On Wednesday the Hong Kong Government’s Office of the Government Chief Information Officer unveiled their revamp of their Public Sector Information (“PSI”) portal, taking pride in still making available its 3000 datasets for the public to use for both commercial and non-commercial purposes. Hong Kong’s Open Data enthusiasts familiar with the old site “Data.One” will appreciate the new “Data.Gov.HK” site’s easier navigation, improved functionality and categories. With this revamp, the government is demonstrating its continued support of availability of PSI and echoing the Financial Secretary’s 2014-2015 commitment to push all government bureaux and departments to:
“[make] all government information released for public consumption machine-readable in digital formats from next year onwards to provide more opportunities for the business sector.”
The revamp is a step towards this goal, identifying what departments submit what data, and its ease of navigation encourages access and use of existing government data sets, which is good. Through there are some snags and errors in the new site, this is expected of any website update. Surely government is reviewing the problems but as the site doesn’t support a dialogue or connection with the public, that is hard to tell.
While governments around the world are realizing greater policy review through scrutiny, supporting greater civic engagement, and realizing better efficiency by supporting Open Data, the government’s revamp demonstrates that the Hong Kong government is still just catching up with past trends to publish government information data. While there is no debate that government making data available “opens up new business opportunities” as well as “bring convenience to the public and benefit society as a whole”, the site runs short in its approach that it can merely publish a number of datasets without a view of data quality or update a site and that apps and benefits will just materialize. To realize similar benefits as seen by other governments, the HK government should work with open data enthusiasts and also adopt the same open data principles and standards of the international community.
Open Data Hong Kong recommends the government adopt Open Data standards and principles, and reflect that with the Data.Gov.HK site. Namely:
Adopt an open license on the datasets
The Terms and Conditions are problematic for supporting app-building, collaboration, and analysis of government data. The following terms are examples:
- “you shall reproduce and distribute the Data accurately, fairly and sufficiently;”
Data used for apps and analysis will get reformatted. And inaccurate data will have to be corrected and modified by developers and analysts. Would this be considered breaking this condition? It is unclear, ambiguous, and thus stifling. Although the terms and conditions include a waiver of responsibility by the government, this condition is confusing at the least and overbearing at the most. OGCIO should adopt an Open License/public domain waiver such as CCO or copy the UK Open Government License on the datasets.
Improve communication & engagement
Users of the site can’t find out which datasets are new, if there are any. As much as the site would like to see use among the 3000+ datasets (with more to be added regularly), supporting better communication and engagement among users would be useful for information to flow both ways.
It’s not enough just to have datasets available, the data has to be effective, relevant, usable. How can users provide feedback about the datasets and communicate to government about the effectiveness (or uselessness) of a dataset? Or that a dataset is missing? This is not in the functionality of the site. An example of doing this comes from the Government of Canada where they ask for users to “Suggest a data set”, as well as functionality for users to provide a rating on datasets, and the hosting of open data competitions (which are also open to people outside of Canada).
It’s about the data. Data Quality.
Users of the datasets continue to have problems with the quality of the data. This hasn’t changed with the site revamp. Users have reported unclear and inexistent schemas for datasets, inferior data types for the data, and inexistent API support for pervasive connection with data. Although data sets can be very different from one another, the right file type and data connection goes a long way to supporting app development and value for the public, and avoiding severe headaches from app developers and head-scratching from analysts. We encourage OGCIO to provide departments or provide the right expertise and support for bureaux and departments making datasets available.
Commitment to the future
The data.gov.hk update demonstrates government’s support for making data available to support the public. Open Data Hong Kong continues to reach out to OGCIO and the rest of government to improve this, while recommending full support of open data to best realize public benefit.