How to sustain Indonesia open data initiatives?

Open (government) data have gained much attentions from funders, government institutions, and civic society organisations (CSOs) in Indonesia. Number of key stakeholders emerged and began to exercise the use of open data to improve public services. However, the current debates (this and this for example) gives more attention on technological side — how to collect and analyse data.  I argue, we should create environment for open data to flourish. There are at least three components to sustain Indonesia’s open data initiatives.

Regulatory framework

Contradict with the argument “policy and regulation may not be necessary”, regulatory framework for open data is essential. The framework shows the government’s commitment, provides requirement and guidance for the publications of datasets. The government,  in consultation with open data advocates and experts, should develop a clear policy and regulatory framework to realise the benefits of open data.

Resistance to open up government data is based on the argument that data is already “open”, by means citizens can submit Freedom of Information “FOI” request to gain access to pdf or paper-based statistical data. FOI Act No.14 2008 “only” encourages government to proactively and/or reactively disclosed public information, it does not follow the principles of “openness” in relation to data and content. To address this issue, for example, the city government of Banda Aceh take initiative to pass a local regulation for open data in which can be a lengthy and expensive process. However, it is unrealistic to expect that all 514 districts and city governments across the country will produce local open data regulations. The government in charge for open data in the country can take examples from United Kingdom Open Data White Paper, New Zealand Data and Information Principles, and President Obama Executive Order.

Teachers in Banda Aceh read test results printed on the announcement board. To some, benefiting from open data is still a dream.

Long term investment

To sustain open data initiative requires time and resources. Key stakeholders should make long term investment to not only promote open data but also build the local capacity of data supplier, intermediaries and users.

The hypes around competition and hackathon may help to promote open data but it does not provide long term solutions for social problems. Neither does creating 150 new mobile apps. Tax payer money should not be wasted to create new mobile apps that are already exist or we do not need. The main obstacles in Indonesia as in other countries are: inaccurate data, unclear update processes, incompatible formats and licensing issues.

Investment in tools and platforms should not undermine the necessity to equip local staff working in the sector with required skills in ICTs, project management, communication as well as monitoring and evaluation.

Open learning, consultation and collaboration

The open data initiative is framed around transparency and accountability, thus automatically disengages other actors or communities working to improve general public service. There were some attempts to bring academics and researchers into a table such as INDO ICC. But the discussions were dominated by the same players in open data, it was less about how different actors could collaborate to achieve the same goals.

Before open data introduced, number of organisations had been utilising technologies to solve problems in health, education, disaster response, and poverty — including for data collection and analysis. For example, Combine, a prominent local CSO with expertise in information management system aimed at village community (Sistem Informasi Desa) who have not yet joined open data movement. Their expertise and experience implementing ICTs projects in complex environment can be valuable inputs for open data community in order to accelerate as well as to avoid the misconception of open data related intervention.

Note: I initially published this article on Medium, 28 March 2016