How to reduce global asymmetries in open government data in the Global South: a Latin American perspective

Published on may 2022

The coronavirus pandemic highlighted economic and social inequalities around the world and, as it spread across regions and countries, it also exposed the vulnerability and fragility of states. The lack of planning, weak governance, as well as poor information management and the absence of an evidence-based decision making process triggered insufficient responses – if any – in the Global South, ultimately magnifying disappointment in institutions and political leadership. 

Having quality open data, properly collected and processed within short time frames, is essential for making decisions that benefit citizens. In the context of a pandemic such as the one we have been experiencing for over two years, not only epidemiological information is useful for public administration, but also all those records that allow us to think about social, health, educational and economic policies when dealing with complex problems and, to this end, it is essential to have comprehensive information systems. 

This document is based on the assumption that, when there is quality open government data and the political will to analyze it, the results that can be obtained encourage the implementation of evidence-based public policies. When talking about Open Government Data (OGD), the document considers a concept that not only calls for quantity (the actual publication of information), but also quality. In order to assess the latter, we analyze the level of compliance of open data with the principles of accessibility, disaggregation, updating and reuse. 

This document compares three federal countries in Latin America to better understand the existing asymmetries in open government data and propose actions needed for future improvement. The results presented are based on COVID-19 data collection and analysis conducted in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico during 2021. Canada was used as a benchmark, as it is a developed federal state in the Global North with extensive involvement in Open Government Partnership (OGP) initiatives. 

Based on the data collected, we can focus on three problematic dimensions that need to be addressed by governments in the Global South: i) asymmetries in OGD between national and subnational governments in each federal country; ii) the fragmentation in the data offered in public information portals and; iii) the lack of completeness of the information offered through open data. A fourth dimension could be added to these three: how to build evidence from open data policies. 

To contribute to this debate, we propose i) strengthening the openness of government data at national and subnational levels to meet the specific challenges posed by the pandemic at the sanitary, social and economic levels, and expanding it to other areas of importance; ii) improving regional, federal and subnational collaboration frameworks in terms of data standardization, exchange and publication; iii) developing national frameworks for monitoring and assessing open government data in order to evaluate its effectiveness, efficiency and alignment with regulatory frameworks in terms of personal data, cybersecurity and openness and; iv) implementing and/or adapting to international open government data standards, such as the one proposed by the Open Data Charter under the name Disease surveillance (CAF, ODC & CDS, 2021). 

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