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Definitions,Background, History, and Current Status

OpenGovernment Data (OGD), is described precisely by first splitting itinto two components, government data and open data. Government datadefined as any data and information offered or specially made bypublic institutions. Open data described as information obtainedfreely without any limitation and can be recycled. Open data is alsoavailable to anyone with a condition to make their work open to thepublic use (OpenData Handbook, 2015).According to Ubaldi(2013, P18), thecampaign to make government data open has gained momentum in the lasttwo or three years. According to Vanroekeland Park, (2014, par3), theinitiative of making government data an open-access dates back in theyear 2007. In 2007, several social media campaigners held a meetingin San Francisco. The primary aim of this meeting was to popularizethe use of open government data among potential presidentialcontestants.

Followingthe meeting in San Francisco, many activities that made the termsopen government data more attractive(Chui, Farrell and Jackson, 2014, P2).In May 2009, a launch of data-govinthe United States marked a milestone in popularizing open governmentdata. In January 2010, a similar launch to that in the U.S. referredto as was initiated in the United Kingdom (UK). These twolaunches marked a successful process towards making governmentinformation open to the public. Before these two launches, the civilsociety spent several years pressuring the government to make itsdata available. There were initial grassroots initiatives such asTheyWorkForYouinthe UK and GovTrackUSin the United States (Vanroekeland Park 2014, par7). The efforts focusedonmaking government data available in machine-readable formats.

Despitethe fact that OGD was launched in only two countries (The U.S. andthe UK), it has gained momentum, and it is being adopted by manyother nations. According to Janssen(2012, p12), international organizations such as the World Bank andOrganization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) haveembraced the idea of making their information available to thepublic. In the United States, the government has implemented severalinitiatives aimed at supporting the efforts towards making governmentdata easily accessible. Sectors such as the Health, Education,Finance and Public Safety have already made their data available foruse by the public (Janssen, 2012, P13). The primary aim of opengovernment data campaign is to make information under the custody ofgovernment institutions available in a machine-readable format at nocost, for either commercial or non-commercial use.

Currently,on the global level, the idea of OGD is widely spread with manynations embracing it including the developing countries(Open Government Partnership, 2015).&nbspToday,OGD is a crucial part of (Open Government Partnership) aninternational initiative launched by eight funding governmentsSeptember2011. Today, the initiative has more than 55 countries onboard (Vanroekeland Park, 2014, par8).The member states remains committed to scaling up the efforts to makeinformation about government operations available for use by thepublic. Recently, the White House launched a project (Project OpenData). The program is designed to assist, share through examples andadvice Federal agencies on how to open up their data (Vanroekeland Park, 2014, par9). The project has marked a major milestone inrevealing significant information for use by the public. The conceptof open government data is becoming widespread all over the world.For instance in Europe, governments and other public institutions areopening their data to the public through ways such as thematicportals.

OpenGovernment Data in Saudi Arabia

Asthe concept of open government data gained momentum all over theworld, Saudi Arabia was not left behind. In the year 2005, the SaudiArabia government joined other nations in embracing open governmentdata by starting a program (YESSER) (Elbadawi2015, par2:SAUDI | National e-Government Portal, 2015, par3).The primary aim of the YESSER, an E-government initiative was tocreate and encourage the use of digital programs by the government.The aim of the program was to assist the government in offeringbetter services to the citizens. The implementation of the programwas in two stages. The first phase from the year 2006 to 2010, andthe second phase from 2012 to 2016 (SaudiNational e-Government Portal, 2015, par4).

Theprimary focus of the e-governance strategy was to provide andencourage citizens` access government data and all other services(SaudiNational e-Government Portal, 2015, par4).The government aimed to enhance its public sector`s accountability,and the E-governance was therefore implemented in all the ministries(Scott, 2014, par2). However, the implementation and adoption of opengovernment data has faced many challenges and criticism, andit explains why the data dissemination scored low in theinternational threshold. The introduction of the system in thecountry required the input of both the citizens and the government toadopt the right infrastructure that supports information sharing(Gasco, 2015 P45: Evans and Campos, 2013: Lathrop and Ruma, 2010,P12). Despite the implementation of the e-government portal, severalobstacles hindered citizens from accessing government data.

