Measuring the impact of open data in the developing world is still a work in progress, however there is clear evidence of the benefits of open government data (OGD), particularly when it comes to transparency and accountability.
Now imagine the power of combining OGD from developing countries with open data generated by international development organizations such as USAID, the World Bank and other international donors and NGOs.
This is already beginning to happen. The question is how can we move beyond transparency to make open data a truly global public good used to promote economic growth and to work toward common goals in key pressing areas. In other words, how can we use open data to not only promote transparency but also public participation and collaboration.
Many organizations still collect and present data in PDF format. Making the data available is key but it is not enough. However to maximize impact, the data must also be in a format that facilitates its use both by people and machines and promotes linkages and interaction.
Making data available on the web in PDF, for example, would receive 1 star on the openness scale, while web-accessible structured data in Excel, for example, would receive 2 stars. Structured data on the web in non-proprietary formats such in CSV or XML would receive 3 stars, while the use of Unique Reference Identifiers (URIs) using a standard such as the Resource Description Framework (RDF) would receive 4 stars, and linking the data to other data on the web, Wikipedia, would receive 5 stars.
Another important step is to move beyond data standardization at the organizational level and standardization among organizations, particularly international development organizations. This tedious, costly and time-consuming process can be solved through the use of URIs and using a standard such as the of RDF facilitates the process of mapping and integrating data.
Lastly, moving from traditional annual reporting to a more real-time publication of data is key to facilitating its use and engaging stakeholders, including the public.
All of these changes can be achieved affordably and expeditiously using open source content management systems (CMS), mapping and other web-based tools.
Bixal recently had the opportunity to work with Johns Hopkins University's K4Health Project to develop a Drupal-based interactive online mapping solution to produce an engaging and informative display of public health and development projects around the world that are implementing “High-impact practices” in family planning.
The fully open source solution allows users to view summarized data on a map and then drill down into the details. The data collected can also be shared via APIs and exported in non-proprietary, machine readable standard formats such as CSV and XML.
Program implementers worldwide can submit their programs online by filling out online forms. Once submitted, JHU can review and publish the data to the site.
Making data available to everyone to view and download, including people in the countries where the data is collected to understand best practices, program implementers who can use it to identify trends inform program design and research efforts, and policy specialists at USAID and other organizations to advocate for high impact practices.
Data can be collected from program implementers worldwide, not just USAID-funded programs, because data on programs can easily be submitted via online forms for publication by JHU to the website and implementers worldwide can explore what their peers are doing.
Web-based solutions like these are instrumental in promoting participation and collaboration and creating a global public good that can be used to improve the impact of international development efforts worldwide.