The Cayman Islands is on par with Pakistan and the Russian Federation when it comes to being open and transparent with government data, according to a new Global Open Data Index that includes Cayman for the first time this year.
Five countries tied for 61st place in the rankings of more than 120 countries. Nepal and Benin joined Cayman, Pakistan and Russia for the spot, based on how available government data is on topics ranging from water quality to public expenditures.
The U.K.-based Open Knowledge Institute publishes the index, scoring countries on the availability and accessibility of 13 different categories of government data. Taiwan topped the 2015 list, followed by the U.K. and Denmark. Datasets are ranked based on how detailed they are, if they’re available in a computer-readable format, like Excel, and if it gives the public context on what it means.
In Cayman, the Economics and Statistics Office, the Immigration Department, the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority, the police and others make data available without requiring a freedom of information request, but not necessarily in accessible formats.
Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers said, “A lot of governments have realized the value of making data available.” He pointed to efforts in the European Union and the U.S. to proactively publish government data. In Cayman, he said, “There is no legal requirement for proactive publication.”
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, for example, makes crime statistics available on a quarterly basis in PDF format, which cannot easily be put in a spreadsheet and analyzed.
Many local governments in the U.S. release crime data in format news organizations use to create crime maps and realtors use to help home buyers have a better understanding about a neighborhood.
The Economics and Statistics Office has a legal mandate to publish data online. Director Maria Zingapan said, “In practice and policy, we have been open and providing access to the public to all official statistics.”
The ESO’s website hosts data covering economics, demographics and other topics, some in Excel format and some in PDFs.
Mr. Liebaers said government data can have a lot of value for entrepreneurs. “Raw data can be a source of economic development,” he said. Startup companies in the EU and the U.K., he said, “put together some interesting apps based on that data.”
Open data applications, for example, can help people find parking spaces when governments make digital parking meter data available in real time. Police reports can be used to alert people to local crime. A weather data feed can allow developers for smartphone apps to send weather alerts to users.
In Cayman, regularly updated fuel price data from government could give an entrepreneurial programmer a way to make a phone app to find the cheapest gas.
On a scale of zero to 100, Cayman scored 10 percent on open government spending data, 35 percent on procurement and tenders, and 55 percent on the government budget. For environmental data, the rankings gave Cayman 35 percent on water quality information, a zero for pollutant emissions and 45 percent for weather forecasts. The ESO got 50 percent for its national statistics.
The main issues cited by Open Knowledge analysis are how most data is not in a machine-readable format and government charges money to access information.
In a press statement, Open Knowledge Institute CEO Pavel Richter said, “It should be a priority for all governments to publish relevant data [in a timely and open manner], so that it can be used by anyone for any purpose.”
He continued, speaking on the global survey, “While there is a lot of enthusiasm within governments for open data, the Global Open Data Index 2015 shows that this enthusiasm does not sufficiently translate into meaningful action: Key data is still not being released to the standard that is required.
“We call upon governments to evaluate their priorities and make sure they publish the data that their citizens need.”