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World Bank’s Open Data Readiness Assessment for Malaysia: Potential for significant socio-economic gains if remaining obstacles are addressed

Image from cover page of World Bank's ODRA report for Malaysia

The World Bank's Open Data Readiness Assessment (ODRA) report for Malaysia was released on May 25. The report assesses Malaysia’s capacity to implement an Open Data program and provides recommendations to improve the transparent management and use of government data.

On the basis of this evaluation, Malaysia is ready to formulate an action plan to enable broad public access to government data and strengthen data use in development planning. Malaysia is the first country in ASEAN to implement the ODRA methodology. The study, conducted between 31st October to 8th November 2016, was undertaken jointly with the Malaysian Administrative Modernization and Management Planning Unit (MAMPU). It included interviews with 192 participants across government agencies and other stakeholders, to understand precisely how decisions are taken, how demand for data is met, and how publication of data could be more sustained.

Open data is a key area of focus for Malaysia’s Public Sector ICT Strategic Plan (PSISP). The government has set a target of being in the top 30 in the Open Data Barometer (ODB) by 2020.  As of 2016, Malaysia had an ODB rank of 53.

One of the most important recommendations from the ODRA report is having a clearly defined national policy/legal framework and government data management policies/procedures for opening and sharing data. At the moment, there is no single legal framework in Malaysia that determines whether data can be opened or not, leading to uncertainty and caution. Agencies do proactively publish information and do entertain requests for information and data from the public and third parties. However, these decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

The report also says that central agencies will need to shift away from a focus on operational work, and towards providing data owners with the motivation and the guidance required to open their data as a matter of routine, rather than exception.

ODRA utilises a rapid diagnostic of eight dimensions considered essential for the success of an Open Data program: (1) senior leadership, (2) policy/legal framework, (3) institutional structures, responsibilities and capabilities within government, (4) government data management policies and procedures, (5) demand for Open Data, (6) civic engagement and capabilities for Open Data, (7) funding an Open Data program, and (8) national technology and skills infrastructure.

The country is rated along each of these dimensions as Red (Evidence/responses to questions suggest significant obstacles currently exist), Yellow (Evidence/responses to questions do not show significant obstacles, but the evidence of favorable conditions is mixed.) or Green (Evidence/responses to questions show favorable conditions already exist for the successful and sustainable implementation of an Open Data Program meeting the objectives set.)

The assessment - Six either already "green" or "tending to green" and two "yellows"

There is clear evidence of readiness in most of the eight dimensions of the ODRA, with six either already “green” or “tending to green.”  But readiness is less clear on two dimensions, policy/legal framework and government data management policies/procedures.

On senior leadership, the assessment for Malaysia is yellow, tending towards green. MAMPU and MDEC are leading open data and big data efforts for the public and private sectors respectively. Visible public Ministerial support exists for open data, and the overall national priorities are well-aligned with open data aspirations. An open data program coordinated by MAMPU has already been launched. Around 50 agencies have already contributed in some way to this open data program.

But there is still need to address resistance and inertia among some data owners. They need to be incentivised to make the necessary changes for data to be released in a timely and effective manner. Specific awareness on how open data can create value for various stakeholders has not yet fully emerged, which has slowed the emergence of visible champions amongst data-owning agencies beyond MAMPU.

The assessment for policy & legal framework is yellow. The Official Secrets Act (OSA) only lists a few items explicitly, but it mostly devolves decision-making power regarding confidentiality to agencies. Data exchanges, whether inter-agency or with non-government stakeholders, are decided on a case-by-case basis, with senior managerial approval. Data owners are not always confident about the application of general rules and regulations related to privacy and confidentiality, and individual agencies may also face specific internal data management regulations. Frequently, there are regulations that require the collection of fees in exchange for data sharing, which lead to significant administration and compliance costs.

According to the report, clarifying and/or strengthening the legal framework for key data areas, providing guidance on appropriate data release, and especially reducing the need for case-by-case decision-making on data sharing, will increase government efficiency and create better visibility for interested data users. As an immediate action, MAMPU’s Circular, which stipulates various steps for public agencies to decide on which data to open and how, can be implemented more systematically across government in order to see a clear improvement in this dimension.

In a second phase, the current Circular could be revised to provide directives in line with international good practices: (a) all agencies should inventory their data holdings within 12 months, and (b) data should be open by default, non-open data should be the exceptions, and the exceptions should be clearly listed in the instrument.

On Institutional Structure, Responsibilities and Capabilities within Government, the assessment is green, thanks to a clear lead agency in the form of MAMPU and several inter-agency mechanisms to coordinate ICT efforts.

There is a yellow assessment for Government Data Management Policies, Procedures and Data Availability. There is limited interconnectedness and integration of government data. Agencies and are rich in digital data and are aware of what data they hold, although comprehensive inventories within agencies and/or across agencies are not available. There is strong demand for more internal data sharing, which is usually dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Demand for open data, and civil engagement and capabilities for open data are both yellow, tending green. CSOs, academia, and the business community articulate clear demand, though not all groups are well developed or organised. There is demand for more high priority datasets, as well as more granular levels of data. However, making data available does not guarantee it will be used. An interactive and collaborative engagement between government data owners and other private sector, civil society and academic data users could help in this regard.

Communities of app developers and teams participating in hackathons organised by the government indicate civic capabilities for open data. Notable ICT sector and apps exists, however, there is not much data journalism.

The report rates Malaysia as green on both funding open data programs and national technology and skill infrastructure. The Government of Malaysia is already making significant investments in running an open data program, with allocated resources. There is also government funding for big data efforts and e-government programs. On the demand side, innovation funding is available.

Connectivity is good, mostly through mobile broadband, and Malaysians are active Internet and social media users. The ICT sector is well developed and growing. A wide variety of technical communities exists, who would appreciate more interaction with government around topics such as open data.

Read the complete report here.

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