The UAE realized it early on….
The United Arab Emirates realized a long time ago the importance of data and information in both the public and private sectors in enabling her citizens and residents to participate in her growth trajectory to their full satisfaction by virtue of grasping the needs of the society amid global competitive pressures.
In this context, the UAE executed many IT and service initiatives in the sphere of statistics and data, culminating in being listed No.1 in the Anti-corruption Index 2013 from Transparency International for the Middle East and North Africa. The UAE was placed 26th globally in the same index, whose criteria included the degree of disclosure and the obligation thereof besides statistical and informational dissemination.
In the light of the information revolution, whose beginning was coterminous with the age of supercomputing and with the advent of the internet and its wide-spread use across the globe, new types of knowledge, information and data began to manifest themselves in initiatives that began at first at an individual level without the objective of disseminating data as a system subject to international yardsticks, concepts and specifications capable of organizing the nature, display and classification of data suitable for public consumption.
A Brief History
Published information has had an astonishing journey throughout human history. It is integral to the history of humanity itself. It elucidates the nature of data and information that were sought to be transmitted between people, groups or generations. The earliest examples of documentation were in inscriptions found in different parts of the world. In these inscriptions, the ancient men documented their activities in caves or on obelisks or on other surfaces available to them in different stages of their civilizational evolution. The inscriptions also included pictures that revealed the attitudes of ancient men, the environs in which they lived and the concerns that preoccupied their minds. They illustrated much detail about life in those times in an artistic fashion.
Even though we cannot consider these modes of documentation comparable to today’s open data or information, they can be deemed the first prototype of information and data dissemination using the written word. Their beginnings date back to sixth century BC, during which period the Sumerian cuneiform script or the ancient hieroglyphics began to be used, enabling man to express his thoughts and document them for the benefit of others in his time or in future.
In around BC 500, Pythagoras, the mathematician and the founding philosopher of western culture, was born. He elaborated on how math and numbers could explain natural phenomena, thereby inaugurating the era of math, numbers and accounting. This came in handy later on for interpreting natural events, for codifying behaviors and for scripting a way of life in accordance with numbers. As a result, numbers came to form part of man’s basic knowledge. Plato followed in Pythagoras’ footsteps and laid down many theories in this sphere later.
It may be said that the major initiatives in the field of open data were launched in the 19th century. One of them was launched by Mathew Fontaine Maury, a specialist in measurement and geographical mapping. After a long and painstaking investigation and monitoring of sailors, he was able to provide an information map that tracked commercial ships, ocean currents, rains and storms. He showed this in tables and graphic images in his important book ‘The Physical Geography of the Sea,’ launching his vast project for safe global seafaring. The book soon became popular among seafarers and was respected as a reference.
In the year 1942, Robert King Merton, a sociologist, introduced his theory, which was named after him, about ‘open sciences,’ arguing in favor of expeditious production and wide dissemination of scientific knowledge by way of facilitating freedom of scientific publication so researchers could build on the work of those that preceded them. Scientist and researchers embraced this concept with avid enthusiasm early on because it offered a way of continuous scientific production in an economical and time-saving manner. In the words of Elinor Orstrom, the economist who won the Nobel Prize in 2009, open data and knowledge constitutes “the base and the only resource that multiplies, rather than diminishes, with consumption.”
With the emerge and proliferation of capital market across the globe by the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century and the subsequent laws that obligated companies to disclose their account, publicize their budget and unveil details of their project for the shareholders (or general public), companies began to publish their data in fulfilment of the rights of the shareholders to know about their savings. The companies benefited from this disclosure as it supported their growth and publicized their activities and practices, creating a milieu of positive competition in the markets marked by a hunger for information. It also led to millions of people following market developments and commerce.
In the year 2007, around 30 top thinkers and activists met in San Francisco, USA, to define ‘open data’ and to lay down rules for their regulation. They called for the open data to be made available to the public. They also explained how these could be used in the presidential elections. In this, they relied on the principle of the major benefit that open resources promised. For example, software programmers benefited from open data, enabling them to download programs and tools to develop electronic systems free of cost. Large corporates in the field worked on providing this.
Wikipedia was the most important initiative in the field of free knowledge dissemination, benefitting millions of people. It aims at creating one of the largest private knowledge complexes owned by those who edit it and add to it. Among its founders were the inventor of RSS and other who founded popular monitoring sites to track goods and services such as Better Business Bureau and FixMyStreet.
Modern Open Data
One of the basic stipulates adopted by this group is the idea that “public data are owned by all, like ideas or scientific theories.” It focused on three primary principles:
- Transparency and Openness
- Cooperation and collaboration
This basic stipulate found easy acceptance and soon governments began adopting and implementing this through laws and legislations that strengthened the process of dissemination, statistical transparency in regard to data that concern the public and impact positively in the protection of their social, economic and personal rights.
The evolution of the definition of open data include the added value from sharing data to a third party – through the internet – which is a format that allows reuse (Pictures are not considered open data even if they are of numbers).
Among the major benefits of open data in today’s world are as follows:
Dr. Ali Mohamed Al Khouri
- Supporting the operationalization and creation of work opportunities where the open data serve as an incentive for foreign investments and business environs. .
- Encouraging innovation through the utilization of data by private organizations to design new value added services.
- Supporting scientific research with the use of inputs and statistics issued by various organizations.
- Supporting strategic planning operations, with data from external environment (Pest1) serving as one of the approved criteria.
- Enhancing competitive capacities and strengthening innovation generally for the welfare of the society and markets.
- Rectification of economic and social decision at the small and medium levels so individuals and companies and corporates are provided the necessary information to set up investments and take decisions for vertical and horizontal expansion.
- Providing support for confidence, consistency and popular collaboration to increase understanding.
- Weakening the scope for corruption as a result of public accountability systems.
- Supporting economic prosperity and social security.