12/5/2017

Open data needs to range among national priorities in Madagascar

 

Often hidden behind poverty or environmental challenges, open data, an inherent aspect of accountable and transparent governance, is not listed amongst Madagascar’s national priorities. Yes, progress and initiatives are often talked about, but by looking carefully at national open data portals, it is clear that there is significant work still to go. With the promise of an Open Government announced last year in Paris, we are eager to see national institutions deliver on this commitment through open data publishing. While open data can be of any kind (from open justice, open budget, open aid, and really anything you make publicly available), it can also be extended to mapping, promise tracking, and other open platforms. The key ingredient within all of this to make information easily accessible to citizens.  But in Madagascar, if someone wants to know how many contraceptives are sold every year or how many schools exist, the answer is not readily available online.

Open data portals in Madagascar

Except for the Madagascar Open Data Portal and Opendri Madagascar websites which are under construction, there are currently three fully operational portals in Madagascar. All three of these are characterized by superficial data with limited value, whose formats are sometimes against the reutilization standards of open data publishing.

1 - Madagascar Aid Management Platform: Founded in 2008, this portal outlines international aid received by the country. Content is updated every trimester by international partners such as foreign countries, European Union, World Bank, African Development Bank, United Nations, international NGOs and foundations like AgaKhan, MEDAIR, Water Aid, Helvetas, and more. The portal aims to show disbursements made per sector or over a distinct project. It can be a little difficult to use or understand for a citizen because disbursements are not classified by category, but instead per project, and most citizens are not necessarily going to know what each project is for. In addition, there are no details about expenses made.

2 - National Statistics Institute: this website provides basic information on population, external trade and the human development index in Madagascar. Other information about inflation or industry are shared in PDF formats every month or per trimester depending on the sector. Updates are not done in a regular basis; while some data ended suddenly in 2012, others ended in 2014 or 2015. No machine readable document is available online so direct analysis is impossible for data journalists, however, we can see analytical articles repeating data inside the PDF documents.

3 - Madagascar Open Data Portal: Fitted with graphics and maps, this portal gathers information collected from different sources like Knoema, World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the National Statistic Institute website. But considering the vast amount of data held by these sources, only a small sample is included on this portal so its always better to visit the original source.

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Image: Madagascar Open Data Portal.

4 - Madagascar CountryStat: The first open data portal focusing on agriculture and food in Madagascar. It aims to collect and standardize scattered information from different actors in one place.

5 - Opendri Madagascar: it’s the second open data sharing platform under construction. Data will mainly be about disaster and resilience to climate change.

In a general manner, Ministry websites serve official information, but they are not really data portals as such.

Open Budget

As well as open data portals, Madagascar has also made some efforts to adopt an open budget. In 2013, Madagascar’s Open Budget Index was 14,38/100.  The latest financial report in March 2017, publicly available on the Finance and Budget Ministry website, tries to answer the question, “Where does this money go?”. Although documented, the 28 page book doesn’t really give any details regarding the intended objective of budget measures - only four pages express government expenses.  Considering that 2017’s net tax revenues came in at 3 930 Billion Ariary (1 Usd = 3 200 Ariary), there is an accountability imperative to provide an extensive and careful report for how this money was spent.  The country’s Open Budget Index is not yet listed on internationalbudget.org.

MAIDI: Digging up unknown data

To help augment and expand open data and governance in Madagascar, we have recently launched Madagascar Initiatives for Digital Innovation (MAIDI). In parallel with established civil societies working toward open data, MAIDI will focus on field data collection and analysis for social change. Research will be conducted on under-reported data about subjects that matter to citizens. As simply publishing data is not enough, they will be turned into actionable information that clearly illustrates their significance for citizens.  Then, harrowing results will be shared with public and actors (like NGOs, Ministries, private companies, et cetera) in the concerned sector in order to ensure that data is considered during decision-making processes at the national level to solve public issues. 

One of our objectives is also to change common understandings about open data - a concept long considered by those who think acting openly as a matter of simply reporting or summarizing information to public. All citizens, but particularly students, researchers and journalists, should be able to easily find data and information about their country. To us, there is an answer to every question, and this point of view will guide us on our journey towards identifying required or missing data for social change.  The more meaningful data there are, the more positive impacts they can have.

Finally, we envision to bring together both public and private companies, non-profit or for-profit organizations, entities and even citizens to share meaningful data for sustainable development. Other digital projects will be conducted to widen the format of open data and to redesign government accountability in Madagascar. 

Find out more about open data in Madagascar here.

Image: Rob.

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