A sneak peek at the Arab region's open data scene

Countries in the Arab Region can be said to be placed on a spectrum of open data awareness and effective implementation. Several countries in the GCC including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have launched dedicated portals for open data whilst several others such as Oman and Kuwait have allocated a web page or two on local governmental official websites for datasets.

In April 2014, the Open Government Data Forum took place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, conducted by the Emirates Identity Authority, United Nations Public Administration Network (UNPAN) and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), was the first of its kind in the region. The keenness to adopt open data policies and processes had finally reached the Middle East.

Additionally, some Arab countries have actually made it to the list of 'countries with higher than 66.6 percent score in data publishing' on the UN's latest eGovernment survey of 2014 such as Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Bahrain, for instance, has been cited on the survey as an example of a country that has progressed on open government data and 'has already placed strong policies in place' quoting Bahrain's OGD policy aim in 'enhancing public participation and private sector involvement by publishing datasets via their Open Government Data Portal, thereby allowing everyone to develop web and mobile applications'.

Qatar, on the other hand, not only drafted an open data policy document, but also launched a public consultation, encouraging citizens and residents to provide feedback on the draft.

Other Arab countries have gone an extra mile with open data – Jordan and Tunisia are two of 64 participating countries in the Open Government Partnership that commits to 'make their governments more open, accountable and responsive to citizens' which indicates their moving in the right direction in terms of accountability and meeting international standards in data transparency.

So, several countries across the Arab region make noticeable progress towards embracing open data as a practice and culture. However, there are many issues need to be addressed to increase the value of these open data initiatives. These include filling up the legislative gaps, boosting the level of engagement of non-government parties, enhancing the quality of published data, and focusing on the actual value generated and of course building the capacity among the public sector open data teams to handle these initiatives.

Finally, it is worth examining how much engagement existing open data initiatives have had to understand whether improved rankings on eGovernment charts reflect a shift in citizen attitudes towards data and information exchange with government and how many Arab citizens have visited open government portals on Arab government websites.