This week I was back at Open Data Hong Kong talking about the Open Data Index and encouraging folk to take part in the 2015 census. My slides are over on FigShare and embedded below, and here I’ll give a basic outline of what I was talking about: how Hong Kong gets a bum deal, how Hong Kong deserves a bad rap and how improvements in machine readability are still set back by lack of Open licensing for all Hong Kong’s ‘public sector information’.
Primarily, this was an introduction to the Open Data Index (ODI). Each year the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKFN) conducts a survey (the census) of a great many countries and attempts to rank them based on the ‘openness’ of several key public datasets.
In 2014, the UK was number 1 and Hong Kong was down at joint 54 – which sounds about right. Hong Kong has secrecy embedded in its bureaucracy, evidenced by it scoring very highly on another index – the Financial Secrecy Index. Further, there is little democratic accountability in Hong Kong – partly fuelled by fear of the poor dominating a representative system, a problem that is exacerbated by Hong Kong’s world-class score on the Gini Index.
Despite this grumbling about Hong Kong’s inherent inequality, secrecy and cronyist elitism, I did bring up that it does get a bit of a bum deal on the ODI due to it not quite fitting with the idea of a ‘country’ according to OKFN.
For example, Hong Kong doesn’t use post codes and so it scores zero points for that whole section. Other countries suffer from this too e.g. Burkina Faso which although it is much larger in area than Hong Kong is not much larger in population – it similarly, presumably, does not need an advanced mail sorting system.
This applies to the Transport Timetable data for Hong Kong too (see slides). The timetable data intended by the ODI is national level transport – like getting a bus from London to Glasgow or San Diego to San Francisco. For those highly scheduled, relatively infrequent, long distances between short stops types of journeys, the ODI expects governments to provide timetables of arrival and departure at each stop. That, I can totally get behind.
However, the ODI states that it’s not interested in metropolitan scale journeys – probably because city journeys are incredibly frequent, relatively short, and prone to generalised scheduling like ‘every 20 minutes’. The problem for Hong Kong is that almost all its transport is metropolitan scale ‘every 2 minutes’ transport – partly because Hong Kong is very much like one enormous sprawling city. And so the Hong Kong government doesn’t provide enough detail about time scheduling (some buses ‘leave when full!’), a problem that is forgivable for the same situation in other countries, but it still loses all the points for that section in the index.
Another entry I looked at in some detail was the budget (future, predicted spending). This year, for the first time, Hong Kong released its budget data for the year ahead in CSV format! Indeed, ODHK held a popular and successful ‘budget hackathon‘ event at the time.
This development follows a trend in improvements for the budget data – in 2013 Hong Kong ranked 34 in this category, 2014 brought it up to rank 20 and hopefully the new machine readable format will bring Hong Kong up even further.
One thing that will still hold Hong Kong back though is lack of ‘Open’ licensing. Hong Kong considers this data ‘public sector information’ (PSI) but not ‘Open data’ in the sense meant by OKFN and Open enthusiasts worldwide. There are a great many restrictions added to all Hong Kong PSI datasets that can range from disallowing much commercial use (thwarting the startup sector of Hong Kong) to a Chinese-style vague ‘catch-all’ of ‘we can revoke usage rights at any time if we find it “inappropriate“‘.
My point to end-on was that anyone can submit answers to the census and to really try to encourage the ODHK community to get involved with this process. You don’t need to fill out all sections, just one is a help. And you don’t need to worry about getting it ‘wrong’ because the submissions are peer reviewed afterwards by experts than can follow up on the evidence you provide and double check that you’ve interpreted it in keeping with the OKFN spirit. So go on – check it out!