Newly adopted Open Data Law propels Ukraine into the digital age
When you check your smartphone in the morning trying to figure out if you need an umbrella or a heavy coat that day, or use your GPS navigator to avoid traffic jams, or look for directions on user-generated Open Street Map, you are relying on open data. A new law adopted by the parliament will make open data even more ubiquitous and accessible, making the lives of millions of Ukrainians easier.
The newly-adopted law "On Amendments to Some Laws of Ukraine on Access to Public Information in the Form of Open Data" will bring in more transparency and efficiency, while stimulating a start-up, entrepreneurial spirit. The launch of the open data environment in Ukraine will create additional opportunities for democratic control over authorities, tackling corruption, well-informed citizen participation in decision-making, and enhanced and friendly public services. Incorporating open data principles and notions into the Access to Information legislation is also not a random decision; open data ultimately takes freedom of access to information to a whole new, digital level of large data, which may and should be analysed with the help of computers.
The Law in particular establishes that agencies possessing information shall provide it as open data not only upon request (as for instance in a recent breakthrough case where the Ministry of Economy publicized information on all Ukrainian procurement procedures for the last several years), but also publish and regularly update it on the National Open Data Portal (prototype launched by NGO SocialBoost in 2014 at data.gov.ua) and on their websites. Open data, well in line with the world-accepted “Open Definition”, will be available for further free use and distribution. The list of datasets to be formed and made public as open data, the format and structure of these datasets, and the frequency of updates are, in turn, to be determined by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine within the next three months.
As datasets open up, mandated by the new legislation, gains to the national economy may materialize as added value to software and services based on open data is generated. Estimates from the Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies state that big and open data may generate up to EUR 206 billion of GDP for the EU-28 by 2020 if the current growth levels are sustained. Hence, stimulating the demand for open data among IT specialists and social innovators will be critically important in order to promote the development of socially important services and applications for solving critical development problems, while potential investors will receive a new business niche and a wider range of opportunities.
“The Revolution of Dignity in the winter of 2013-14 demonstrated an enormous demand for openness, accountability, and transparency at all levels of the Government. This demand, coupled with a political will to open up the governance system, as expressed by the President, the Parliament, and the Cabinet of Ministers, has opened a real window of opportunity to stimulate first steps towards opening government data in a systematic manner and in line with international standards,” notes Inita Pauloviča, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Ukraine.
The open data movement is also in line with Ukraine’s European aspirations and consistent with “Reusing Public Sector Information: The PSI Directive 2013/37/EU”, which introduces the right to reuse information and invites member states to make more documents available in machine-readable and open formats. Open data as a notion has also been depicted in the Coalition Agreement of Ukrainian Parliament 2014 in the E-Governance section, as well as in the Programme of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine as part of the chapter “New Public Administration Policy: De-bureaucratization, De-centralisation, De-regulation, and Responsibility.” Last but not least, open data is part of the Sustainable Development Strategy 2020 for Ukraine approved by Presidential Decree №5/2015.
The United Nations Development Programme has responded to this emerging appetite for more transparency and digital openness of governance in Ukraine by taking the lead in open data for the country. In the course of 2014-15, UNDP, working side-by-side with civic and government experts (some of them behind the prototype of the National Open Data Portal), held public consultations and round tables on the issue of the open data launch in Ukraine, supported by the First International Open Data Conference in Ukraine, designed a concept for the relevant draft law and worked closely with the National Agency for e-Governance and the Presidential Administration in order to arrive at an agreed vision shaped as a draft law.
The UNDP-supported draft law initiative also became one of the signature products of the Re-animation Package of Reforms E-Governance group, taken up by the Administration of the President as part of a “Digital Ukraine” legislative package, which was introduced to Parliament and finally passed as a law.
At the same time, as in cases of almost any legislative initiative, the law itself is just the beginning. The immediate next steps in this realm include development of technical regulations that determine the computer formats and procedures for publishing open data in a compatible manner, as well as defining the priority data sets to be opened (e.g. crime statistics and safety, the education system and its performance, pollution and energy consumption levels, as well as wealth and health data).
While a general framework for publishing open data is suggested by the Open Data Charter, experiences and suggestions from foreign countries will have to be thoroughly analysed and discussed prior to replication on Ukrainian soil. At the same time, collaboration on the law at its draft stages has demonstrated political will and acknowledgement of this topic as crucial for a contemporary state. With many steps still ahead in this journey, the first ones have already been made.