Open Govt Data in Oman: To ‘re-use’ and to ‘innovate’

Open Government Data (OGD) initiatives are based upon promoting transparency and public accountability in administration besides facilitating citizen engagement and participation in governmental activities. OGD implies provision of government data to the public in a freely-accessible format to be re-used by the users such as citizens, journalists, private businesses, software and application developers, and so on.

Stuti Saxena

OGD spans across different sectors like health, education, tourism, transport, industries and the like. OGD may be re-used by different stakeholders like citizens, software and app developers, non-government organisations, and the like. It is also anticipated that the data re-use would help in generation of public value, social inclusion besides improvisation of administration. Here, we will probe the Open Data initiative of Oman (https://data.gov.om/). Specifically, we will underline the vast possibilities unleashed by the OGD initiative of Oman government by facilitating the “re-use” of open data and “innovate” services and create public value.
As per the Global Competitiveness Report (2016-2017), Oman stands at 66 out of 138 countries and Oman’s performance across the report’s major indicators are suggestive of the need for the country to be more resilient and adaptive to innovate its services. Given that the country scores low on “macroeconomic environment” dimension, it is important that facilitative conditions be provided to spearhead innovation and technological development. We posit that OGD is a goldmine which may spur an era of creativity and innovation in the country.

Aflah Al Hadhrami

Oman launched its OGD initiative in 2014 under the aegis of the National Centre for Statistics & Information (NCSI) in line with the Royal Decree 40/2014. According to the “Open Data Policy” of Oman, one of the purposes of OGD initiative is “To increase opportunities for this raw data being used creatively to build innovative applications with a positive economic and social benefit to the public”. Furthermore, the target audience has been identified as “government agencies, NGOs, academia, industry (including ICT developers) and members of the public who are interested in or have a specific use for government data”.
The government has been conducting events to promote its OGD initiative. For instance, the Information Technology Authority (ITA) conducted an “Open Government Data & Best Practices Symposium” in 2013 wherein capacity building initiatives for e-government strategies were discussed and the need for re-using the data sets was underlined.
In June, 2013, the ITA launched the “Big Open Data Idea Competition” wherein 54 participants vied to present the “best idea using open data” and showcased their mobile apps across tourism, pharmacy, charitable organisations, etc. In March 2017, a workshop was held to deliberate on expansion of OGD portal and improvising the quality of data sets wherein 16 government entities participated alongside representatives from the ITA and The Research Council (TRA).
The national OGD portal of Oman (https://data.gov.om/) provides 56 data sets across 12 sectors. Besides, there are 17 data providers and 3 mobile apps which may be tapped by different users. Besides, web-links to data sets are provided which direct a user from the national OGD portal to the portals of individual government entities.
For instance, for accessing the data sets linked with “Civil Service”, the user is directed to the web-link of the Ministry of Civil Service. Open data sets may be availed from sectors like education, health, energy, social development, public safety, higher education, and the like. Datasets are published alongside their metadata which provides authorship and publication details about the dataset. Legends are clear and there is no ambiguity regarding the figures and factoids of the datasets. Datasets are available in user-friendly formats (CSV and XLS) besides providing the option of using “search” strings and social media plug-ins to share the datasets with the extended community. Finally, there is a provision of data visualisation and mapping which facilitates data analysis and statistical inference to some extent.
However, there are a few areas which require a re-visit for ensuring the sustainability and success of Oman’s OGD initiative. For instance, the real “value” of OGD may be realised only when the user-friendly datasets are being made available freely, timely and accurately which are subject to statistical analysis. It is important that the OGD initiative of Oman takes strides in ensuring that the datasets are provided by as many government authorities as possible.
Datasets should be complete in themselves and there should be accuracy and reliability of the data. Oman should gear up for instituting a robust R&D infrastructure to complement the e-government-centric “smart” solutions by providing open data on a real-time basis. For this, the Big Data analytics may come in handy and linked statistical data may unleash a cornucopia of possibilities for refurbishing the administration and instituting a culture of innovation across all the realms of the society. With the participation of all the stakeholders, including the government authorities, citizens, software engineers, “app” developers, journalists and the like, OGD initiative of Oman may foresee an era of “nowcasting” which facilitates real-time forecasting in diverse realms.
For instance, the traffic management may witness lower churn-out of traffic jams with the help of real-time linked open data and may result in unprecedented results for the commuters, traffic controllers, private businesses and the like. Likewise, the real-time linked open data may find ample utility for the oil and gas sector where different entities across the supply chain might earn value at every turn.
Furthermore, real-time open data might be tapped by the entrepreneurs and private businesses to improvise upon their products and services and keep the customer pulse into consideration. Besides, new jobs would be created across diverse domains as Oman’s OGD initiative gathers pace. Students’ creativity would find greener pastures as they investigate the real-time open data and conceive of innovating upon the existing goods and services.
Finally, the government should be more forthcoming in conducting open data competitions, seminars, workshops and conferences to usher an innovation-centric culture in the country. Thus, the government would stand to gain by creating more novel sustainable and “smart” solutions. In a highly-volatile digitally disruptive globalised economy, it’s time when Oman adopted a robust OGD policy to create value at all interfaces as it envisions to realise the tenets of “Vision 2040”.

[Authors of this article Stuti Saxena is Member – American Political Science Association and Researcher (Political Science), Central University of Haryana, India; and Aflah Said al Hadhrami, is Member — Oman Society for Petroleum Services (OPAL), Oman].