6 March is International Open Data Day, which promotes the awareness and use of open data. Improving open data governance has usually been seen as a government-led initiative, yet such an approach often fails to include the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities, and data availability and quality remain critical issues in many countries. Glenn Maail writes about encouraging developments in Asia, such as how villagers from West Kalimantan used drones to collect images to expose environmental damage caused by mining; and how the Philippines tried to use citizen-generated data to close the gap between state and non-state statistics. He documents key lessons learned from the Indonesian experience in navigating the challenges of a multi-stakeholder approach, and suggests how inclusive and multi-stakeholder data governance could be achieved in open data ecosystems.
The new wave of democratic experiments aimed at transforming governance has led to greater political space for public engagement with government. Inspired by the promise of better decision-making, improved government transparency and accountability, and efficient public service delivery, the open data movement seeks to reconfigure relationships and responsibilities and transform interactions between citizen and state.
“Data” is defined in the European Commission’s Data Governance Act as “any digital representation of acts, facts or information and any compilation of such acts, facts or information, including in the form of sound, visual or audio-visual recording.” Open data – data that can be freely used, reused, and redistributed by anyone – is a promising tool for increasing government transparency and accountability, innovation, and economic development, as well as greater inclusion and citizen empowerment. Both governments and civil society organisations are embracing it as a tool for social change.
Over the past decade, we have seen reformers around the world working to gain access to more data and establishing the principle of open data by default. Yet, this approach has its limitations, leaving many data silos at the subnational level and in the private sector untouched. Despite its promise, a data revolution for development is hampered by the lack of quality published data, the limited skills of intermediaries to convert data to actionable information, and the inability of citizens, government officials and other stakeholders to use the information to elicit change in society.
In the multi-stakeholder approach to open data governance, the role of non-state actors such as civil society organisations (CSOs) or the private sector as open data intermediaries is critical. As prior studies have shown, CSOs could play a critical role in ensuring data use, especially in developing countries where awareness of existing data may be low, and where people’s capacity to use and derive results from data is limited. They could also play the role of advocates for increased transparency in open data governance, and increase the visibility of the open data movement. They could play the role of convener in connecting government and citizens. Yet studies have also highlighted the potential disconnect between non-state actors due to technical, political and regulatory restrictions surrounding open data governance. In many countries, development actors are mostly working in silos as part of an ecosystem that is exclusive, non-transparent and not accountable.
The Case of Indonesia
As a founding member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), the Indonesian government has recognised open data as a critical aspect of its national action plan. Indonesia’s role as lead chair of the OGP in 2013/14 focussed domestic and international attention on the country’s open data policies and practices. In urban centres like Jakarta, Banda Aceh, Bandung, Surabaya, Bojonegoro and Yogyakarta, among others, citizen groups are starting to use government-disclosed data to initiate conversations with governments that could lead to improvements in transparency, public service delivery, and citizen participation.
When government data is made accessible and re-usable, it enables individuals, organizations and even governments themselves to innovate and collaborate in new ways. The national open data portal (data.go.id) was launched in 2014. In subsequent years several provincial and municipal governments also launched open data platforms. These became flagship programs among their good governance initiatives, along with efforts to reform public sector digital government and other smart cities initiatives.
However, as in other developing countries, the Indonesian open data movement faces the challenge of a mismatch between open data publication and re-use. There has been little to no progress in terms of implementation and visible impact, largely due to the inadequate disclosure of data to support accountability, innovation, and entrepreneurship, and the lack of data use to achieve social, economic, and political impact. Except for certain sectors, data availability and quality remain the problems in most government institutions. A report issued by the Executive Office of the President showed that there are no standard data management practices applied across government agencies. Each agency is working in a silo, developing its own data management practice, with no clear strategy for data sharing and collaboration.
Fortunately, the issuance of Presidential Regulation Number 39/2019 on the One Data policy shows the government’s commitment to address these challenges. The One Data policy is expected to provide a common framework for data management along with guidelines for public institutions to limit redundant efforts, improve data quality and interoperability, including data licensing and formats. Pilot implementation began at nine national ministries from 2016 to 2018. In the next phases, the policy will be implemented in all national and sub-national agencies.
