Steady but Slow — Open Data’s Progress in the Caribbean

Matthew McNaughton, Founding Principal of Slshroots co-authored with Denique Ferguson and Alesha Aris of the SlashRoots Foundation. It was originally published on the Open Knowledge International’s Blog in support of the 2016 Global Open Data Index Launch.

The Global Open Data Index and the Caribbean Then

Over the last two years, the SlashRoots Foundation has supported the Caribbean’s participation in the Open Knowledge International’s Global Open Data Index (GODI), an annual survey which measures the state of “open” government across the world. We recently completed the 2016 survey submissions and were asked to share our initial reactions before the full GODI study is released in May.

In the Global Open Data Index, each country is assessed based on the availability of “open data” as defined in the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Data Definition across key thematic areas that Governments are expected to publish information on. These include: National Maps, National Laws, Government Budget, Government Spending, National Statistics, Administrative Boundaries, Procurement, Pollutant Emissions, Election Results, Weather Forecast, Water Quality, Locations, Draft Legislation, Company Register, and Land Ownership.

For the 2016 survey, the Caribbean was represented by ten countries — Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, St. Kitts & Nevis, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines. As the Caribbean’s Regional Coordinator, we manage and source survey submissions from citizens, open data enthusiasts, and government representatives. These submissions then undergo a quality review process led by global experts. This exercise resulted in 150 surveys for the region and provided both an excellent snapshot of how open data in the Caribbean is progressing and comparative positioning of how the region ranks in a global context.

Unfortunately, progress in the Caribbean has been mixed, if not slow. While Caribbean governments were early adopters of Freedom of Information legislation — 7 countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago) having passed FOI law — the digital channels through which many citizens are increasingly accessing government information remain underdeveloped. Furthermore, the publication of raw and baseline data, beyond references in press releases, remains a challenge across the region.

For example, St. Kitts, which passed FOI legislature in 2006, only had 2 “open” data sets, Government Budget and Legislature, published readily online. Comparatively, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica governments have invested in open data infrastructure and websites to improve the channels through which citizens access information. Impressively, the Dominican Republic’s data portal consisted of 373 data sets from 71 participating Ministries, Departments and Agencies. However, updates to these data portals and government websites remain a challenge. In the case of Jamaica’s open data portal, which launched in 2016, it has received a handful of updates since its first publication. While St Lucia and Trinidad & Tobago have published no updates since the first month of their respective portal’s publication.

Despite these shortcomings, Caribbean governments and civil society organisations continue to make important contributions to the global open data discourse that demonstrate tangible benefits of open data adoption in the lives of Caribbean citizens. These range from research demonstrating the economic impact of open government data to community-led initiatives helping to bridge the data gaps that constrain local government planning. In December 2016, Jamaica became the fourth country in the region, after Guyana, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad & Tobago, to indicate its interest in joining the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral initiative consisting of 73 member countries that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

The Global Open Data Index and the Caribbean Now

The full Global Open Data Index was released this week, here is how the Caribbean ranked on the list.
Puerto Rico (32)
Dominican Republic (59)
Jamaica (62)
Trinidad & Tobago (66)
Guyana (=67)
St. Lucia (71)
Bahamas (=76)
St. Vincent & The Grenadines (89)
St Kitts & Nevis (=90)
Antigua & Barbuda (92)
Barbados (93)

See full list here