Oneof the factors that hindered the smooth and fast adoption of theconcept of open government data was the slow adoption of IT in thecountry(Janssen 2012 P39).IT enables people to access easily online government data, meaningthe failure to embrace IT leads to slow adoption of E-governance. Thelack of IT skills among the citizens also meant that the governmentcould not receive any feedback from the citizens on how to improvetheir services in terms of opening up their data to the public(Alshehri and Drew, 2010, P835).The Saudi government failed because despite the fact that it wasdetermined by opening up its data to the public. The government didnot consider factors that would encourage citizens to embrace theidea of open government data(Elbadawi,2015, par5).Janssen (2012 P43)points out that the success of the implementation of E-government isdependent not only on government support but also the willingness ofthe citizens to embrace and support the initiative.

Cultureis another factor that has derailed the adoption of open governmentdata in Saudi Arabia. Just like most of the Arab countries, cultureput restrictions on the adoption of upcoming technologies such asSmartphone and use of social media platforms(Elbadawi, 2012, par6).Again the Saudi government failed to pinpoint culture as a potentialobstacle to the smooth adoption of E-government. It is during theonset of the second phase of E-government that the Saudi governmenthas recognized the need to create awareness among its citizens(Alshehri and Drew, 2010, P836).The government has carried out several educative programs forumsthrough the media and other public forums to make the citizens awareon the importance of embracing new technology and the benefits thatthe e-government strategy brings to their doorstepssuch as unlocking the economy (The Open Data Economy, 2012, p5).

Thecurrent Status of Open Government Data in Saudi Arabia from thePerspective of Global Data Index

TheMethodology – The Global Open Data Index

TheGlobal Open Data Index gathers and disseminates information on thecurrent state of open data release around the world(Open Knowledge Foundation, 2015, par 2:Open Data Index, 2014, par3).This measuring tool is not a depiction of the openness of officialgovernment data in each country, but a self-governing evaluation fromthe public opinions (Hollyer,Rosendorff and Vreeland, 2014, P22). The launch of the measurementtool was in October 2013, before the annual Open GovernmentPartnership (OGP). During the first evaluation of the state of opengovernment data in the world, the index assesses 70 countries on thebasis of availability and accessibility of nine in ten key areas,known as datasets(Open government data, 2007, par4).&nbsp

Theglobal open data index determines the accessibility of opengovernment data by evaluating ten areas referred to as datasets. Theten datasets are:

  • General election outcomes- Gives election outcomes by regions such as districts.

  • Company register- A list of all registered firms and organizations including their names and all other relevant information.

  • National map.

  • Government spending- Reveals a detailed level of expenditure by sector.

  • Government budget- Gives a detailed transactional national government budget, for instance, the spending by sector or department.

  • Legislation- Containing all federal laws and regulations that can be accessed online.

  • National Statistical Office data- The dataset presents relevant demographic and economic indicators such as population size, unemployed citizens, among others.

  • National Postcode/ZIP database- Reveals the postcodes/zip codes for all geospatial locations in terms of latitude and longitudes within a country.

  • Public Transport Timetables- The dataset provides primary timetables of all government-operated or commissioned public transport services.

Eachof the nine datasets is allocated a score using nine questions thatassess the technical and legal openness of the dataset (OpenKnowledge Foundation, 2015, par5).&nbspTobalance between the two aspects of assessment, the weighting of eachitem is done separately, and each is given a score. All the technicalissues should add up to a score of 50 points and the legal questionworth 50 points giving a sum of 100 points (open knowledgefoundation, 2013, par3). The six questions evaluating the technicalopenness of the data include:

  • Does the data available?

  • Is the information in digital form?

  • Is the data accessible online?

  • Can the information be read through a machine?

  • Is there a large amount of data available?

  • Is the data timely and

  • Can the public access the data?

  • Is the data obtained at no cost?

  • Is the data certified openly?

Theassessment tool uses a non-probability sampling technique, alsoreferred to as a snowball sample (Global Open Data Index, 2015,par3). This sampling method locates subject of studies in areas thatare difficult to find. The global data index uses contributorsinterested in participating in open government data activities(Pedro, 2012, P28).The role of the participants is to evaluate the availability andquality of public datasets in their respective locations(Davies, 2011, P2).&nbspThe methods used in recruiting participants of the study such asposting in social media and face-to-face interviews means that thereis a chance for anyone to contribute to the global open data index.After the collection and recording of public opinions on the qualityand availability of open government data, the assessment tool is thenreviewed(Drigotas, 2014, par2).The review takes place in tow steps. The first step is thecompilation and appraisal of dataset through participants’opinions. The second step is the substantiation of the outcomesthrough volunteer experts and reviewers.

