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Global Open Data Insights – Open Data in the Arab world

- April 20, 2016 in Global Open Data Index, MENA, Open Data Index

This blog post was written by Riyadh Al Balushi from the Sultanate of Oman. I recently co-authored with Sadeek Hasna a report that looks at the status of open data in the Arab World and the extent to which governments succeed or fail in making their data available to the public in a useful manner. We decided to use the results of the Global Open Data Index as the starting point of our research because the Index covered all the datasets that we chose to examine for almost all Arab countries. Choosing to use the Global Open Data Index as a basis for our paper saved us time and provided us with a systematic framework for evaluating how Arab countries are doing in the field of open data. We chose to examine only four datasets, namely: the annual budget, legislation, election results, and company registration data. Our selection was driven by the fact that most Arab countries already have published data in this area and therefore there is content to look at and evaluate. Furthermore, most of the laws of the countries we examined make it a legal obligation on the government to release these datasets and therefore it was more likely for the government to make an effort to make this data public. Our analysis uncovered that there are many good examples of government attempts at releasing data in an open manner in the Arab World. Examples include the website of Ministry of Finance of the UAE which releases the annual budget in Excel format, the legislation website of Qatar which publishes the laws in text format and explicitly adopts a Creative Commons license to the website, the Elections Committee website of Egypt, which releases the elections data in Excel format, and the website of the Company Register of Bahrain, which does not make the data directly available for download, but provides a very useful search engine to find all sorts of information about companies in Bahrain. We also found several civil society projects and business initiatives that take advantage of government data such as Mwazna – a civil society project that uses the data of the annual budget in Egypt to communicate to the public the financial standing of the government in a visual way, and Al Mohammed Network – a business based on the legislation data in the Arab World.
“Map of Arabic-speaking countries”

“Map of Arabic-speaking countries” by Illegitimate Barrister – Licensed under CC Attribution 3.0.

What was interesting is that even though many Arab countries now have national open data initiatives and dedicated open data portals, all the successful open data examples in the Arab World are not part of the national data portals and are operated independently by the departments responsible for creating the data in question. While the establishment of these open data portals is a great sign of the growing interest in open data by Arab governments, in many circumstances these portals appear to be of a very limited benefit, primarily because the data is usually out of date and incomplete. For example, the Omani open data portal provides population data up to the year 2007, while Saudi’s open data portal provides demographic data up to the year 2012. In some cases, the data is not properly labeled, and it is impossible for the user to figure out when the data was collected or published. An example of this would be the dataset for statistics of disabilities in the population on the Egyptian government open data page. The majority of the websites seem to be created through a one-off initiative that was never later updated, probably in response to the global trend of improving e-government services. The websites are also very hard to navigate and are not user-friendly. Another problem we noticed, which applies to the majority of government websites in the Arab World, is that very few of these websites license their data using an open license and instead they almost always explicitly declare that they retain the copyright over their data. In many circumstances, this might not be in line with the position of domestic copyright laws that exempt official documents, such as the annual budget and legislation, from copyright protection. Such practices confuse members of the public and give the impression to many that they are not allowed to copy the data or use it without the permission of the government, even when that is not true. Another big challenge for utilising government data is that many Arab government websites upload their documents as scanned PDF files that cannot be read or processed by computer software. For example, it is very common for the annual budget to be uploaded as a scanned PDF file when instead it would be more useful to the end user if it was uploaded in a machine-readable format such as Excel or CSV. Such formats can easily be used by journalists and researchers to analyse the data in more sophisticated ways and enables them to create charts that help present the data in a more meaningful manner. Finally, none of the datasets examined above were available for download in bulk, and each document had to be downloaded individually. While this may be acceptable for typical users, those who need to do a comprehensive analysis of the data over an extensive period of time will not be able to do efficiently so. For example, if a user wants to analyse the change in the annual budget over a period of 20 years, he or she would have to download 20 individual files. A real open data portal should enable the user to download the whole data in bulk. In conclusion, even though many governments in the Arab World have made initiatives to release and open their data to the public, for these initiatives to have a meaningful impact on government efficiency, business opportunities, and civil society participation, the core principles of open data must be followed. There is an improvement in the amount of data that governments in the Arab World release to the public, but more work needs to be done. For a detailed overview of the status of open data in the Arab World, you can read our report in full here.

