requirements, after joining the program, the country’s government has to work with civil society to elaborate an action plan.

Here comes OGP.Dialogue, the Tunisian national public consultation, initiated by civil society organisations and joined by the government in an effort to bolster a truly participatory process. More than 40 Tunisian NGOs has confirmed their involvement, Touensa being the initiative’s transparency watchdog and TACID Network coordinating local associations in order to include rural areas. Civil society members and government officials will thus strive to gather and narrow down a set of concrete and measurable commitments. These will be Tunisia’s action plan for the next two years: a roadmap to reforms in the areas of transparency, integrity and citizen participation.Logo_OGP.Dialogue

OGP.Dialogue: bootstrapping a participatory governance

OGP.Dialogue will be organised in an ambitious yet strategised fashion. Impulsed by OpenGovTN, an umbrella collective coordinating numerous Tunisian NGOs, the OGP.Dialogue will include a few different yet complementary approaches:

The consultation process will start on 28 May 2014 and numerous NGOs will participate, either through on-site activities in the cities where they are based in or through traveling across the country. Thus, the widest possible number of people will be able to have a say and provide valuable citizen input to the forthcoming action plan.

In parallel, an online platform will be launched. Its aim is three-fold: first, it will enable even wider participation. Second, an important part of Tunisians live abroad; thus, an online platform will allow them to contribute. Third, the platform will help structure the contributions. Indeed, most of those will happen asynchronously and will emerge from many and diverse stakeholders. It is therefore crucial to safeguard these insights all by making them available throughout the whole duration of the consultation – and beyond.

In order to assess the progress of the whole process, an event will be held in the capital city of Tunis on 20 and 21 June. It will welcome a wide number of stakeholders: NGOs, government representatives, OGP Support Unit staff, external experts. The event will be a series of public discussions on the main OGP topics where a member of the civil society meets a government representative to discuss the proposed approach. This ‘reality check’ is needed in order to harmonise the efforts: the action plan is an endeavour that the Tunisian government takes seriously and it is also working on narrowing down concrete commitments.

For the discussion between the civil society and the government representative to be as smooth and fruitful as possible, a neutral, external expert will be moderating the exchange. This expert will in addition provide feedback on the different suggestions and expertise from other countries where s/he has already worked on the topic. The two-day event will culminate with a big show-and-tell and various media points so the widest possible audience can be informed in due time about the progress of the consultation.

Original image in the public domain (via OpenClipArt)

Original image in the public domain (via OpenClipArt)

OpenMENA will be there!

OpenMENA founder, Rayna Stamboliyska, will be present for the 20-21 June OGP.Dialogue progress point. We are grateful to OpenGovTN to have invited us as being there is important: the OGP.Dialogue event is a great opportunity for the Open Knowledge values to be brought to an ever-growing number of people. Taking an active part to the building of the forthcoming OGP Tunisia action plan is a challenge OpenMENA is more than keen to address.

We are thus more than delighted to be partners and to participate to this grand endeavour of co-creating a more open and collaborative society in Tunisia.

Stay tuned: we’ll be publishing regular updates!

Making it matter: Open Education in the Global South

Rayna Stamboliyska - May 21, 2014 in Open Education

The ‘Making it matter’ workshop, gathering Open Education supporters and promoters, was held in London on Friday, May 16. The event strived to “be a ‘first-step’ in bringing together communities interested in the technical issues related to open data and education” in the Global South.

We discussed a number of interesting topic, among which the importance of open data for education, advantages and shortcomings of mobile tools as well as the links between educational technology, learning and development politics. All the slides for the day are now available online and you can also watch the videos from the talks. The workshop gathered reactions online through the hashtag #mim14. Marieke Guy, organiser of the workshop and coordinator of the Open Education workgroup, has collected the tweets in a neat storify.

