Open Data Initiative in Singapore: An Introduction.

Let me start by giving a quick introduction to you on the concept called “Open Data”. Open Canada defines open data as structured data that is machine-readable, freely shared, used and built on without restrictions. The data must be available as a whole and at no more than a reasonable reproduction cost, preferably by downloading over the internet. The data must also be available in a convenient and modifiable form. The data must be provided under terms that permit re-use and redistribution including the intermixing with other datasets. Everyone must be able to use, re-use and redistribute the data. There should be no discrimination against fields of endeavour or against persons or groups. Now lets jump to the case study.

The National Open Data Portal under study is that of Singapore. The data is gathered from 70 public agencies and the portal serves as a repository of data captured by the public sector. The unique governance status of the nation makes all of the data presented technically municipal. However, due to the fact that Singapore is both a city and a country, it means that the municipal data is technically national. Some of the data available date as early as 1960, while some others date as late as 2000, 2008 and even 2014.

Singapore has an active open data initiative and has had one for about six years now. The ultimate purpose of this open data initiative is to enhance transparency, public participation, and collaboration in the nation. The nation has big data ambitions and believes that the bountiful pool of available data should be used to gain new insight that will improve economic welfare. The current open data portal which is relatively new, attempts to further their goals. The government seeks to drive innovation (especially co-innovation between the government and people) and essentially empower the people with the data. It is important to note that though open data does not equal equal open government, an open data initiative is still a good step of the government in promoting transparency in nation.

The current open data portal was a step in the nation achieving their Smart Nation vision. The Smart Nation vision, which debuted in 2017 is about creating new opportunities in a digital age and transforming the way people do things. Open data is seen as a necessary component of this initiative, especially in the promotion of public-private collaborations (co-innovation). Though relatively new, Singapore has been extremely active with up-to-date news reports on the progress of the various programs. Specifically for open data, the government updates the data/website from time to time within the year and the last day they did so was March 5, 2018.

They also run a blog that provides updates on how the open data program is progressing, how the data can be used, how government decisions have been influenced through open data, and the blog occasionally advertises events/competitions that pertain to open data in Singapore. The blog which is updated fairly regularly (updated monthly in 2017, but no updates in 2018) features some applications such as the School Picker Tool (schoolpicker.sg) which allows people to search for school options based on location, co-curricular activities, and school level in an interactive, visualized map interface. There is also a transit app (beeline.sg).

The main categories of datasets available on the portal are: Economy, Education, Environment, Finance, Health, Infrastructure, Society, Technology, and Transport. These categories contain a reasonable amount of qualitative and quantitative data, but I am of the belief that Singapore can do better. Though the portal presents a graph (which can be line, bar or pie) of quantitative data and allows for download of raw data, there is no provision for data manipulation on the site. I believe this makes the site less user-friendly and inclusive because people will not be able to manipulate the data to fit their needs. Nonetheless, the presented graphs are visually appealing, organized and somewhat interactable (as mousing over a specific point will reveal the corresponding data). Hence, it is safe to conclude that the portal is participative, but not manipulative.

The formats used to present the data include: CSV, PDF, KML, API, and SHP. The formats do not necessarily require an unconventional software to be learnt in order to access the data, and that is a good thing. One thing that did stand out to me was the API formatting which opens up data and their functionality to developers and businesses. APIs are really easy to use, they are great for sharing data with a large population and they ultimately help promote innovation. Overall, the data provided is relatively accessible, timely, raw, standardized, and machine-processable. However, the portal solicits users to register an account on GitHub in order to make requests for data not available through the portal. Since GitHub is a US-based, third-party commercial enterprise, users who register to make these requests will be subject to GitHub’s privacy policies, and may be identified. This is not in accordance with the principle of non-discrimination. Hence, Singapore’s open data policy is majorly in accordance with the principles of being reasonably license-free and non-proprietary.

References.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1E4KKC4YmA7079ScuOmQ9N5Tob7QgXB4zbT_O8YR5I-w/edit?usp=sharing

Emotionally touchy user researcher that likes to blog about her experiences and how to make the most of life.