Stanica Kalemegdan, Beograd, Serbia

To help explore how Serbia could maximise the impact from its open data initiatives, the ODI recently spent some time collaborating with the national government and its development partners – the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UK’s Good Governance Fund, and the World Bank.

We’re sharing what we learned about Serbia’s plans and discuss areas for further exploration.

A commitment to open data

The Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabić, recently made public commitments to open data, to increase transparency, and to encourage entrepreneurs to develop new digital services with data. These commitments align with our research on open data initiatives, which found that senior championing is important for driving change.

As we found out more about Serbia’s experience with open data, we noted frustration with changes not happening as quickly as might have been hoped. Some of the recommendations of the Open Data Readiness Assessment by the UNDP and World Bank in 2015 still need to be addressed.

Data infrastructure

Serbia’s ambition to achieve more with open data, provides the opportunity to build data infrastructure in a way that best suits its needs and aims. Data infrastructure has many parts:

  • datasets, identifiers and registers
  • the standards and technologies used to curate and provide access to those data assets
  • the guidance and policies that inform the use and management of them.

The best way to put those elements in place is through a step-by-step process that starts with demonstrating what’s possible and builds for long-term effectiveness.

Publishing with purpose

Serbia’s government could add momentum to its open data initiative by ‘publishing with purpose.’ The Open Data Charter recently recognised that, while open data has been a force for greater government transparency through the ‘open by default’ principle used in countries such as the UK, it could be more effective if it was focused on solving specific problems.

The Serbian government’s open data strategy discusses improving public sector transparency, democratic decision-making by public officials, developing new public services, and stimulating economic development.

Knowing who might use data and why helps to publish data with purpose. Open data activists in Serbia – such as Heapspace who we enjoyed meeting – are helping Serbia to identify projects with potential impact. Heapspace is also in the process of compiling datasets and its ambitions for growing the open data community – through interaction with civil society and businesses – could help the government focus its efforts.

Starting small, thinking big

Countries such as Ukraine show the potential of thinking big but starting small. The country has been an open data pioneer since 2015 and a recent study estimates that the impact of open data contributed  $700M (US dollars) to the Ukranian economy in 2017, and that it could contribute up to $1.4bn by 2025.

These have been the result of problem-focused open data projects on public procurement, pharmaceutical consumption, transparency in the courts system, and helping parents identify the best schools for their children.

Ukraine shows that Serbia and countries like it can set objectives for open data and build data infrastructure in a way that creates impressive and sustainable impact.