Brainstorming at #mim14. Image by the author

Brainstorming at #mim14. Image by the author

An important part of the day was dedicated to breakout sessions during which we grouped and addressed challenges ahead for open education in the Global South. Marieke has collected and organised the input from participants in a comprehensive way. Important observations have surfaced relating to the need to widen the scope of educational resources being created along with the necessity to translate and localise such information in order to remove the language barrier. In addition, we had a thorough discussion on innovative ways to train the trainers in various countries in the Global South — and to also educate decision makers. The latter often ignore many layers of the complex implementation of educational approaches which in turn harms the people as public money is not invested in appropriate programs and adopted curricula are not in adequacy with the local specifics.

“We hope the event was a success”, wrote Marieke Guy after the workshop. Yes, it truly was as it enabled each and everyone of us, attendees, speakers, remote participants, to better understand the subtleties of bringing open and freely shareable educational resources to everyone worldover. The workshop was also a success for it resulted in an outline of both the messes and successes enabling each and everyone of us to build upon.

If you are interested in being involved with the Open Education workgroup, you are welcome to join the Open Education Working Group mailing list.

Image source

TimeMapper: Archaeology of wine

Rayna Stamboliyska - May 15, 2014 in Stories, Tools

OKFN Labs has a very neat tool that allows you to create timelines: check out TimeMapper! The below archaeology of wine gives you a good overview of what one can do.

Afghan journalists put data journalism skills into practice

Rayna Stamboliyska - May 13, 2014 in Data journalism, Stories

Thirteen Afghan journalists participated in the first-ever data journalism workshop held in Afghanistan. (credit: Internews)

Thirteen Afghan journalists participated in the first-ever data journalism workshop held in Afghanistan. (credit: Internews)

During a training workshop held by Internews, Afghan journalists immediately saw the potential of data journalism to combat corruption, and wanted to jump right into ambitious investigative topics such as tracking foreign aid budgets and political and business interests in the mining sector.

The five-day, hands-on workshop, held in Kabul and supported by the USAID-funded Afghan Civic Engagement Project (ACEP), was Afghanistan’s first ever data journalism training.

Internews trainer Eva Constantaras introduced 13 senior journalists to skills such as finding public-interest angles in government and NGO data, analyzing election results using Excel, and visualizing data with Google Charts. The training marks a first step towards a more advanced, data-driven media sector in Afghanistan that facilitates greater governmental transparency and accountability. While the training focused specifically on election data, the skills are widely applicable to coverage of a range of pressing development issues in Afghanistan. Over the course of the week in March 2014, trainees explored health, economic, education, and gender data through analysis and visualizations.

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Wandida: Ceci n’est pas un MOOC

Rayna Stamboliyska - April 18, 2014 in Open Education

Our friends from OKFN Morocco published a very interesting interview with El Mahdi, on of the people behind Wandida. Wandida is an online platform which collects and provides a wide range of open educational resources (CC-by-NC-SA 4.0). The platform is entirely built and maintained by two Moroccans working at the Swiss École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). As we are awaiting a translation of the interview into Arabic, we thought to wrap it in English for a wider audience to discover and enjoy the project.

Wandida was born sometime back in 2010 as a sketch idea and fed through diverse experiences such as the web media Mamfakinch, inspired by Khan Academy and MIT’s OpenCourseWare. Today, the platform operates in four languages, namely standard Arabic, darija (Moroccan Arabic), French and English. Interestingly, the content is created to fit each language requirements: it is thus not a translation from already existing material (e.g. from standard Arabic to French or suchlikes). Wandida’s creators emphasize how crucial for the learners is the creation of original content that fits the language it is ‘dressed up’ into.

And what about the goals of this project? First, it is important to provide a truly open educational content online. Unlike MOOCs where ‘Open’ generally means ‘gratuitious’, Wandida aims to be a place where anyone can openly access knowledge and does not require log-in for learners. While MOOCs are generally preferred by people having completed their education, Wandida focuses on students. Thus, it aims at providing a more narrowly themed educational resources which can actually help students clarify and/or improve their knowledge of a given topic. Through this platform, Wandida’s creators wish also to refurbish the image of professors and to give back them back the importance they have in the learning process. Even more importantly, highlights El Mahdi, Wandida is an experimentation: we are in the Stone Age of online learning, so we should not stick to our current certitudes and continue to experiment, succeed, make mistakes and learn from both successes and failures.

