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Open Government and Data Science

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Mauricio Covarrubias
February 10, 2023

This column is based on the premise that in order to reveal the real value of open government data (OGD) it is necessary to apply descriptive, diagnostic, predictive or prescriptive analysis techniques on the large volumes of data held by the public administration, including the data available on the internet.  Data analytics can be useful for: i) identifying specific cases in a wider group; ii) prioritizing cases based on risk or need; iii) creating early warning tools; iv) making better, quicker decisions; and v) optimizing resource allocation.

Since the United States in 2009 and the United Kingdom in 2010 decided to open up their government data and make it available to the public, interest in OGD has increased significantly. After that, many governments around the world and global organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank have followed the United States and United Kingdom initiatives.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) was founded in September 2011, as a platform to develop reforms that ” promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.” Currently, the national and local governments of 76 countries (representing more than two billion people) are part of this alliance and, together, they have established more than 3,800 reform commitments, embodied in the biennials of more than 100 action plans.

Open government has three fundamental principles:

Transparency. Opening up of government data and information on areas such as public spending, government contracts, lobbying activity, the development and impact of policy and public service performance.

Participation. Support for a strong and independent civil society, the involvement of citizens and other stakeholders in decision making processes and protection for whistleblowers and others who highlight waste, negligence or corruption in government.

Accountability. Rules, laws and mechanisms that ensure government listens, learns, responds and changes when it needs to.

There are numerous strategies and initiatives to integrate these basic principles into public sector reforms.

Over two-thirds of OGP commitments include some element of transparency. A third part refers to accountability. According to Coglianese, achieving transparency as the goal of OGD can be quite challenging. In addition to playing a key role in government decision-making, transparency has helped prevent or minimize the abuse of government resources. By making government data available to the public, citizens, professionals and other interested groups can access data to help monitor public spending and increase overall participation. Thus, enabling government officials to make better decisions.

Among the priority policy areas, the fight against corruption stands out. OGP members embraced open contracting standards, sparking a wave of innovation. Open contracting—including the publication of contracts and citizen participation, monitoring and supervision—has shown that it has the potential to generate fiscal savings, reduce corruption and strengthen the participation of companies, including small and medium-sized ones.

It has also been found that public services work better when citizens have access to information, the opportunity to participate and influence decision-making and the ability to demand answers from their government.

The OGP movement has resulted in the launch of numerous OGD portals that aim to provide a single point of access for governmental data. However, a simplistic view is often adopted with regards to open data, which automatically correlates the publicity of the data with use and benefits [3]. In practice, as Kalampokis, Tambouris and Tarabanis point out, gaining access to raw data, placing it in a meaningful context and extracting valuable information is extremely difficult.

In this context, it should be mentioned that not all countries that are part of the OGP have data exploitation policies to improve the formulation of public policies. In the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and Data Science, the public sector has lagged behind the private sector. Through an initial mapping, the OECD identified only 50 countries (including the European Union) that have launched, or have plans to launch, national strategies in this regard. Of these 50 countries, 36 have developed (or plan to develop) individual strategies for public sector AI, which is essential for AI and data analytics to be integrated throughout the process of policy formulation and service design.

AI holds great promise for the public sector, and governments are in a unique position in relation to AI. They are capable of setting national priorities, investments and regulations for AI, and can also use it to redefine the ways in which the public sector creates policies and services. An understanding of AI is therefore critical for helping policy makers and civil servants determine whether it can help them achieve their missions.

Nowadays, when the processing capacity of computers has increased exponentially and governments have generated massive amounts of open data, it is a priority to define a strategy to maximize the benefits of AI by exploring data science as a tool to increase the productivity of the public service, better serve its citizens and promote innovation in its policies.

How countries benefit from AI and data science will depend, in large part, on the existence of a comprehensive national action plan that can be implemented by the different levels of government and by the relevant actors in each sector.

Author: Mauricio Covarrubias is Professor at the National Institute of Public Administration in Mexico.  He is co-founder of the International Academy of Political-Administrative Sciences (IAPAS).  He is the founder and Editor of the International Journal of Studies on Educational Systems (RIESED). Coordinator in Mexico of the TOGIVE Project: Transatlantic Open Government Virtual Education, of the ERASMUS+ Program of the European Union. Member of the National System of Researchers of CONACYT.  He received his Ph.D. from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.  He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @OMCovarrubias

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