regions

33. Latin America and the Caribbean

Open Data Around the World - Latin America and the Caribbean

  • Key Points
  • Timeline
  • Read & Engage
  • Cite
  • Shared language, regular meetings, strong civil society networks, technical capacity, and engagement from governments have all led to the growth of a distinctive Latin American open data movement with increasing focus on developing sector-specific open data initiatives.
  • In the Caribbean, donor support has helped influence and resource a series of thematic initiatives on agriculture, tourism, and election monitoring with the primary actors coming from civil society and academia. However, a lack of sustained political engagement has frustrated efforts to build a wider open data movement and infrastructure.
  • Comparing regional experiences is instructive, informing leaders and advocates of the challenges of working across language barriers, the different drivers for open data, and the importance of civil society in sustaining open data activity through political change.

How to cite this chapter

Fumega, S. & McNaughton, M. (2019) Open Data Around the World - Latin America and the Caribbean. In T. Davies, S. Walker, M. Rubinstein, & F. Perini (Eds.), The State of Open Data: Histories and Horizons. Cape Town and Ottawa: African Minds and International Development Research Centre.

Print version DOI:

  • Feb 2010

    First City Open Data Policy in Latin America

    Resolution 640/10 of the Government of the City of Montevideo, Uruguay, states that the government has a specific interest in publishing open government data and sets out the conditions for open data release.

  • Jun 2010

    Towards a Caribbean Open Institute - Data, Communications and Impact

    The workshop, “Towards a Caribbean Open Institute - Data, Communications and Impact”, was hosted by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) from June 30 – July 1, 2010, in Kingston, Jamaica. It brought together international experts and stakeholders in the Caribbean to explore opportunities for strengthening policy-oriented research in the region.

  • Dec 2011

    First Desarrollando América Latina (Developing Latin America) takes place

    Developing Latin America takes place in 6 Latin American countries simultaneously - Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay. Participants convened in one city per country on 3-4 December, 2011, and worked for 30 hours on their presentations and projects while all locations were linked via video. The goal of this contest was to build applications addressing social problems in three areas - education, human security, and public budget.

  • Feb 2012

    First regional open data hackathon in the Caribbean

    DevCa, a regional multi-country conference/hackathon, was modelled on the earlier Developing Latin America event and took place at locations in Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, and the Dominican Republic with virtual participating nodes in Barbados and Cuba.

  • Jun 2013

    First AbreLatam - ConDatos conference

    AbreLatam was organised as an “unconference”, but alongside this informal and participatory meeting, another more formal event was held that brought together mainly governmental actors and representatives of intergovernmental organisations. This was the Regional Conference on Open Data of Latin America and the Caribbean, later known as Condatos.

  • Jan 2015

    First Official Government Open Data Portal in the Caribbean

    Dominican Republic becomes the 1st Caribbean country to have an active Government open data portal when it was launched in 2015.

  • Jun 2015

    Latin America open data and open gov Telegram group is established

    A main communication channel for learning and collaborating in the region.

  • Sept 2017

    First Official Government Open Data Policy in the Caribbean

    The Government of Saint Lucia adopts the 1st Official Open Data Policy in the Caribbean

Latin America and the Caribbean

Introduction

Latin America and the Caribbean is often considered a homogeneous region by international development agencies and multilateral organisations. In many respects, this is a misleading oversimplification and reflects an inadvertent mixing of geographical and cultural classifications. Technically speaking, Latin America refers to countries in the Americas that speak a language derived from Latin, such as French, Spanish, or Portuguese, which is not necessarily the case for the Caribbean, a region lying at the geographical axis of North and South America.

Notwithstanding decades of preferential north-bound migratory patterns, the Caribbean shares much in its cultural disposition – football (not soccer), music, and carnival – with its southern neighbours. However, with regard to open data, its intrinsic drivers, attitudes, and emergent patterns, the two regions are quite different, and the Caribbean has consistently lagged behind Latin America, which is heralded as one of the most vibrant communities in the open data field.

The divergence in the social and political legacy of the two regions, defined in part by very different colonial experiences, might provide some explanation for the differences in the way key actors in public sector administration, civil society, and the media have approached the open data agenda. This chapter aims to illuminate the trajectory and diversity of the open data agenda in these two culturally diverse regions, covering a period from 2009 until early 2018. Distilling the differences and similarities in approach will aid the principal actors in both regions to better understand causal factors and theories of change and to identify more productive synergies.