Global Open Data Index Insights – Open Data in the Arab world

- April 20, 2016 in Global Open Data Index, MENA, Open Data Index

This blog post was written by Riyadh Al Balushi from the Sultanate of Oman. I recently co-authored with Sadeek Hasna a report that looks at the status of open data in the Arab World and the extent to which governments succeed or fail in making their data available to the public in a useful manner. We decided to use the results of the Global Open Data Index as the starting point of our research because the Index covered all the datasets that we chose to examine for almost all Arab countries. Choosing to use the Global Open Data Index as a basis for our paper saved us time and provided us with a systematic framework for evaluating how Arab countries are doing in the field of open data. We chose to examine only four datasets, namely: the annual budget, legislation, election results, and company registration data. Our selection was driven by the fact that most Arab countries already have published data in this area and therefore there is content to look at and evaluate. Furthermore, most of the laws of the countries we examined make it a legal obligation on the government to release these datasets and therefore it was more likely for the government to make an effort to make this data public. Our analysis uncovered that there are many good examples of government attempts at releasing data in an open manner in the Arab World. Examples include the website of Ministry of Finance of the UAE which releases the annual budget in Excel format, the legislation website of Qatar which publishes the laws in text format and explicitly adopts a Creative Commons license to the website, the Elections Committee website of Egypt, which releases the elections data in Excel format, and the website of the Company Register of Bahrain, which does not make the data directly available for download, but provides a very useful search engine to find all sorts of information about companies in Bahrain. We also found several civil society projects and business initiatives that take advantage of government data such as Mwazna – a civil society project that uses the data of the annual budget in Egypt to communicate to the public the financial standing of the government in a visual way, and Al Mohammed Network – a business based on the legislation data in the Arab World.
“Map of Arabic-speaking countries”

“Map of Arabic-speaking countries” by Illegitimate Barrister – Licensed under CC Attribution 3.0.

What was interesting is that even though many Arab countries now have national open data initiatives and dedicated open data portals, all the successful open data examples in the Arab World are not part of the national data portals and are operated independently by the departments responsible for creating the data in question. While the establishment of these open data portals is a great sign of the growing interest in open data by Arab governments, in many circumstances these portals appear to be of a very limited benefit, primarily because the data is usually out of date and incomplete. For example, the Omani open data portal provides population data up to the year 2007, while Saudi’s open data portal provides demographic data up to the year 2012. In some cases, the data is not properly labeled, and it is impossible for the user to figure out when the data was collected or published. An example of this would be the dataset for statistics of disabilities in the population on the Egyptian government open data page. The majority of the websites seem to be created through a one-off initiative that was never later updated, probably in response to the global trend of improving e-government services. The websites are also very hard to navigate and are not user-friendly. Another problem we noticed, which applies to the majority of government websites in the Arab World, is that very few of these websites license their data using an open license and instead they almost always explicitly declare that they retain the copyright over their data. In many circumstances, this might not be in line with the position of domestic copyright laws that exempt official documents, such as the annual budget and legislation, from copyright protection. Such practices confuse members of the public and give the impression to many that they are not allowed to copy the data or use it without the permission of the government, even when that is not true. Another big challenge for utilising government data is that many Arab government websites upload their documents as scanned PDF files that cannot be read or processed by computer software. For example, it is very common for the annual budget to be uploaded as a scanned PDF file when instead it would be more useful to the end user if it was uploaded in a machine-readable format such as Excel or CSV. Such formats can easily be used by journalists and researchers to analyse the data in more sophisticated ways and enables them to create charts that help present the data in a more meaningful manner. Finally, none of the datasets examined above were available for download in bulk, and each document had to be downloaded individually. While this may be acceptable for typical users, those who need to do a comprehensive analysis of the data over an extensive period of time will not be able to do efficiently so. For example, if a user wants to analyse the change in the annual budget over a period of 20 years, he or she would have to download 20 individual files. A real open data portal should enable the user to download the whole data in bulk. In conclusion, even though many governments in the Arab World have made initiatives to release and open their data to the public, for these initiatives to have a meaningful impact on government efficiency, business opportunities, and civil society participation, the core principles of open data must be followed.
There is an improvement in the amount of data that governments in the Arab World release to the public, but more work needs to be done. For a detailed overview of the status of open data in the Arab World, you can read our report in full here.

