March 6, 2021
We live in an increasingly connected society: We communicate, purchase, carry out government procedures and more, through digital mechanisms and tools. These types of exchanges and transactions generate a large amount of data for public institutions, companies, academia and civil society, which must be managed in the best way for optimal use. In the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development, the United Nations establishes within its SDG 16, the relevance of solid institutions, where the importance of respecting human rights is framed to build more effective and inclusive solutions.
Target 16.10 promotes the need to guarantee public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national laws and international agreements. For example, in the framework of public institutions, data is an essential tool for the design of policies, plans and programs. But it is not only useful for institutions: Since it is public information, it is also a relevant input for the public.
When data is made available to people in open formats “… that can be used, reused and redistributed freely by anyone, and are subject, at most, to the requirement of attribution and sharing of the same way they appear…” (Open data handbook, 2015), it can have a positive impact in various fields such as policy design, improvement of public goods and services, and the creation of economic and innovation opportunities.
In fact, in 2016, the New York University’s GovLab developed 37 detailed case studies that explored the impacts of open data around the world. From this research, four major areas of open data value were generated (GovLab, 2016):
- Improving government: Open data is improving the management of government institutions and their relationship with citizens through a preventive approach to corruption, by generating greater transparency, improving public goods and services, and making the allocation of resources visible.
- Citizen empowerment: Open data empowers citizens to be informed of the actions carried out by institutions in order to influence and demand changes in public action allowing the development of well-being.
- Creating opportunities: The use of open data is creating new opportunities for citizens and organizations, since they foster innovation and promote economic growth and job creation.
- Solving public problems: Open data is playing an increasingly important role in solving big public problems, mainly by allowing citizens and policy makers access to new ways of evaluating problems based on evidence. It also enables data-driven engagement that produces more targeted interventions and better collaboration.
The state of open data in Latin America and the Caribbean
These case studies point to the enormous potential and possibilities open data offers in various areas. Despite its clear potential, the measurement of the 2020 Regional Open Data Barometer for Latin America and the Caribbean  (ODB) shows the obstacles and lags during the last two years in the region.
The application of this instrument was in charge of the Latin American Initiative for Open Data (ILDA) with the commitment to implement a regional edition of the Open Data Barometer. Through this process, the open data initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean were evaluated, in order to identify the state of the region in this matter and the lessons learned from the good practices implemented by the countries to generate horizontal collaboration, as well as to reflect on current open data policies and their results.
In 2020, the Open Data Barometer for Latin America and the Caribbean covered 24 countries, 16 from Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay) and 8 from the Caribbean (Bahamas, Belize, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago). This measurement also classified the governments of these countries according to:
- Preparedness for open data initiatives
- The implementation of open data programs
- The impact open data is having on business, politics and civil society
Main findings of the report in the region:
- Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are publishing more data compared to 2016. Hence, most of the countries in the region show improvements, albeit marginal, with respect to 2016. The exception is Mexico.
- The average score for the 24 Latin America and the Caribbean countries was 40.38 points, out of a total of 100 possible points. This shows a great opportunity for improvement for the region.
In this evaluation, the leadership of the region belongs to Uruguay (64), closely followed by Argentina (63), and further behind, Colombia and Brazil (60 each).
Both Ecuador and Argentina are the countries that present the most important variation since the last measurement in which they participated. The evolution of Argentina is due to their high investment in the open data initiative, developed by the Ministry of Modernization between 2015 and 2019. In the case of Ecuador, the seventh edition of the regional event of AbreLatam and ConDatos was held in Quito in 2019.
The ODB analysis also gives four central recommendations that should be adopted by the countries to advance the agenda (ILDA, 2020):
- Governments must consistently and sustainably invest in teams that guide and implement open data policies at all government levels.
- Governments should consider the different aspects of the production and use of data in the public and private sectors, including regulatory aspects regarding privacy, the use of data for the common good, and emerging technologies, focusing on the inclusion of the most vulnerable people in society.
- Governments must double down on their efforts to include the private sector and civil society in the open data ecosystem in order to advance the agenda and generate better and greater uses of data to produce benefits for various groups in society.
- Governments must improve the quality of their data, taking special care to consider gender dimensions, as well as other relevant variables, in a way that includes all people in their societies.
The Barometer gives us an approach to a reality we are experiencing in the region in regards to open data, and with a series of social, economic, and environmental aspects that have not been resolved. In terms of open data, we find ourselves in a situation of stagnation, leading to risking and compromising agendas related to democracy, public goods and services, and sustainable development.
Countries like Costa Rica had open data portals that were disabled. Some open data initiatives with high-level human talent were diluted, as it happened with the open data squad of the National Digital Strategy of Mexico due to a change in management.
As a region, we have reached a point of understanding that without openness, it is not possible to conceive democracies and have an informed citizenry, capable of influencing the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. However, it is necessary that the different actors -from civil society to international organizations- have a greater role in these agendas, to ensure the access to information as a tool for control and compliance with the targets of the SDGs on the public agenda.
Latin American Initiative for Open Data (2020). Regional Open Data Barometer for Latin America and the Caribbean 2020
Open Knowledge Foundation. (sf). Open data handbook. What is open data?
Verhulst, S .; Young, A. (2016). OPEN DATA IMPACT WHEN DEMAND AND SUPPLY MEET Key Findings of the Open Data Impact Case Studies. GovLab, New York University
 The Open Data Barometer is a research project that has been produced by the World Wide Web Foundation with the support of the Omidyar Network. It aims to understand the prevalence and impact of open data initiatives around the world, analyze global trends, and provide comparative data on governments and regions through a detailed methodology that combines contextual data, technical assessments, and global reports.