(3 January, 2019, Hong Kong) The government today releases the latest initiative on open data. IT Legislative Councillor Charles Mok believes the new policy will contribute to the Smart City development and bolster the growth of the digital economy.
Since the launch of the Hong Kong government’s open data portal in 2011, it is the first time that the government commits to releasing annual open data plan for all bureaux and departments. For years, Mr Mok has collaborated with the IT sector and open data groups to advocate a better open data policy. Mok regards the new initiative to be a significant one for innovators, researchers, and developers.
However, Mr Mok stresses that data quality is more important than quantity, the government should also keep the datasets as up-to-date as possible, making them easier to use, and to set out a more comprehensive KPI to catch up with other advanced economies that have made significant progress on open data, such as Taiwan, the UK and US.
Open data has been a long and ongoing priority of Mr Mok’s advocacy effort, he consistently calls for better transparency via data release, to improve the data quality and availability, and also to improve communication with data users. He also arranged meetings for data users to channel their thoughts and views directly to the government with the goal of expediting Hong Kong’s digital transformation and create more business opportunities.
As a starting point, Mr Mok believes the new open data plan provides better and clearer goals for all government units to comply, and will set a benchmark for other organisations to follow. The next step should be improving the quality of the data open to the public, for instance, raw data is preferable than aggregated data of website content or statistics.
Speaking on the standards of data format, the government states that the datasets will be released in machine-readable formats commonly used by the industry, such as JSON, XML and CSV. This echos the demand of the open data groups and the ICT industry, and the establishment of an online feedback form is also a positive change.
The Open Data Plan has little mention of the criteria to determine the priority for releasing datasets by different government units. Government units have much flexibility to decide which, how and when to open up datasets. Information that is of high public interests and concerns, such as government expenditures, declare and disclosure of interests of the government officials, real-time transport data and more, appears to be still lacking.
“The sheer number of datasets available to the public should not be the primary objective to measure policy effectiveness, the government should formulate an open data policy that emphasise on data quality and meet the demands of the public. Government departments should set a schedule and deadline for delivering the “open by default“ objective, and report to the public regularly on the requests made by the public for data access and how much of those are met. Accountability and transparency should be ensured,” says Charles Mok.
A large number of datasets pledged to be opened in coming years feature static information, which the update frequency is once a year or when necessary. Charles Mok believes that datasets that are higher in demand (ie, data that are relevant to public health) can be published in API in real-time or in higher frequency for the public to use.
The open data policy released today only covers government units, while public bodies/quasi-government bodies are yet to be included. Mr Mok urges the new policy to cover all public bodies and the government should also provide guidelines and technical support to spread open data efforts. Regarding the release of real-time public transport arrival information, Mr Mok suggests the government to look into alternative models such as the “Data Trust” arrangement, which is being piloted in the UK, to explore methods that can incentivise private sector to share their data efficiently.
Mr Mok will continue his effort in facilitating communication between the government, IT sector and open data groups to exchange views and best practices. He calls for more resources to support data science education, public engagement and awareness building to promote open data culture to the private sector and NGOs.