Is open data making a difference in Asia?

By Nurfilzah Rohaidi

Interview with Andreas Pawelke, Lab Director, Open Data Lab Jakarta.

For years, governments have been talking about the value of “open data” - publishing government information so that citizens can use it in their projects.

But what has this actually achieved? GovInsider caught up with Andreas Pawelke, Lab Director of Open Data Lab (ODL) Jakarta, an organisation that identifies social problems that can be solved by open data. “We try to empower local actors from society through access to government data, and by helping them use it,” he says.

ODL has three stories of how this data has made a real difference to people’s lives.

1. The Philippines


Open data can give citizens a glimpse into the inner workings of governments, which can lead to powerful results.

Islamic teachers, or ustadz, that work with schoolchildren in the Philippines often rely on donations or work as unpaid volunteers. “We helped these Islamic teachers to advocate - based on data that was published by the local government - we were able to secure salaries for the kind of work they do,” Pawelke explains.

A policy requiring local governments to publish financial information was issued in 2011, and data such as the budgeting of each government’s Special Education Fund (SEF) was put online. ODL’s partner E-NET, a network of education reform advocates, helped the ustadz to understand and analyse each item in the datasets. After their analysis, the ustadz realised that their salaries and school uniforms could in fact be funded by the SEF.

The ustadz made a formal funding request, which was granted. Following the success of this group of ustadz, a new civil society alliance was formed to make data-driven recommendations on education priorities.

2. Banda Aceh, Indonesia


Pawelke’s team worked with the Banda Aceh City Government to publish data on education, including school performance, budgets, infrastructure, and teacher-to-student ratio.

“That information is very useful to teachers, parents, and organisations - it can inform a discussion on how to improve education in Banda Aceh,” he says.

Together with local partners, ODL secured the release of 16 government datasets by the city’s education agency. Data literacy is also a big priority for ODL, and the team taught potential users of the data - in this case, educators and parents - how to analyse and translate the data into a form that was understandable.

“You also have to train people to use that data,” says Pawelke. “Then you have to use the results or the outcome of the data to engage governments and society.”

“You also have to train people to use that data.”

Then, ODL held a meeting for the citizens of Banda Aceh to present their findings to education officials, which found that some better-funded schools were not performing as well, while some schools were not using funds intended for infrastructure to improve students’ learning.

Officials are now working to find out what went wrong in these schools, providing updates to citizens about their progress.

3. Yogyakarta, Indonesia


ODL worked closely with women’s groups and community associations in Yogyakarta to “support them in analysing budget data and help them to advocate for more gender-responsive resource allocation”, Pawelke says.

His team hopes to assess whether local government budgets that were set aside for women are really being spent on projects that address women’s needs. This is because, a brief on the initiative notes, “the decisions made about which services and projects receive funding and to what extent impacts men and women differently”.

The findings, which will be published soon, will be used to “raise public awareness of the importance of budgeting in a way that advances gender equality”, according to the brief.

Open Data Lab was set up to ensure that citizens have access to government data, says Pawelke, which can be empowering. “What we want is that government data is open by default,” he says.

“What we want is that government data is open by default.”

As these three examples show, open data - and training in how to use that data - can help citizens take an active stance in improving their lives and communities. “We want to tackle inequality and poverty. We want to tackle the most complex, biggest challenges that people face in the countries we work in,” Pawelke declares.

Only when governments unlock their data can there be true transparency, he believes.

Image by Andreas StephanCC BY 2.0