Evaluation of Open Data Government Sites: A Comparative Study.

Author:Nayek, Jayanta Kr
  1. Introduction

    The term "open data" is a recent buzzword, getting popularity with the progress of the World Wide Web and specifically, with the drive of Open Government Data (OGD) initiatives such as data.gov.uk, data.gov.in, data.gov etc. Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright or any other restrictions (Ubaldi, B. (2013))19. The OGD initiative facilitates publicly available government data to be freely available practicing open data and open development protocols.

    After the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002) and the Open Access movement governments have started to look into the prospects of providing open access to their data repositories. The advantages of OGD is that it enables greater government efficiency through an information infrastructure that allows for better data re-use within the public sectors and inter-agency coordination.

    But the problems with data government sites is mainly the way data is presented by various government data repositories and no standards or specification or protocols are in place to achieve interoperability. These problems led to develop a framework to provide web based data services which will be semantically structured and also propose a common metadata standard or mechanism for interoperability.

    1.1 Background

    The development of Open Government Data (OGD) initiatives/Open Government Data portals have started in mid 2000s. The numbers of portals are growing rapidly. The reason behind it is that government data are becoming more easily accessible and be used for various other purposes. Another reason may be that open government data is expected to improve the decision making for both the government and the public. OGD can be used to help the public better understand what the government does and how well it performs, to hold it accountable for unfinished/unachieved results. It also helps to generates insights into how to improve government performance. It is important for governments to seek feedback from the public on the usefulness, relevance and accessibility of their data, in order to allow for continuous improvement.

    1.2 Definition of Open Government Data (17)

    According to Open Government Data (1) website, "open" means data is open ie. free for anyone to use, re-use and re-distribute and "open government data" means data and information produced or commissioned by government or government controlled entities. The government data shall be considered open if it is made public in a way that complies with the principles (16): i) Complete ii) Primary iii) Timely iv) Accessible v) Machine processable vi) Non-discriminatory vii) Non-proprietary, viii) License-free

    1.3 Scope of the study

    As, it is already mentioned that the government data shall be considered open if it is made public in a way that follows the above mentioned eight (8) principals. Now if we consider the fourth and fifth principal i.e. related to accessibility (Data is available to the widest range of users for the widest range of purposes) and machine processable (Data is reasonably structured to allow automated processing). The data may not be useful for widest range of purposes because there is no metadata standard for most of the data available on government sites, so interoperability is a problem.

    Now if we consider the fifth principal, the data may not allow automated processing because for automated processing it should be in well structured form. Though data is available is in different and varied formats in different formats in different data government site. So, I could propose a metadata standard (metadata promises discoverability which will facilitate Linked Open Data) that have been used to improve or achieve interoperability among metadata schemas for the purposes of facilitating conversion and exchange of metadata and enabling cross-domain metadata harvesting (3) and it would work better to overcome the problems with the data government sites.

    For this purpose, I have selected six data government sites for the study, according to the more number of dataset available and also to cover all continents of the world (followed convenience sampling logic) and use two methodologies a) overall assessment of the status of OGD portals of different national governments and b) review of six selected cases of OGD portals.

    1.4 Objective of the study

    The objective of the study is to obtain a way to solve the problems with data government sites and propose a framework to provide web based data services which will semantically structured and also propose a metadata standard, which is based on Dublin Core and DCAT (Data Catalog Vocabulary) to achieve interoperability. To make the data discoverable, we need to expose our data through OAI-PMH/OAI-ORE protocols.

    1.5 Literature Review

    According to Ubaldi (2013) (19), a number of challenges may be associated with the implementation of OGD initiatives which, if not properly tackled, might obstruct or restrict the capture of benefits of national efforts aimed at spurring OGD. The problems are:

    a) Government data are often un-harmonised as every public agency has its own set of data, formats and standards. This can make it difficult from the user perspective to know which piece of data is valid or should be trusted.

    b) Interoperability remains an unresolved issue in e-government, and can potentially have an impact on OGD development as well. Dealing with OGD in general, and open data file formats in particular, can facilitate IT system interoperability in government open data projects. Interoperability is a major concern for policy makers working on the implementation of OGD.

    According to Nugroho (2013) (15), in general, there is a lack in guidelines to regulate and help the process of opening data. Many countries are in different stages in developing these guidelines. A field of study that is lacking is about how countries can learn from each other in developing the necessary guidelines.

    According to Braunschweiget. al. (2012) (2), just publishing the data on the web is not enough. To truly advance the open society, the publication platforms need to fulfill certain legal, administrative as well as technical requirements.

    1.6 Features of Open Government Data Sites

    Here I have enlisted some of the features of government data sites:

    i) The dataset is readily and uniformly accessible.

    ii) Anyone can read the data but also perform more advanced operations such as searching and filtering.

    iii) One can combine datasets with other web services to create new mashups and applications.

    iv) The datasets are available in different formats and it can be downloaded easily.

    v) It is a place to manage public/non-public datasets: create new entries, modify existing ones, and delete any datasets as needed.

    vi) It is a platform for single-point access to datasets and applications published by Ministries/Departments/Organisations of the Government.

    1.7 Observations from Open Government Data Sites

    The following observations are made after a study of few governments' open data sites:

    i) Mostly data sets are in structured format (e.g. XML, CSV, XSL, JSON etc).

    ii) The files contain structured data.

    iii) The focus of data being published does not correlate with the data that most viewed by users.

    iv) Most of them provide metadata but they are not in a structured format.

    v) Different metadata standards are followed by different sites.

    vi) The search result is not based on semantic web philosophy. The search results are mere tables but not answers to the exact queries.

    vii) There appears to be no mechanism for intelligent agents to automatically collect data or metadata as in case of digital repositories of publications where OAI-PMH or OAI-ORE are used to make the data to be harvested by any service provider.

  2. Different "data gov" Sites

    The list of countries offering easy to find, download or access open data sets continues to grow. According to Open Data Site Finder, there are at least fifty countries with two hundred and ninety seven sites (20). Here is a list of the most useful government open data sites around the world:

    Figure 1: Open Data Site Finder

    Source: http://dataremixed.com/2013/08/worldwide-open-data-sites/

    Australia (data.gov.au), Brazil (dados.gov.br), Canada (data.gc.ca), France (data.gouv.fr), Germany (govdata.de), India (data.gov.in), Italy (dati.gov.it), Kenya (Opendata.go.ke), New Zealand (data.govt.nz), Spain (dato.gob.es), Switzerland (opendata.admin.ch), United Kingdom (data.gov.uk), United States of America (data.gov), etc. Out of which, I have selected six data government sites for the study, to cover all continents of the world.

    2.1 Data.gov.in (India) (7)

    Open Government Data (OGD) Platform India (data.gov.in) is a platform that supports Open Data initiative of the Government of India. The portal is expected to be used by Government of India Ministries/Departments, their organizations in order to publish the collected datasets, documents, services, tools and applications for public use. It aims to increase transparency in the functioning of Government. It is also expected to open avenues for many more innovative uses of Government Data to convey diverse viewpoints.

    2.2 Data.gov (USA) (5)

    Data.gov is the home of the U.S. Government's open data. One can find Federal, state and local data, tools, and resources to conduct research, build apps, design data visualizations, and more. The Data.gov team works at the U.S. General Services Administration and data on the site are provided by hundreds of organizations, including Federal agencies.

    2.3 Data.gov.au (Australia) (6)

    Data.gov.au provides an easy way to find access and reuse public datasets from government. The main purpose of the site is to encourage public access to and reuse of government data by providing it in useful formats under open licences. The purpose of this online service is to...

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