Open Data Day Cairo 2016

- March 23, 2016 in MENA, Open Data Day, transport

This blog post was written by Adham Kalila from Transport for Cairo There is a strong institutional fear of open data in Egypt. In a culture attuned to privacy and private spaces, the concern with the potential negative impacts of opening up data and giving access arouses suspicion towards asking too many questions. There is often a tendency to withhold information. For these institutions,  It seems unlikely that some nerdy enthusiasts just want to learn more and solve what they are capable of solving, for little more than the experience and thrill of getting it done. Few imagine this because we do not do it enough. Open Data day and the Cairo Mobility Hackathon were an excellent first step in showing everyone that some of us want to think a little harder and do a bit more with our time and skills. One by one, people and institutions will stop being so suspicious when we can offer help in exchange for their data, openly. Transport for Cairo (TfC) is a group initiative of young professionals that aims to gather and share information about public transportation to everyone in the most convenient and practical ways: for example printed maps and digital feeds. This project is fundamentally about open data since this data belongs to every citizen. Leading by example, TfC released a GTFS dataset of the Cairo Metro as open data three days before the event. To celebrate open data TfC in collaboration with the Access 2 Knowledge 4 Development (A2K4D) research centre and Open Knowledge International, called out to Egypt’s open data community to spend a day learning, engaging, and networking. Participants could attend the Cairo Mobility Hackathon or attend workshops held by four organizations from the Cairo community who came to speak and raise awareness about different projects and opportunities around open data in Egypt. The response was uplifting! The day started with an ice-breaking activity that involved a tennis ball and some funny confessions. After a brief introduction by Mohamed Hegazy, TfC’s director, about the activities of the day and some much-needed coffee, the hackathon and the workshops commenced in earnest. Originally, the workshops were scheduled in parallel but after feedback from participants about wanting to attend overlapping ones, the workshops were rearranged to follow one another. The workshops focused on establishing and fostering an open data culture in Egypt and were given by a number of established organizations including Takween integrated Community Development, the Cairo node of the Open Data Institute, the Support for Information and Technology Center (SITC), and InfoTimes. At the end of the day, A2K4D held a pitching competition for data-fuelled start-ups. One of the main achievements of the day is the crowd of around 70 people that gathered at the American University in Cairo in Tahrir for ODD. One of the first participants to show up arrived by train all the way from the coastal city of Alexandria just to attend. The hackathon that took place focused on mobility around Cairo, which is a problematic issue close to everyone’s heart. It gave participants the opportunity to learn more about the released dataset, build upon it and engage with the team that created it. To structure the ideathon and give participants a chance to share their projects and ideas, we had a fillable schedule board on the wall for sessions to take place between 6 tables and four-time slots. Slowly but surely, teams started forming around similar projects or topics to be discussed. In one session of the hackathon, everyone was asked to dream up public transit routes (bus, tram, and metro) that would make their daily commutes faster and easier. Different routes were drawn in various colors on a map of Cairo, and the final product has started a thought experiment on where investment was most needed and how to prioritize one route over another. The day ended with our minds opened to new possibilities and ways to engage with the data and with one another. The one striking thing that was lacking from the day, and I dare say it was not missed, was suspicion. Nobody questioned the motives behind our interest in one another’s experiences, projects, and goals. There was a shared sense of collaboration and engagement and above all, community. Open Data day 2016 in Cairo was a resounding success and we hope to play a bigger role in its organization in the future. If you would like to see more pictures of the day, check out our facebook album.

Women’s Rights Campaigning: Info-Activism Toolkit

- October 15, 2014 in gender, Infoskills, MENA, NGO, presentation, Storytelling, tactical tech, toolkit, violence, women

dtm_201307

Tactical Tech

This post was written by Lisa Gutermuth, a project coordinator at Tactical Tech in Berlin. Currently she is working producing the Women’s Rights Campaigning: Info-Activism Toolkit. She has previously focused on land grabbing, crowdmapping, and e-waste for different projects at Tactical Tech and with affiliated organisations. Tactical Tech is an organisation working to advance the skills, tools and techniques of rights advocates, empowering them to use information and communications to help marginalised communities understand and effect progressive social, environmental and political change.
Trying to figure out how to present evidence of violence in a creative way? A campaign by the India-based Blank Noise project offers us an example of how this can be done. In most parts of the world, a widely-used tactic to discredit women victims of violence is to accuse them of ‘asking for it’ by dressing provocatively. Blank Noise started a campaign called ‘I Never Ask For It’, in which women who had experienced street based sexual harassment were asked to send in photos of the garments that they were wearing when they experienced the harassment. Unsurprisingly, the database of photos was mostly comprised of pictures of school uniforms, burqas, traditional salwar kameez, saris, and jeans and so on: nothing provocative about any of this. These images highlight the very personal side of harassment, while simultaneously creating an understanding among women that they are not alone, as well as working toward wider debate about these kinds of events.   foto1tt   This is one of the examples found in the Women’s Rights Campaigning: Info-Activism Toolkit developed by Tactical Tech. The toolkit is created for women’s rights activists, advocates, NGOs and community-based organisations who want to use technology tools and practices in their campaigning. The guide was developed as part of CREA‘s New Voices / New Leaders: Women Building Peace and Reshaping Democracy project, which aims to promote security by combating violence against women and enhancing the civil engagement of women in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.   foto2   This guide is also a good example of an older project being ‘upcycled’ into something new, updated and relevant to a specific community. The original guides we produced were called Message in-a-Box and Mobiles in-a-Box. CREA, a women’s rights organisation in India, initially approached us to update and customise our toolkits for women’s rights communities. This gave us a chance to think about a structure and format that would work, and respond to the actual context of how specific communities think about campaigning. Each of the categories included in the guide was carefully considered in the development stages of the project, both because there was a focused community for whom it was being created, and because we had regular feedback from our local partner organisations. The next step was translating the guide into Hindi, Bengali, Kiswahili, and Arabic. At Tactical Tech we make an effort to integrate localisation into our materials by providing options and resources for translations, as this enables communities to identify more closely with the contents and to read and use it at a more in-depth level. This is also why having the materials printed (i.e. offline) was such an important part of the project, as the communities that need the entry point to learning about the positive use of digital tools are often those most far away from them. Which brings us to the latest development: the printed toolkits are just off the press! The guide has been printed as a set of four booklets: ‘Basics,’ ‘Grab Attention,’ ‘Tell a Story,’ and ‘Inspire Action,’ representing different strategic themes to use in creating a campaign. The next phase will be distribution – sign up to Tactical Tech’s monthly magazine In the Loop  for updates!   foto3 flattr this!