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Digital public sector news, research & engagement

Sunday 27 October 2013Author: Michael Cross

UK tops open government league - but don't mention elections

The UK has emerged as the most open of 70 countries in making its government data available for re-use in a survey published on the eve of a major international summit in London.

The Open Data Index was created by the Open Knowledge Foundation activist group in the run-up to this week's Open Government Summit, a meeting of the members of the Open Government Partnershuip set up by the UK and US in 2011. It ranks 70 countries according to the availability and accessibility of information in 10 key areas, including government spending, election results, transport timetables and pollution levels.

The UK and US top the index with scores of 940 and 870 respectively, followed by Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. Of the countries assessed, Cyprus, St Kitts & Nevis, the British Virgin Islands, Kenya and Burkina Faso ranked lowest. Cyprus scored just 30 on the index.

The foundation notes many countries around the world would have scored lower but "were not assessed because of lack of openness or a sufficiently engaged civil society".

However poor performers also include countries that are members of the Open Government Partnership, membership of which requires each participating country must develop an OGP action plan through a multi-stakeholder, open, and participatory process.

Of the top 10 scorers on the index, only New Zeland is not a member of the Open Government Partnership. However Kenya, the fourth least open country on its list with a scoe 130, is a partnership member. Costa Rica, another partbership member, is well down the list with a score of 345.

Rufus Pollock, the foundation's founder and chief executive, said that much remains to be done to realise the partnership's ambitions. "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 Index reveals that too much valuable information is still unavailable."

Even the leaders have weak spots. The survey accused the UK Electoral Commission of letting down the country's performance by not allowing open reuse of UK election data, while the US does not provide a single consolidated and open register of corporations.

Less than half of the key datasets in the top 20 countries are available to re-use as open data, showing that even the leading countries do not fully understand the importance of citizens and businesses being able to legally and technically use, reuse and redistribute data, the foundation said.

Company registers are a weak point across the board: only five out of the 20 leading countries have even basic information available via a truly open licence, and only 10 allow any form of bulk download. This information is critical for range of reasons - including tackling tax evasion and other forms of financial crime and corruption.

"For the true benefits of open data to be realised, governments must do more than simply put a few spreadsheets online. The information should be easily found and understood, and should be able to be freely used, reused and shared by anyone, anywhere, for any purpose," Pollock said.