Governance by data

E-government applies information and communication technologies and other digital tools to enhance delivery of public sector services. The people of the Sultanate have much to rejoice, for Oman ranks among the region’s top three countries with the best e-government system. The e-government report released this year by the Institute of e-Government at Waseda University-Japan has ranked the Sultanate third in the Arab region in digital government. Free access to data — Open Data — has a major role in ensuring the success of e-governance, and it’s a key element in e-government ranking, along with Internet infrastructure, efficacy of online government services, e-gates, cyber-security, e-participation and ICT.

It’s significant that the Sultanate achieved an overall score of 42, ranking 69th in the world and 8th in the region, in the Open Data Inventory (ODIN) 2016 report by the US-based Open Data Watch, the only agency that undertakes global assessment of the coverage and openness of data on websites run by national statistical offices in 173 countries. Datasets were analysed across 20 categories that indicate progress on sustainable development goals, as well as the social, economic, and environmental development of a country.
Oman was given sub-score of 51 for open data in the ODIN report, and its social statistics scored higher than the regional median. Nationally, Oman’s social and environmental statistics were found to have the highest and lowest levels of coverage and openness respectively.
To enhance the status of open data, the report suggests that Oman publish more environmental data in machine readable and non-proprietary formats, along with making data more useful by increasing the amount of metadata associated with data sets.
Oman has made giant strides in opening up its data to the public so as to enhance the efficiency of government services, make bureaucracy more accountable and empower the public, apart from enabling enterprises to excel. Efforts such as the Ministry of Manpower’s open data project that focuses on making employment data freely accessible; and ITA’s (Information Technology Authority) impactful open data awareness campaigns and public competitions to highlight the benefits of open data, along with the open data section on www.oman.om (Omanuna: official e-government services portal by ITA) have helped promote the cause of open data in the Sultanate.
As early as 2013, ITA launched a first-of-its-kind Oman Open Data Initiative aimed at collaborating with government organisations to encourage open data by ensuring transparency, enhancing public trust and participation, and improving the effectiveness of governance.
ITA’s Big Open Data Idea competition in the same year encouraged people to come up with innovative ideas using open data. It calls upon government organisations to open its data archives to the public so that a more transparent, participatory and collaborative government structure is established.
A workshop conducted in March this year by ITA (along with the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Oman) on open data for e-government transformation teams at various government entities was another effort to advance open data practices in Oman. It introduced the fundamentals of open data, identified the best global practices in the deployment of open government data and discussed the policies and laws pertaining to open government data. The workshop also sought to improve the Sultanate’s ranking in international reports by enhancing open data.
Oman’s official government data portal data.gov.om, launched by the Sultanate’s premier statistical agency NCSI (National Centre for Statistics & Information) in 2015, has been instrumental in opening up huge data for public consumption. It’s a free and open data-sharing portal that allows anyone — residents, investors, analysts etc — to access a huge collection of data on the Sultanate from education, health and energy to employment, prices and tourism.
It may be noted that Oman government’s strong commitment to open data led to the establishment of NCSI in 2014, and the Centre continues to expand the scope of open data in the Sultanate.
The future belongs to Open Data, as it wields the power to revolutionise how societies are governed. The International Open Data Conference to be held in October 2017 in Spain will serve as a meeting point for the global community to brainstorm the future of open data.
The conference will help build rewarding relationships among the open data initiatives by different governments, and inspire meaningful dialogue between various stakeholders. The conference will also attempt to establish global collaboration policies on open data. After all, data that is inaccessible is a sad joke.

T V SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR