The Capital City of Kenya, Nairobi

What is an Open Data Policy and How Does It Benefit Society?

By John Walubengo

A decade ago, Prof. Bitange Ndemo, then distinguished Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of ICT, made a bold attempt to make government data ‘open’ by setting up an open data portal with some select government data available to the public.

The experiment did not pan out as planned, as it met significant resistance from another ministry that perhaps did not appreciate what the PS was trying to implement.

In particular, there was serious concern about what exactly an ‘open’ government portal meant—within the context of confidential or secret information that tends to be the hallmark of governments globally.

In the last administration, there was a stronger attempt to revive and implement that vision under the Deputy President, now the current President, when they launched the KE Open Government Action Plan 2020-2022

There, however, seems to be less understanding of what open data government or open data policy means across the public sector. Today we take a deeper understanding of what exactly an open data portal is and how it does not conflict with the need to keep certain information in the public sector secret or confidential.

An Open Data Policy is a set of principles and guidelines established by governments or organizations to promote the transparency, accessibility, and sharing of data with the public. The main goal of such policies is to make non-sensitive data freely available to the public in a format that is easily accessible and usable. 

Open data policies often aim to foster innovation, collaboration, and accountability by providing citizens, businesses, and researchers with the information they need to analyze, understand, and potentially use the data for various purposes.

Key components of an Open Data Policy may include:

  • Transparency: The policy emphasizes the importance of transparency by making government or organizational data open and accessible to the public.
  • Accessibility: The data should be made available in a format that is easily accessible and understandable. This may involve providing data in machine-readable formats to facilitate analysis.
  • Reuse: Open data policies often encourage the reuse of data for various purposes, such as research, application development, or the creation of new services.
  • Licensing: The policy may include guidelines on the licensing of data to clarify how it can be used and distributed. Open data is often released under licenses that permit its free use and redistribution.
  • Metadata Standards: The use of standardized metadata helps in describing the data, making it easier for users to understand the content, context, and structure of the datasets.
  • Privacy and Security Considerations: Open data policies should also consider privacy and security concerns, ensuring that sensitive and confidential information is not inadvertently disclosed.
  • Collaboration: Open data policies may encourage collaboration between government agencies, private organizations, and the public to enhance the quality and breadth of available data.

Governments at various levels (local, regional, national) and international organizations often adopt open data policies as part of broader initiatives to promote good governance, accountability, and civic engagement. 

By making data open and accessible, these policies contribute to a more informed and empowered society.  

Open data is, therefore, not the same as ‘opening’ all government data, but it’s about classifying and deciding which public datasets would spur innovation when made open and available to innovators to mine and create digital products that solve our pressing socio-economic problems.

John Walubengo is an ICT lecturer and Consultant. @jwalu.


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