Ukraine and open data: what is it all about?

The government should determine what data should be made public on a first-priority basis and establish a contact support point at the Ministry of Digital Transformation soon.

Due to the coronavirus, the entire planet was forced to almost completely go online all at once. Both the number of Internet users and the amount of information consumed from the screens are growing steadily. Governments are now focused not only on maintaining the health of their citizens, but also think about how to save the economy under quarantine.

In such times of crisis, the issue of open data becomes even more relevant. Thanks to them, the government can make proper and reasonable decisions, thereby reducing the burden on officials and simplifying people’s lives.

Probably most people have the wrong idea about what open data is. In fact, this is not the city council’s website, where its decisions are published, or even not the Facebook page of the government or parliament, and it is not scanned tables with documents or tables.

Open data is public information provided by the authorities in a machine-readable format. This data format allows us to process, copy, sort, and most importantly, create services that make life easier for each of us. Open data is a resource for creating business projects that can be monetized.

According to the data of the Better Regulation Delivery Office, between 1.4 and 4.9 million Ukrainians use open data-based services every month. The most popular topics are competitive intelligence (1.4 to 2.2 million users), public transport (1.2 million users), and anti-corruption (0.7 to 0.9 million users).

Currently, in Ukraine, there are more than thirty services that provide data on almost any topic, such as EasyWay (on public transport), SaveEcoBot (ecology), Monitor Estate (construction), Youcontrol, Opendatabot and more.

Where Ukraine is heading

Ukraine has already gone some of that way. In 2015, the Law “On Access to Public Information”, which obliged the authorities to publish the information they had, was amended.

In 2017, the government updated the Resolution No.835 and doubled the number of data sets to 600. They should be published by the authorities in the form of open data on a single national portal

The State Statistics Service has almost 86,000 data holders who are required to publish information in open data formats. The actual number of data holders may differ due to the creation and termination of organizations, as well as a significant number of “ghost organizations” among them. Taking into account the number of profiles of the Unified Web Portal of Public Funds, there is a more conservative estimate – 47.5 thousand data holders. However, as of the beginning of February, only 9,721 data holders were registered on the portal, and only a third of them published at least one data set.

What do these figures indicate? Authorities or state-owned companies are either simply unaware of the need to make data public or do not have the appropriate competence to do so. Probably, they don’t understand why they need to do this. Or maybe someone is already making money from this data illegally.

The situation needs to be changed through the search for incentives to make the data public. This is important, first of all, for citizens and businesses, because open data-based services save time, inform about the activities of public authorities, and allow them to make effective decisions. Informed means protected, especially during a pandemic.

How to make data open?

First, it is necessary to determine which of the data holders should make the data public. The government should set clear requirements for such data (machine readability, open format, interoperability, etc.).

At the same time, it is critical to identify priority data sets that should be published first. All that is needed is political will and increased liability for violations related to open data. Thus, in particular, a data holder’s head should be determined as the subject of the offence, and the procedure to initiate administrative proceedings against guilty persons should be simplified.

Today, administrative liability for failure to make the data public is a small fine in the amount of UAH 490. Moreover, the liability mechanism is ineffective due to the lack of large-scale control measures and imperfect regulation of the liability procedure. For example, the Office of Commissioner for Human Rights often has problems in determining those responsible for making data public, and the entire liability procedure should be completed in six months, but this is the unrealistic deadline, given the functioning of the judicial system. Besides, the limited human resources of the Commissioner’s Office combined with a large number of data holders make it physically impossible to systematically monitor all holders.

There are two ways to improve the situation:

  1. To limit and more clearly define the range of data holders as well as get rid of the “open by default” principle. Such measures may reduce the overall amount of information published, but the authorities will be able to focus on the most valuable data sets.
  2. To create a real infrastructure to support the “open by default” principle: specialized tools for data holders, flexible regulation performed by the Ministry of Digital Transformation, a supervisory authority with increased institutional capacity, etc.
What data should be made public on a first-priority basis?

According to Opendatabot, it is currently necessary to publish open data from the Unified State Register of Registered Vehicles, the Land Cadastre, the Register of Traffic Violations, etc. For example, successful land reform requires to open data on land lease and sale agreements. It is necessary to make financial statements of companies public immediately to effectively combat conversion centers and data sales by holders on the informal market as well as verify the ability of counterparties.

Experts from the Better Regulation Delivery Office have concluded that if priority data sets are made public, the number of users taking advantage of this data, which is needed not only for ordinary citizens but also for entrepreneurs, may increase several times over. By the way, the latter can create convenient services for using such information.

That is why the government should determine what data should be made public on a first-priority basis and establish a contact support point at the Ministry of Digital Transformation soon. In turn, the Ministry of Digital Transformation should instruct data holders on the requirements for their publication, deadlines, etc.

Finally, all these steps will encourage the publication and use of data that may have a positive impact on people’s lives in all areas: from buying real estate (for example, information on pledged real estate) to choosing the best way to get to work (for example, public transport information).