This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

Bardhyl Jashari

Director of Metamorphosis, Foundation for Internet and Society

Guest blogger for UK in North Macedonia

Part of UK in North Macedonia

5th February 2019 Skopje, North Macedonia

Open Data in Macedonia – towards a culture of openness

Credit: Government of Macedonia

Macedonia is firmly set to use open data to continue its path towards more accountable and transparent state institutions. The current government has upgraded the already initiated process by not just committing to the Open Government Partnership, but also by drafting an Open Data Strategy with Action Plan, by adopting the International Open Data Charter and has recently launched the new Central Open Data portal.

The political will to keep the process on track is existent, open data is starting to be recognised as a way to enhance the transparency of government administration and build public confidence in government. It is also important to mention that an enabling environment for cooperation on open data projects is created for civil society organisation (CSO), businesses and academia; and that this cooperation is identified as vital in order to make the most from open data and start building a healthy open data ecosystem.

When in 2014, Metamorphosis Foundation in partnership with the Open Knowledge Foundation, supported by the British Embassy Skopje, started to work on open data, the concept was unfamiliar among the civil society and even more so among government officials. Our main efforts were then focused on promoting open data as a tool leading to better governance, better decision making process, ultimately leading to better policies and improved quality of life.

The next phase (year 2015) was to support concrete open data projects – web and mobile apps based on the very few data sets made available by Macedonian state institutions at that time. Through hackathons and capacity building events, we worked to provide skills and tools to journalists and activists enabling them to use and process data to make their advocacy and watchdog work more impactful. At the same time, we started the School of Data Macedonia community, and adapted and created educational resources in Macedonian and Albanian related to open data.

When in December 2017, we were invited by the Ministry of Information Society and Administration and Centre for Change Management to work together in drafting the Open Data Strategy, the experience from our past work proved to be extremely valuable as it helped us make our contribution to the strategy more articulated and based on the challenges we had faced as a CSO working on open data projects in Macedonia and the region.

Without a doubt, the level of awareness about the benefits from open data and the levels of data literacy have increased in recent years. But there is much more to do in order to fully realise their economic, social and democratic benefits. Shifting from a “culture of secrecy” to an “open by default” approach remains the main challenge to the open data ecosystem in Macedonia and the CSOs have a crucial role to play in this process. While open data is creating a path to good and open governance, it must be emphasised that these tools can only be meaningful to the citizen when they help them make informed choices for their lives. That is why CSOs have an important role to play in collecting, analysing, presenting and communicating open data so that it can be easier to understand, help citizens advance in their everyday life and used to foster citizen engagement. This also means that the quality and quantity of the government data released as open data is on a satisfactory level.

CSOs should continuously require from government institutions to release data that can be used to increase accountability and responsiveness; advance services, improve public knowledge of the institutions and how they operate; create economic opportunity; or respond to need and demand as identified through public consultation. It is ultimately up to CSOs in cooperation with the media to boost the demand for open data and require data that can be used to contribute in developing a culture in favour openness and at the same time provide opportunities for social, economic and democratic development.The state institutions should work with the civil society in order to increase the capacities of public officials in order to create conditions that allow the full implementation of open data standards and procedures as described in the strategy, including production of good inter-operable data which can be effectively used. Together, we must work to create a self-reliant open data ecosystem where, by opening up government data, benefits and new opportunities for research, innovation, transparency, engagement and greater efficiency are delivered and realised by everyone. The list of benefits from open data is sure to get longer as institutions release more of their very plentiful resource: public data.

Note: British Embassy Skopje offers its blog platform for guest posts to members of organisations who are partner implementers of UK’s programme assistance in the country. The views expressed in the guest posts are those of the authors.