The difficulties hindering progress are partly connected with an outdated system of maintenance of databases in institutions and lack of officials’ understanding or resistance.
Kyiv, July 3, 2016. As of today, the amount of available open data is relatively satisfactory, but there are a lot of problems with quality. There are also numerous cases when various government bodies obviously avoid publishing certain data, as discussed by open data users at a press conference held at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.
The main indicator of data quality – a machine-readable format, that is, the suitability of the data for further work, said Andriy Gazin, analyst at Texty.org.ua. “If you look at what was on the web portal a few weeks ago, you see that the formats DOC, PDF, JPJ, and PNG dominate. More than half of the published data cannot be called quality because you cannot use automatic tools to work with PDF and Word,” he explained. “It is just because data managers do not distinguish between text and structured data, and publish structured data in text format. “In his view, it should be prohibited to accept files in this format.
Andriy Gazin demonstrated typical shortcomings in the published machine-readable data in formats CSV * and XLS (X) by the example of the State Fiscal Service of Ukraine register of issued and suspended licenses for sale of alcoholic beverages and tobacco, whom he worked with last month. In particular, he mentioned the lack of description of a file structure, atypical encoding which is not specified in meta-information, different meanings and order of variables, different formatting, no unified formatting of dates, addresses, forms of management, the use of Latin characters instead of Ukrainian etc. Such diversity, according to Mr. Gazin, is due to the fact that the data is introduced manually, everyone does it the way they wish. “The main problem here – lack of basic instructions for arranging these databases,” stated Gazin. As a result, the data user’s work becomes far more complicated.
According to Andriy Gazin, to eliminate these problems it is necessary to introduce a validator, which would check the validity of a file, including coding and availability of empty cells, and introduce a standard for such documents at least within one institution. “It would also be a good idea to think where the process of data entry can be automated, so that instead of ten variations of a meaning there would be a drop-down list, and a provider could choose,” he suggested.
Oleksiy Vyskub, deputy head of the State Agency for E-Governance of Ukraine, agreed that problems exist but noted that it was a difficult task to launch the system from scratch within 9 months. The difficulties are partly connected with an outdated system of maintenance of databases in institutions and lack of officials’ understanding or resistance. “80% of our efforts are, in fact, directed at solving questions related to the transformation of consciousness and political will. […] About 90% of authorities do not even understand what open data means. The question of officials’ training and skill upgrading is a priority,” he said. To improve the situation, a project like the Open Data Leader Networks for government agencies is going to start in August. “We will try to shape leaders of open data in Ukraine. […] Admitting people in such a network, teaching them and creating leadership centers, we will be able to promote open data policies,” emphasized Oleksiy Vyskub.
It is planned that existing shortcomings of the portal will be eliminated in its second version. “We will introduce tools that minimize posting of low-quality data. […] I hope it will be launched in autumn,” informed Oleksiy Vyskub. By the end of August a resolution will be adopted. It will help establish cooperation between different registers and solve the problem of data duplication in the registers of various institutions. Besides, a single platform is being prepared in cooperation with the civil network “OPORA.” Using this platform as the base regional local governments will establish cooperation between their registers and the single portal.
Mr. Vyskub reminded that the available data sets of the 17 basic governments have been audited for two months. “I hope that this audit will be completed by the end of October, and we will manage to show quality analytics and prospects of opening a new data queue,” he noted.
Besides, the work persists on improving the readiness of citizens to work with open data. For this purpose the Agency has initiated several competitions for projects. These competitions based on open data 1991 and the E-Gap Challenge are held by the Incubator of projects. “We have spent recently creative weekends and selected such projects. For example, Open Data Bot, analyzes information from four registers. This enables the quality data about any company, its court cases, etc. to be found by just one click from the messenger,” informed the deputy head of the State Agency for E-Governance of Ukraine.
The data users present at the discussion emphasized the fact that officials often avoid publishing data volumes. They justify this by the lack of funding, experts or give the runaround “the relevant order is in the process of approval.” A common practice is unjustified classifying “for official use only”. Commenting on these facts, Oleksiy Vyskub noted that now there is “much more political will” to deal with such violations. “If a certain body does not publish data, we will submit the matter to the Cabinet of Ministers. We hope this will be a significant impetus,” he promised.
However, we can speak about some progress in this area: over the past two years Ukraine moved from 87th to 62th position in the international UN e-governance development ranking. “This is very important because from 2010 to 2013 we moved down by 33 positions,” reminded Oleksiy Vyskub. According to Open Data Barometer, this year Ukraine has made the greatest progress in budgeting and public procurement, and the smallest – in education and healthcare. Now the work on the accession of Ukraine to the International Charter of open data is being completed. It is expected that this accession will take place during the conference in Madrid.