Limited understanding and technical capabilities are barriers for adoption in the UK
People in the UK are embracing Open Government Data (OGD) but are using it less effectively than other countries, according to a new report sponsored by Singapore’s Government Technology Agency (GovTech).
Authored and researched by Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Open Government Data: Assessing demand around the world assesses how people around the globe are using open data and the benefits they perceive it brings to society.
The report is based on a survey of 1,000 people – 100 from 10 different countries (UK, US, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Finland, Mexico, Australia, France and India) – all of whom were familiar with the concept of OGD, such as public transport information and weather forecasts.
This survey differs from Open Data Barometer (opendatabarometer.org/?_year=2016&indicator=ODB) and Global Open Data Index (index.okfn.org) in that participating countries are not ranked in any particular order, rather general sentiment is gauged and global trends are identified. In addition, research findings are solely based on the opinions of OGD users living in the countries surveyed.
According to Feng Yuan, director of the Data Science Division that is responsible for Singapore’s Open Data Initiative, the report’s genesis goes back to the revamping of the government’s online portal of publicly available datasets (data.gov.sg). No longer simply a repository, this online resource makes data relevant and useful to the public, presenting data stories in a visually creative and easy to understand way.
With the continual evolvement of the portal with new features and data requests, it came to a point where Singapore wanted to understand what other countries were doing with their OGD to provide not only a comparison baseline for itself but also to identify how its open data initiative could be further developed.
Report findings showed that eight in 10 respondents (78 per cent) believe that OGD can improve the lives of citizens with three-fifths (61 per cent) believing it generates economic value through social innovation. While 52 per cent of Brits believe open data can improve their daily lives, uptake has been slow, especially when compared with early-adopters in Asia.
This difference in outlook between the traditional European democracies and the non-European countries surveyed was, says Yuan, surprising, with Asian countries and Mexico more positively inclined towards OGD, seeing it as important to the economy and for contacting government.
“That was surprising as I would have thought that would be more important or as important for the European countries, particularly in terms of what we have been hearing about the initiatives that have been pushing open data,” he said.
Yuan said another surprise was how much Singaporeans use OGD: one in three in the last 12 months, compared to just 18 per cent in the UK.
UK figures were even lower when it came to the utilisation of OGD to create new business (12 per cent), compared to nearly a third globally (peaking at 30 per cent in South Korea and India).
The report also identified a number of challenges stopping people from using OGD effectively.
Awareness remains the biggest barrier, with half of respondents (49 per cent) in the UK saying there is not enough understanding in their country of OGD initiatives and their benefits.
Nearly a third of UK respondents (31 per cent) believe they lack the technical skills to effectively use OGD data, while over a quarter (27 per cent) of UK respondents pinpointed a lack of usable data that is relevant to public needs as a leading barrier, meaning government organisations need to do more to provide this information.
The report also revealed that 70 per cent of respondents believe OGD helps stimulate trust between citizens and government. Yet challenges remain and 19 per cent of respondents are concerned about cyber security and their government’s ability to keep their data safe.
For Yuan, the takeaways of the report for Singapore are centred on raising greater awareness, thinking harder and pushing out more useful data.
While there is no shared formal forum planned for the participants of the survey, Yuan hopes it can become an organising platform of sorts. “I hope this becomes a kind of conversation point and we get to see how better to collaborate.”
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