Last February, I had the opportunity to speak in a workshop on Open Government Data. The workshop was organized by Emirates eGovernment in collaboration with UNDESA as part of our continuous education efforts in this domain and was attended by around a hundred representatives of federal and local government entities across the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Throughout the past 18 months, I had presented and discussed the open data subject with government officials in meetings and other workshops but that was the first time to have a full day workshop dedicated for this subject.
I have presented and discussed with the audience the following issues:
- Emirates eGovernment's shift towards Gov 2.0 practices
- The driving forces for Open Government Data initiative in UAE
- Basic definitions of open data
- Benefits and challenges of opening up government data
- Open data as a global trend
- And the way forward for open government data initiative in the UAE
For most of the audience, open data was totally a new term to them which explains the main purpose of the workshop: to promote the concept and build up a community of open government data across the government, society, academic and private sectors.
However, the audience found it a natural step for UAE to adopt the open government data practice and even develop its own local model of this concept (check my last year article on this issue). There was a great consensus among the audience on the strong support and commitment offered by the political leadership in the country to the values embedded within the open government initiatives such as transparency, citizen participation and government accountability. The country’s top national agenda as identified in the UAE Vision 2021 and UAE Government Strategy (2011-2013) clearly calls for such practices. You can follow the Twitter and Facebook accounts of His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai to see how he himself provides practical examples in this matter.
In addition, many federal and local government entities across the country have already started adopting the open government practices such as publishing open government data and engaging citizens in designing government policies and services. Only a few days ago, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) published The draft Guidelines for the Design, Construction and Operation of Nuclear Power Plants for public consultation. Several government entities have started sharing good amount of their data in open format on their websites, this includes the national portal of the UAE (government.ae).
On the other side, the attendees discussed the noticeable changes that are taking place in the UAE society (comprising citizens and expatriate residents) when it comes to the perception of government’s responsibilities towards them and how it should fulfill these responsibilities. Most of the audience see a shift towards a more proactive and interactive culture where citizens take actions to engage with government authorities and participate in designing its policies and programs. Social media is believed to be an enabling tool used by the public in smart and effective way to promote this shift. In my presentation I showed the case study of #CleanJumeirah initiative, you can read about it in my earlier post (in Arabic).
So all these are enabling success factors for the open government data in UAE to flourish and grow horizontally and vertically. But we shouldn’t overlook the challenges and risks that might hinder the progress of the initiative. Key challenges identified by the audience include the need for delivering this message to decision makers and policy designers across government entities, lack of enough awareness and education on the topic on various levels including business and technical levels, some legislation barriers and the culture of government entities that considers information as classified assets by nature even if they aren’t. Other less-concerning challenges include practical and technical issues related to data exchange across government information systems and the design of open data portals.
The audience have suggested and discussed several valuable approaches to tackle these challenges. However, in my humble opinion I see building up a community of possible open data stakeholders across UAE as a crucial success factor. Such community will offer us a platform where all related stakeholders can come together and work collaboratively to innovate solutions to all these challenges and others that might emerge down the road. This platform will go beyond the government boundary to include parties like business people, applications developers, academic researchers and students and of course the public.