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Now Here is a Good IDEA data in the hands of the people

 

Now Here’s a good IDEA – data in the hands of the people.

 

Big Community had the opportunity to attend and participate in the Open Government Partnership Conference organised by IDEAS (Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs) at Sunway Putra in KL.

The Open Government Partnership looks generally at trying to secure commitments from government to increase transparency and fight corruption. The theme of this conference was “access to information” which inevitably meant that open data initiatives were high on the agenda.

The conference brought together an interesting mix of people, the majority were not experts in data or open data, their interest is in clean and transparent democracy. From Big Community’s perspective it was interesting to see the acknowledgement of the importance of open data in pursuit of transparency.

H.E. Victoria Treadell, High Commissioner, British High Commission - Guest of honor who explained how open government inspires innovation

H.E. Victoria Treadell, High Commissioner, British High Commission – Guest of honor who explained how open government inspires innovation

 

Speaking to IDEAS External Relations Manager Azrul Mohd Khalib he stressed that the only way to be successful in driving government transparency is to remain engaged with those running authority. We subscribe to this viewpoint. No doubt this events raised difficult questions, but also included “establishment” who were there to listen and give positive feedback. As an example the closing speech was given by Malaysia’s Auditor General YBhg Tan Sri Haji Ambrin Buang, who acknowledged the legitimacy and importance of the requests for widely available open data sources but also pointed out that can only happen with the confines of law and public safety.

 

YB Hannah Yeoh, Selangor State Legislative Assembly Speaker confirming that open data promotes transparency and accountability

YB Hannah Yeoh, Selangor State Legislative Assembly Speaker confirming that open data promotes transparency and accountability

 

Big Community Board Member Andrew Martin took part in a panel discussion entitled “Beyond Government – How Does to Information Benefit You, Me and the Everyday Joe?“ which raised some interesting points.  Khairil Yusof from the Sinar Project gave some really fascinating insight. We would describe the Sinar Project as a NGO disguised as a Big Data Start up. They are a group of very talented Data Science professionals using their skills in an attempt to get a real picture of societies inequalities and issues.

 

Closing Speach given by Tan Sri Ambrin Buang, Auditor General of Malaysia

Closing Speach given by Tan Sri Ambrin Buang, Auditor General of Malaysia

Khairul eloquently demonstrated how an awful lot of data that he felt government should make available is withheld, but then went on to explain how by scraping multiple alternative sources of publicly available data Sinar project are able to provide analysis into nationwide social issues. In many cases this is used to contest or verify the limited official statistics that are available.

Andrew Martin who sits on the board of Big Community publisher AOPG, advised attendees to proceed with caution. He reminded people that the dream of open data is valiant but it comes with enormous responsibility. Explaining the power of Big Data technologies, he reminded us that bringing together large datasets is open to significant abuse and as such it the process of opening up datasets needs to be regulated and done with significant planning.

The lead Chair of Big Data Malaysia Sandra Hanchard, focused on education – her point was powerful, and became a theme for the rest of the debate. She explained that if individuals are not trained in Big Data skills then even if data sets are opened by government there won’t be enough people to interrogate those data sets.

This is a key point and IDEAS’ Azrul who was moderating the panel expressed that if people don’t use the limited data sets that are being made available to date, then government will logically question why go to the effort of opening more data sets when people are not using what has been made available so far.

Panel Discussion in full flow - how Big Data and Open Data co-exist

Panel Discussion in full flow – how Big Data and Open Data co-exist

However, there is a double edged sword in this respect. The Panel experts confirmed that much of the open data provided by government is incomplete or lacking in accuracy, as such the incentive to use it is diminished. Andrew pointed out that the Big Data Group at MDEC under Dr Karl is trying to address this head on. As an example they are working on an initiative with Grab to make their traffic data available. When combined with government traffic data this becomes incredibly powerful.

Let’s run with this example of MDEC – they recently rebranded changing their name to Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation, an acknowledgement that to succeed on the world stage economies need to become digital and data driven.

Quite simply if data and information is not shared then nations will slip behind. To that end we applaud the efforts of organisations like IDEAS who are working to bring government to the party. Raising issues like information sharing in a constructive balanced event is exactly the kind of effort that will accelerate the path to opening more data sets.

If there is a call to action here it would be for the Big Data community to jump on the open data bandwagon and start using open data sets now.

 

Closing Remarks by Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Chief Executive Officer, IDEAS

Closing Remarks by Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Chief Executive Officer, IDEAS

 

 

 

 

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