Latin America’s Open Data Movement
Editor’s Note: The following post was written by Juan Arellano and posted on his personal blog, Globalizado. It looks at a single project do demonstrate how public information can be used by so-called “civic hackers” and then looks more closely at “open data” movements in Mexico, Uruguay, Chile, and Venezuela.
We have written previously about open government and open data in our coverage of the Hackathon organized by GarageLab in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A hackathon – to review – is an event where programmers meet to plan and create applications using public data with the aim of bringing about a more open, transparent government.
The work is not without difficulties. For example, even a slight angle to a scanned document can be “the worst nightmare” of many open government enthusiasts, as a recent article about open government from El País explains. Gerardo Richarte, another of the participants in last year’s Hackathon, describes some of the common challenges that face developers of open government applications:
In the video Richarte cites the project Gasto Público Bahiénse (Bahia’s Public Expenditure), which tracks and analyzes the public spending in the city of Bahía Blanca, Argentina. Manuel Aristarán, the creator of Gasto Público Bahiénse, was recently interviewed by Renata Avila for the Technology for Transparency Network. In the interview Aristarán describes how the project came about:
RA: Can you describe the obstacles and barriers you overcome to create your project?
MA: The lack of good government data and the lack of a solid legal framework that guarantees that they won’t stop publishing the information just because. In Argentina, the OpenData grassroots movement is just starting. Together with other transparency NGOs, we’re trying to think of ways of raising awareness about the importance of making governments more transparent and accountable. That, I hope, will lead to better policies of transparency and information.
RA: Your idea has inspired others to explore the potential of open data, right? How are people using your tool?
MA: Yes, different actors have used my project in many ways, for example hyperlocal news outlets used the website as source, businesses that sell to the local government use the site to check on their competitors, and when government purchases are available, consumers can access a good reference to compare prices.
We see that public data can be used in various ways by different sectors. (For example, see this post for ideas for future apps built on open data.) Apart from some of the common obstacles mentioned above, what stands out is that most of these programs don’t require many resources – just a computer, internet connection, and programming knowledge. This is what Manuel Aristarán emphasized when I caught up with him at PDF Latinoamérica last November:
Initiatives that work with open data are just beginning in Latin America, but there are already various projects worth mentioning. For example, in Mexico there is “The Work of Your Representatives” by open data enthusiast Erick Camacho. The website takes public data from the official congressional websites and re-organizes it to give citizens a clearer idea of how their representatives work. The site shows us, for example, the ten representatives with the most and least legislative proposals that are pending, approved, and rejected. Meanwhile, México Abierto works on advancing the philosophy of open government by “creating opportunities to dialog about the importance of open government and the right to know.”
The municipality of Montevideo, Uruguay is the only Latin American government that has published an open government dataset. For more information visit CTIC.
In Venezuela, a country where citizens have a far more difficult time accessing public information than most other countries in the region, Esdata is an initiative that aims to promote “the right to choose in Venezuela.” They draw on electoral data from the official CNE website and from election observation groups, apply statistical analysis, and send out reports to their users. Also in Venezuela, we see interest from the group GestionPublica.ve in bringing open data initiatives to the country.
In Chile we find the Chile Data Initiative, aimed at “ensuring the implementation of standards to facilitate interoperability in the publication of open government data.” At this point it is more of an advisory group than a specific project that works with open data, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle nonetheless. In a similar vein is the Open Data for Chile, which uses Facebook as an advocacy platform. Lastly, there is the report by the World Wide Web Foundation and Fundación CTIC on the feasibility of open government data in Chile.
In Uruguay the most notable initiative comes from the side of the government. The municipal government of Montevideo has released its open data policy and encourages citizens to suggest ideas for how to best use the data. One example is Cómo ir, a public transit application that reveals to users the best possible routes via bus or walking.The Montevideo government has also launched a portal for the open data – datos.gub.uy.
There are likely many more open data initiatives that are currently in development in Latin America. For example, the Montevideo-based group Cubox has developed DatosAbiertos.org based on Sunlight Foundation’s National Data Catalog, but so far there is no content. In Colombia there is the nascent “Government Online Program.”
If we look across the Atlantic to Spain, we see various groups working on the issue. One such organization is Open Data @ CTIC which tracks the publishing and re-use of public data, and another is Medialab Prado, a “space oriented at the production, investigation, and distribution of digital culture” with a focus on open data.
We recommend taking a look at all the above-mentioned links to better understand how the open data movement is moving forward in Latin America. For some basic contextual information about the significance of open data and what it means for how we use the internet, check out “It’s All Semantics: Open Data, Linked Data & The Semantic Web.”
What are the open data projects that we’ve missed? Let us know below in the comments!