N Touch
Tuesday 17 September 2019
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Editorial

The value of open govt data

AT A RECENT Central Bank seminar, Unit Trust senior portfolio manager Cedric Thompson called for “the promotion of high-quality data and proper usage regulations. Thompson suggested that the information would improve the local investment management industry and encourage local data analytics. That would improve financial analysis across the board for local investment and banking institutions, but it's a call that should be made across the board in local governance.

Successive governments have paid lip service to the concept of open government data, information about the nation's process and procedure, scrubbed of identifying information. Open data is the basis of modern smart governance, the practice of monitoring and analysing what is actually happening in a country and basing near, medium and long-term planning on the hard realities the data reveals.

Opening raw data to public analysis allows everyone to benefit, from farmers who can track trends in rainfall and drought across decades to traffic planners who can make decisions about routing vehicles based on more than congestion points. Unfortunately, local politics tends to follow what feels right or advantageous, rather than cold fact, which has led to decades of negligence in the basics of government data management and the incremental collapse of its public availability.

At least part of the problem, Director of Statistics at the Central Statistical Office, Sean O’Brien, noted in February is the CSO’s reliance on data provided from the public sector, which is spotty in providing data and in providing it in formats that meet international standards.

This opaqueness of data availability and its end use also leads to deep suspicion among the general public who doesn’t understand what enumerators – the people who collect sample information from the field – do and refuse to co-operate.

The National Statistical Institute, the CSO’s successor agency, is designed to strengthen the State’s capacity to collect data and has been in the planning stages since the turn of the century. Further, there is the difference between data and statistical analysis, which seeks to layer understanding over the raw information.

Too often, the two are referenced as if they are the same thing, which is unfortunate, because raw data can be analysed and pivoted to reveal different things. Sometimes, those inferences are managed to provide more positive political perspectives.

The free availability of appropriately scrubbed datasets representing verified data across a range of national performance indicators would enable today’s significantly more informed public to do its own analysis of critical issues.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development measures three characteristics of successful implementation of open government data – its openness, or availability, its usefulness and its reusability.

TT has a poor showing on all three counts. In a modern, data-driven world, this is unforgivable.

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