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Open Data Portal is a good step forward, but there is still a lot to be done for total transparency

The creation and launch of the new Open Data Portal of the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia is a good step forward, which gives a clear signal of commitment to transparency. However, in order to identify the real potential benefits, it is necessary to open data that will enable the creation of new products and services by the institutions, the civil sector and the business.

It is an irrefutable fact that there is political will and commitment in the Government to implement policies for openness and transparency, which, according to British Ambassador Rachel Galloway, stems from the very membership in the “Open Government Partnership”.

Ambassador Galloway points out that besides the new portal, which, is supported by the British Embassy Skopje, the citizens’ budget has been also prepared, and an open data strategy has been created, which needs to be implemented.

“Transparency should be gradually ingrained in society. Through paying taxes citizens invest in Governments which then need to deliver for them” – Galloway says and adds that “sometimes for security reasons, information needs to be protected – but, only that information”.

She also emphasizes that citizens should have the ability to know what the Government is doing in their name and “that can only be done with full openness and transparency on why and how decisions are made, how are those decisions put into practice and what are the effects of those policies”.

The Ministry of Information Society and Administration (MISA), believes that the launch of the open data portal has a positive effect on the improvement of the administration’s services and efficiency, and also influences the European integration.

According to MISA’s Gordana Gapikj-Dimitrovska, the launch of the open data portal is only half the battle.

– In itself, data doesn’t show anything, until it’s presented properly – she says.

Therefore, in cooperation with the business community, Gapikj-Dimitrovska added, the government plans to work on data visualizations and create applications that use open data, which will further stimulate the economy.

Currently, just a few months after going online, the portal features 190 open data sets of more than 40 institutions.

– This is just the beginning and the number of pieces of data keeps growing. Institutions are becoming aware of the importance of open data, there’s an open data officer in every institution”, says Gapikj–Dimitrovska, and adds that MISA is actively committed to working on changing government’s and administration’s culture, in order to reach total openness and transparency.

Moreover, the Executive Director of the Metamorphosis Foundation, Bardhyl Jashari, agrees that a change of the culture should be worked on. He said that “in parallel with raising the awareness that data belongs to the citizens, and not institutions, civil servants should be helped to identify and open relevant data sets”. Jashari points out that the civil sector can assist in this process, as defined in the Open Data Strategy itself.

He stresses that the portal is a good step forward, but there is still a lot to be done in order for the benefits of opening the data owned by state institutions to be noticed.

– Apart from raising awareness of what is and how open data can be used to make the benefits tangible, data that enables the creation of new products and services of state institutions, the civil society sector and businesses should be opened too. Of same importance is the increase of trust in the institutions, which can be achieved and perceived only if opened data sets are relevant to citizens, businesses, media and civil society organizations”, adds Jashari.

By providing an example of good use of open data, British Ambassador Rachel Galloway pointed out that the UK Open Data Institute has reported that 270 UK companies and organisations are now producing or investing in open data as a key feature of their business. 70% of these companies use data from UK Government, such as the Environment Agency, Meteorological Office and National Health Service.

– Data and digital skills are the current and the next industrial revolution. We hope that our support to 21st Century Schools on use of microbits in all primary schools in North Macedonia and the programme we are developing with the IT Chamber of North Macedonia and the National Youth Council on digital skills for the youth will further inspire the next generation in digital and use of open data for the benefit of us all, says Galloway.

Examples of organisations that are using open data in completely different ways are:

CarbonCulture is a community platform that helps people and organisations use resources more efficiently and therefore reduce waste and save money.

Arup is a UK-based global engineering consultancy that uses open data as a vital part of its work.

FoodTrade is an online platform that brings together over 1,600 local food producers with consumers to map supply chains and promote transparency in the food sector.

OpenCorporates is the largest open database of companies in the world, with information held on over 100 million companies in over 115 jurisdictions.

(This article is published within the international initiative for marking the Open Gov Week#OpenGovWeek)