Sunday, November 17, 2013

How Open Data Empowers Citizens of Poorer Nations

New Scientist (11/13/13) Niall Firth 

In developed countries, government-run websites can be used as forums for citizens to access data on crime, health, and transport, or comment directly on a variety of issues. However, in the developing world, infrastructure is often fragile and checks on institutional power and corruption are not always strong, making access to the same type of data difficult. In South Africa, the Parliamentary Monitoring Group is using open source software to launch a site that helps citizens familiarize themselves with their local politicians in advance of next year's national elections. The site will present information about the candidates and will be designed to work on mobile devices. In Nigeria, the Budgit website forced the government to repeal its decision to remove fuel subsidies, using official data to create easy-to-understand infographics to illustrate exactly how much money the government was wasting every year. In India, Transparent Chennai uses government data to empower poor residents who usually get overlooked. The World Wide Web Foundation is leading a two-year project to study the impact of the open data movement. Although the report shows the developing world still lags behind the West, the difference such data can make in terms of accountability and transparency there cannot be overstated, says foundation researcher Tim Davies.