In the past, the open data landscape in Indonesia was largely characterized by government-led and supply-driven initiatives at the national level, but now open data has become a driving force in civil society advocacy, from budgets and elections to procurement and education reform. There is a growing conversation between Freedom of Information (FoI) advocates and open data enthusiasts, and several actors from aid agencies to community-based organizations are realizing the value that open data can play in democratizing information governance and amplifying citizen voices in matters that deeply affect them.
Towards Building Inclusive Open Data Governance
Data governance plays an important role in achieving high data quality. The challenge faced by the open data movement is to establish data governance policies and practices that include all stakeholders, unlike traditional practices that are implemented within the scope of a single organisation. According to the DAMA Data Management Body of Knowledge (DAMA-DMBOOK), data governance covers the exercise of authority, control, and shared decision-making (planning, monitoring and enforcement) over the management of data assets. Data governance creates an organisational structure that develops and enforces policies, rules, processes, and procedures to ensure and improve data quality within an organisation.
Over a decade ago, the open data movement began with the shared interest among reformers within the government, civil society and tech communities in establishing the principle that data obtained by taxpayer money should be open and free. However, as the movement has evolved, stakeholders have become more diverse, fluid, and cross-sectoral. Different networks and communities focus on various areas of development. Non-governmental actors such as civil society organizations (CSOs), tech communities and research institutions stand out as important stakeholders in open data governance. In their traditional role, these non-state actors play the role of intermediaries, which include data translators, policy advocates, and conveners who bridge the gap between data suppliers and the general public. Yet, the digital revolution has inspired these institutions to also become data providers, collecting, managing, and publishing their digital archives as open data.
Tackling Imbalanced Data Sources
In most developing countries, including Indonesia, the government remains the most important source of open data. Since data are created by humans with specific objectives, outsiders tend to feel little connection to the abstract datasets collected by government entities. People’s interest in open data is dependent on their ability to understand its relevance to their problems. However, due to its abstract nature, this relevance is not always apparent.
For data to help people explore issues and solve problems in their communities, it has to be contextualised and linked to their immediate surroundings. There has been a call to promote the context-sensitive design of open data platforms to enable communities to make decisions regarding relevant data and the level of granularity needed to solve the issues they are exploring. Contextualizing data means making it relevant to a geographical place characterized by a community’s interests and issues.
Yet, imbalance in terms of data sources also remains. Governments and large international development institutions should not be the only or dominant providers of open data. Efforts are needed to include non-state actors, particularly those from underrepresented geographical areas or community groups. If combined, these data can be used to analyse and diagnose underlying problems in society, and prescribe the most beneficial policy strategies.
Take, for example, this community drone project in Indonesia. Denied access to official government data, villagers in West Kalimantan and local CSOs built drones to collect aerial mapping data and used it to expose illegal practices of the mining companies that were causing environmental damage and violating the land rights of indigenous communities. As a result, the Constitutional Court and local parliamentarians backed the villagers, and the mining companies were held accountable. Unfortunately, this moving example of a community generating and leveraging data to defend its interests is an exception, not the rule.
The idea of data altruism, whereby individuals or companies voluntarily make data available for reuse, without compensation, for the common good – such as for scientific research or improving public services – must also be promoted. In Europe, such a measure was introduced by the European Commission in November 2020 with the goal of facilitating data portability and lowering the risks of data sharing among organizations. Although data altruism is still in its infancy, even in advanced economies such as the European Union, developing countries such as Indonesia can benefit from learning of and adopting such measures.
The experience of CSOs working with the national statistical office of the Philippines to assess sustainable development goals in 2020 provides a glimpse of how citizen-generated data can close data gaps, strengthen the relationship between the government and non-state actors, and advance understanding of data needs. This type of dialogue and collaboration can enhance trust in data as each party shares the integrity and impartiality of their practices. Of course, there must be common quality standards for citizen-generated data. It also requires that CSOs develop the institutional capacity to meaningfully participate in the co-design, co-production and co-dissemination of data.
Interorganizational Collaboration on Improving Data Quality
In Indonesia, where government institutions are still focusing on making data available to the public, awareness of data quality remains lacking. In some sectors, such as health and social protection programs, there is more progress thanks to political pressure to improve data quality. Even then, improvement is only in specific dimensions, such as the validity and completeness of data. Further improvement is expected in other sectors with the issuance of the One Data policy, designed to improve metadata standards including concept, definition, and classification.