Draft Open Data Policy for Qatar

Rayna Stamboliyska - April 17, 2014 in Open Data

The Qatari Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies (generally referred to as ictQATAR) had launched a public consultation on its draft Open Data Policy. I thus decided to briefly present a (long overdue) outline of Qatar’s Open Data status prior to providing a few insights of the current Policy document.

Public sector Open Data in Qatar: current status

Due to time constraints, I did not get the chance to properly assess public sector openness for the 2013 edition of the Open Data Index (I served as the MENA editor). My general remarks are as follows (valid both end of October 2013 and today):

  • Transport timetables exist online and in digital form but are solely available through non-governmental channels and are in no way available as Open Data. The data is thus neither machine-readable nor freely accessible — as per the Open Definition, — nor regularly updated.
  • Government budget, government spending and elections results are nowhere to be found online. Although there are no elections in the country (hence no election results to be found; Qatar lacks elected Parliament), government budget and spending theoretically exist.
  • Company register is curated by the Qatar Financial Centre Authority, is available online for anyone to read and seems to be up-to-date. Yet, the data is not available for download in anything else than PDF (not a machine-readable format) and is not openly licensed which severely restricts any use one could decide to make out of it.
  • National statistics seem to be partly available online through the Qatar Information Exchange office. The data does not, however, seem to be up-to-date, is mostly enclosed in PDFs and is not openly licensed.
  • Legislation content is provided online by Al-Meezan, the Qatari Legal Portal. Although data seems available in digital form, it does not seem to be up-to-date (no results for 2014 regardless of the query). The licensing of the website is not very clear as the mentions include both “copyright State of Qatar” and “CC-by 3.0 Unported”.
  • Postcodes/Zipcodes seem to be provided through the Qatar Postal Services yet the service does not seem to provide a list of all postcodes or a bulk download. The data, if we assume it’s available, is not openly licensed.
  • National map at a scale of 1:250,000 or better (1cm = 2.5km) is nowherer to be found online, at least I did not manage to (correct me if I am wrong).
  • Emissions of pollutants data is not available through the Ministry of Environment. (Such data is defined as “aggregate data about the emission of air pollutants, especially those potentially harmful to human health. “Aggregate” means national-level or more detailed, and on an annual basis or more often. Standard examples of relevant pollutants would be carbon monoxides, nitrogen oxides, or particulate matter.”)

This assessment would outcome the overall score of 160 (as per the Open Data Index criteria) which would rank Qatar at the same place as Bahrain, that is much lower than other MENA states (e.g., Egypt and Tunisia). A national portal exists but it does not seem to comprehend what open format and licensing mean as data is solely provided as PDFs and Excel sheets, and is the property of the Government. (The portal basically redirects the user to the aforementioned country’s national statistics website.) Lastly, information requests can be made through the portal.

The 2013 edition of the Open Data Barometer provides a complementary insight and addresses the crucial questions of readiness and outreach:

[There is] strong government technology capacity, but much more limited civil society and private sector readiness to secure benefits from open data. Without strong foundations of civil society freedoms, the Right to Information and Data Protection, it is likely to be far harder for transparency and accountability benefits of open data to be secured.
The region has also seen very little support for innovation with open data, suggesting the economic potential of open data will also be hard to realise. This raises questions about the motivation and drivers for the launch of open data portals and platforms.

Screenshot from the Open Data Barometer 2013.

Screenshot from the Open Data Barometer 2013.

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Morph.io, A New Scraping Platform

Tarek Amr - March 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

Scraping is where you run a program to extract structured data from web pages, and web scrapers could be called the unsung heroes of data liberation. The OpenAustralia Foundation is announcing a new Scraping Platform called Morph.io

Morph.io, a new scraping platform

Morph.io, a new scraping platform

You can write scripts on Morph using Python, Ruby or PHP to collects information from web pages and writes it to an SQLite database in its working directory.The scraper code is kept in a repository on GitHub which is linked to the scraper on Morph. The resulting data is stored in a database that you can query through an API. Or you can just download all the data as JSON or as a CSV (you can import into a spreadsheet) or just download a whole binary SQLite database.