What is the Open Data Concept?
The Open Data Concept became a reality in the late 2000’s. Today, over 250 national and subnational governments disclose the data they collect, but until 2009, there were no government policies implemented for Open Data. Now, we have a clear definition of what Open Data stands for. To be labelled as such, data needs to fulfil the characteristic of being freely used, reused, and redistributed by anyone, anytime, anywhere. Governments and public institutions are more aware of the open data possibilities and impact than ever, so they aim to make the data more accessible to the public. For example, the Open Data Charter, a collaboration between 150 governments and organisations as one of its principal points out the “Open by default”, which means that government data should be accessible to the public unless there is a security or data protection reason not to disclose it. And if that’s the case, it needs to be clearly communicated to the public.
The benchmarks of Sustainable Open Data quality
Open-data ecosystems are a valuable tool to help businesses with facing environmental and social challenges. As the regulatory landscape continues to evolve, open data is crucial to keep up with the pace of changes. To achieve that, we need to assess the level of advancement in the area of Open Data, to know which sources we can use. That is why the European Data Portal proposed a Data Maturity benchmark, evaluating data against four benchmarks:
- Policy – that measures the presence of policies and strategies to foster open data.
As sustainability becomes a hot topic in the world of regulations, international and national organisations adopt new policies to keep up with climate change. An example of transnational policy would be United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework that provides standardised recommendations for policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels. As for the regional initiatives – European Green Deal launched in 2019 focused on addressing climate change with objectives of reducing to zero net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 and decoupling economic growth from resource use.
- Portal – focuses on national portal functions that make the data accessible to all people interested. It also covers the open data coverage across different sectors.
For now, sustainable data portals are relatively a new concept. They were quickly created as a part of Open Data initiatives without assisting the proper user experience analysis and without focusing on sustainability data. Now the owners must adapt portals to sustainability data assuring the re-use of data, and quality of the data for citizens to be able to analyse the data quickly and not limited by the level of users’ tech-savyness. Impact - looks at the activities performed to monitor and measure open re-use. Focuses on four areas of sectoral impact: political, social environmental and economic. To assess the sustainable transition, we need to measure the social impact of open data, including its economic impact, which is still quite a challenge. Quoting the European Data Portal: This challenge concerns identifying the chain of causal links, devising appropriate tools and methodology for measurement, and having sufficient resources to carry out the evaluation. Measuring the impacts is connected to open re-use of data, that needs to be provided by each country on a high level.
Data QualityFocuses on the measures adopted by portal managers to ensure the systematic harvesting of metadata from sources across the country, as well as the currency of the available metadata and where possible the actual data. Greater participation and accountability of countries would help fight the lack of high-quality data. To make green investments, the companies require data. By disclosing it through open-data portals, countries can speed up the transition to a green economy.
Can data portals facilitate sustainability?
In the Handbook of Statistical Organization (UNSD, 2021), the definition of a data portal is “web-based, interactive data platforms that provide access to one or more databases containing statistical indicators”. In simple terms, the data portal is designed to make it easier to find data. Usually, the data is presented in the raw form, sometimes it can be also visualised. As the digitalisation of governments is getting more advanced, data portals are vital for providing the accessibility of data.
Data portals may be a key point in promoting the exchange of data by using standards such as SDMX to develop a framework for transmitting data and metadata. They can support the National Statistical Offices in promoting interoperability of the data concept and promote standards across industries. This is especially needed in relation to SDG reporting, as the data may be gathered from different sources, and it needs to be made comparable to analyse the data and predict trends. One of the examples of a combination of Open Data and Sustainability is the OpenSDGs platform – an open source for data and statistics related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It provides a list of countries that use the platform, and as every country use the portal of the same structure – it's easy to compare the visual data presented across countries.
Open data as a booster for Sustainable Development Goals
Standing in front of the dramatic climate change, now more than ever we need a turning point in our lifestyle. In the foreseeable future we will switch from the traditional economic model (take - make consume - waste) to a circular economy – which will help with reducing waste to a minimum. It is a model of production and consumption that assumes sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling, and making the lifecycle of products more environmentally friendly. But why is it mentioned next to Open Data? Because they help with gathering the insights of what is stakeholders’ response to this circular economy change. Moreover, based on the reported data, the regulators and decision-makers will be able to make better decisions. Data can also help with training the algorithms to predict trends in supply and demand. The European Commission encourages the companies to publish environmental data through revision of the non-financial reporting directive and supports business initiatives to develop environmental accounting principles, that complement financial data with circular economy performance data.
Data always played a key role in addressing climate changes. The data on temperature, carbon dioxide levels, ice melt etc. were collected and used to create models that would predict the future trends. And now is the biggest opportunity to make use of Open Data. All the ESG data need to be made public, to ensure transparency, interoperability, and accountability. The Intergovernmental Open Working Group concluded, that “In order to monitor the implementation of the SDGs, it will be important to improve the availability of and access to data and statistics disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts”.
The World Bank points out that Open Data can help with assessing the SDGs in a few ways. Firstly, as a facilitator of standards that would uphold the accuracy and completeness of data, and make it easier to share and compare data within government. Open Data can also be a tool for accountability – by publishing the data about SDGs initiatives, the governments can be held accountable for the results of implemented policies. And last but not least, it can be a great evidence base for impact assessment, as it can provide unified benchmarks to measure the progress of fulfilling the SDGs within a country or between countries.
And the future for the Open Data Concept in ESG is?
Quoting Daniel Keys Moran, a computer programmer and science-fiction author, “You can have data without information, but you cannot have information without data”. This is particularly important in the field of sustainability. Data is needed to make informed decisions about climate change mitigation. The decisions as they may strongly impact the future of us all, need to be based on facts. Open Data seems to be one of the most important factors to assure the evaluation of data across countries, not only for the decision-makers but also for the society, to be aware of the decision-process and advocate for more sustainable solutions if needed.