With the rise of data altruism, every digital data entry on open data platforms has multiple potential “owners”. This means the users of such data are most likely not the producers, and may lack awareness of the quality inherent in the data. Data that might be of sufficient quality for one purpose may not be fit for another, resulting in misguided data transformation and analysis. Hence, there needs to be support for awareness of data quality.
The role of Data Intermediaries
Once communities see the value of data and its importance in civic action, they must find ways to use it effectively. Here, “data users” can be split into primary users who directly interact with the data, and secondary users who interact with the technology through an intermediary. Secondary users are most common in the open data ecosystems of developing countries. They typically have limited digital literacy and ownership of technology. Besides a lack of capacity and financial resources, it has been argued that culture also plays a role in human interactions with technology. In collectivist societies like Indonesia, group orientation towards executing tasks is a common norm. This kind of social norm means that interactions in public (or even private) places are often subject to external observation and intervention.
For these reasons, people often rely on third-party professionals to lead in data gathering, which in turn raises issues of dependency and the misrepresentation of communities. Most non-profit organizations, including those in Indonesia, are new to the concept of open data and have a limited grasp of data analytics. While there is considerable international and national support for governmental open data initiatives, local CSOs are often unrecognised and unsupported in their work. Yet they are essential both in planning and in monitoring the implementation of open data.
Several CSOs have taken the role of intermediary in Indonesia, dealing with specific issues and using various sets of open data. These include procurement data (Indonesian Corruption Watch, Transparency International Indonesia), and budget data in the extractive sector (Publish What You Pay Indonesia). However, most of these organizations are based in the capital city of Jakarta, and Indonesian CSOs tend to work in silos. Their social networks are weak, making it difficult to share resources and knowledge among different stakeholders. In the long term, such networks are ineffective due to poor cooperation and trust among members.
The role of CSOs as intermediaries promoting the institutionalization of open data falls within the broader public transparency and accountability agenda in Indonesia, particularly in the extractive sector and in government procurement. They have a contextual understanding of political, economic, and social practices needed to bring the open data agenda to the forefront of public debate. The key for mainstreaming the open data agenda is capitalizing upon the shared interests of government and the CSOs, such as the issue of Beneficial Ownership, Open Government, and Utilization of Village Funds in Indonesia. This would benefit the public in general and also strengthen collaboration between CSOs and the government.
Despite their growing importance as political and development actors, CSOs in Indonesia generally lack the resources to address their mission. Most are small, with a relatively flat hierarchy, registered as private foundations, and not membership based. As a group, they tend to be fragmented and inefficient at uniting the public and societal communities. Furthermore, public officials are still ambivalent about the political role of CSOs and activist citizens in general. Some public officials question the legitimacy of CSOs’ watchdog role. For these reasons, collaboration among CSOs is necessary to overcome the social, political, and economic barriers and impact the development agenda.
The goal of inclusive open data governance is to improve the participation of non-state actors through the co-production and co-dissemination of data. It overlaps with a number of other issues, from advocating for open and transparent government to empowering communities through access to information and education. Advancing this agenda requires a unified strategy to bring together key actors, sustain resources, and improve governance processes. As earlier stated, this will require the collaboration of different actors that are traditionally positioned in the open data space. However, it will also require the involvement of other new actors – including those working in information technology, business, and data science – testing the ability of CSOs to build networks not only among themselves but also with other sectors that are interested in and will benefit from open data.
Open data plays a key role in facilitating interaction between government and citizens. It enables a two-way flow of information, reducing information asymmetries. Previous studies have pointed out that open data innovations should be designed with clearly defined goals, in which the selection of appropriate technology solutions is critical and must be context specific. The deployment of tools and platforms should follow an iterative and incremental approach to ensure the scalability and sustainability of the open data initiative.
However, technology can only go so far in making data accessible, as well as helping people to understand, interpret, and visualise it. It takes social capital to transform data into beneficial activities that promote connection, shared values, and understanding in society. The lessons learned from Indonesia suggest that promoting government-citizen collaboration, enabling inter-organisational data sharing, developing data quality assessment methods and tools, and building the data governance capacity of non-state actors are all essential actions toward achieving inclusive data governance in open data ecosystems.