Justificationof the global data index

Globaldata index is an extremely resourceful methodology in measuring theopenness of open government data(Open Data Index, 2014, par6).According to Hollyer,Rosendorff and Vreeland (2014, P24), the usefulness of the index isnot just about the number of datasets it presents. The index isuseful because it measures the quality of the available data bydetermining whether relevant information is accessible to the public.The assessment tool also evaluates whether the datasets are fullyaccessible by determining their open certification and whether theyare in machine-readable formats. Therefore, through the use of globaldata index as a methodology in the current research will not enablethe measurement of the openness of the open government data, but willalso allow the measurement of its quality(Kucera and Chlapek, 2014, P33).

Theindex does not only stimulate debates around significant issues ofgovernment transparency but also supports public participation, whichis crucial in determining an open state (Hollyer, Rosendorff andVreeland, 2014, P24:Lathrop and Ruma, 2010, P14).Therefore, the use of this tool as a methodology will allow theinclusion of participants, who will provide a public opinionnecessary in determining the openness of government data. Theglobal open data index is not only a benchmarking tool but mostimportantly assists in building the open government community aroundthe world(Ubaldi, 2014, P22).For instance, in the current study, the assessment tool willencourage citizens from Saudi Arabia to participate in assessing theopenness of their government data. Through this way, the participantswill not only offer their opinions, but will also get more informedand join the open government community. The community will assist increating awareness among other citizens, on the importance of opengovernment data.

Thecurrent Status of Open Government Data in Saudi Arabia

Accordingto Craner (2012, par2), the concept of open data concept has nowbecome a global movement with countries like Saudi Arabiaimplementing various strategies to make the movement a success.According to 2015 global open data index, Saudi Arabia is makingmajor milestones in implementing and encouraging the citizens toadopt the concept of open government data. The government isrecording improvements in improving the accessibility of its data bythe public (Global Open Data Index, 2015, par10). However, it isimportant to point out that the nation has a long way to go forimprovements. Saudi Arabia is implementing various strategies to makegovernment data available and accessible to the public, but severalissues must be addressed to make E-governance initiative a success(Eaves, 2012, par1).

The2015 global open data index indicates that the quality andaccessibility of Saudi`s open government data is improving, with thecountry being among the nations focused on making open governmentdata initiative a success. From the index, it was clear that morecitizens are giving feedback in the various sectors` open dataportal. However, the feedback and participation by the public is notadequate indicating that the Saudi government is yet to persuade morecitizens to participative in the initiative. The fact that morecitizens are adopting the use of social media platforms means thatmore citizens can access and use the open data offered in amachine-readable format by the government. This is an opportunity tothe government to sue the public opinionsto improve the quality of data it provides to the public. Recentresearch indicate that Saudi Arabia is making some improvement inE-governance but still has a long way in making in encouraging itscitizens to access the information and use it (The Guardian, 2013,par3).

TheSaudi government is still in its preliminary stages of instituting aplatform for information sharing with the people(GlobalOpen Data Index, 2015, par3).Toimprove data openness, the Saudi’s YESSER E-government programdesigned and published an open data handbook. The book aimed tointroduce and sensitize the concept of open data and explain itsimportance among the citizens (Elbadawi, 2015, par4). In Novemberlast year, the government organized a workshop attended by 150government top personnel. The aim of the workshop was to train thegovernment official and inform them on the importance of embracingthe concept of open data governance.

Thequality and technicality of the data provided by the Saudi governmentin its e-portals is gradually improving (Global open data index,2015, par6). One of the factors leading to gradual improvement in theadoption of open government data is the improved adoption of socialmedia among Saudi’s citizens. Thelevel of social media adoption also affects the access to publicinformation (Chui, Farrell and Jackson, 2014, P 3). When citizensembrace the use of social media, they create a platform for sharingand using public information including open government data. Throughsocial media platforms, citizens can access, share and criticizeefforts by the government to open its data (Schwalje and Aradi, 2015,par4).

Currently,the use of mobile phones is on the rise in Saudi Arabia with thecountry being seconds in terms of populations using mobile phones inthe Middle East. In the previous years, low rate of mobile phone useby the citizens has hindered the adoption of the concept of opengovernment data (Kucera, and Chlapek, 2014 P 33). The fact that thecitizens are appreciating the benefits of possessing and using mobilephones means that with time, the citizens will embrace the conceptopen government data. Recent research indicates that by the year2016, the concept of open government data in Saudi government will bea popular topic among the citizens. This is as a result of improvedadoption of mobile phones.


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