Given the distinct differences in the trajectory of open data between the two regions, the chapter is structured to address Latin America first and then the Caribbean before offering any conclusions and final remarks in terms of regional similarities and differences, as well as opportunities for greater collaboration and synergy in the future.

Latin America

The open data agenda started to gain momentum in Latin America in 2012. From that moment onward, we have seen the growing development of data portals at the national, regional, and local level (more than 200 according to the Open Data Inception project),1as well as promising use of open data by the private sector and civil society. Latin America has developed its own unique open data agenda with particularly strong linkages between countries and within the broader open data community.2

Latin American countries have shown enthusiasm in advancing their open data agenda in several ways, from events, such as AbreLatam-Condatos,34and the nine national and 24 local governments that have adopted theInternational Open Data Charter5(note that the majority of Open Data Charter adopters globally come from this region) to the development of open data policies and regulations in a large number of countries in the region. To date, seven countries in the region have consolidated open data policies (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico), and they have done so, in many cases, with the input of civil society experts and organisations.6Moreover, the Open Data Barometer (ODB) confirms the leading position that the region occupies with Mexico, Uruguay, Brazil, and Colombia all within the top 20 countries in its global ranking, while, in 2017, Argentina had the largest increase in score globally, demonstrating particularly rapid progress.7However, despite this advancement, there are many gaps and areas for improvement in the region.

Community

2012 was a breakthrough year for open data in Latin America. Prior to this point, there had been a number of early regional initiatives, such as Desarrollando América Latina (2011),8and separate open data initiatives in Montevideo (2010)9and Lima (2012),10as well as projects such as Money and Politics11and Bahia Blanca Public Expenditure,12but there was little sense of a regional open data community. Technically advanced stakeholders from the region were instead plugged into global online networks, engaging in global open data events and activities.

These global events, organised in Europe and the United States (including Open Knowledge’s OKCon13and OKFest,14Sunlight Foundation’s Transparency Camp,15and the World Bank’s hosting of the International Open Data Conference (IODC)16 managed to gather a considerable number of activists, academics, and public officials with some representation from Latin America in the mix. Although an incipient community was brewing during these early exchanges, it became increasingly evident that there was a need to organise local and regional events where there was not only a shared interest in open data but where participants also shared a language and cultural context. Cultural context remains a key component when considering the barriers that limit collaboration on open data initiatives.

By 2012, against an international backdrop of open data networking, and drawing on the regional experience of “Desarrollando America Latina” events,17the local work done by policy entrepreneurs inside and outside government agencies in Montevideo and Buenos Aires,18and the launch of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) which held its first summit in Brasilia in 2012, a regional open data agenda was starting to develop and finding traction in government and civil society.

The first AbreLatam was organised by Data Uruguay19in collaboration with Ciudadano Inteligente20in Montevideo in 2013.21AbreLatam was designed with an informal and participatory approach and intended to bring together many of those who were working on open data in the region but who had not yet met or interacted. With hindsight, it is clear that AbreLatam was one of the main staging points on the journey to establish a Latin American open data community. AbreLatam was organised as an “unconference”,22but alongside this informal and participatory meeting, another more formal event was held that brought together mainly governmental actors and representatives of intergovernmental organisations, albeit with some actors from global civil society. This was the Regional Conference on Open Data of Latin America and the Caribbean, later known as Condatos, which stemmed from a conversation among representatives from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the World Bank, and Government of Uruguay.23

The AbreLatam-Condatos model of twin events, each respecting the culture of their respective professional communities but providing a space for cross-over, has been a catalyst for the construction of a community with interaction and trust among all of the key actors which has arguably not been seen in other regions. Over the different editions of the conference, a range of partners have been involved, including Data Uruguay, Ciudadano Inteligente in Chile, SocialTic in Mexico, Somos Mas in Colombia, Wingu, Conocimiento Abierto y Democracia en red in Argentina, and Abriendo Datos in Costa Rica. The bonds of trust created through these events were not only between actors of the same sector but also across sectors with different groups learning to work together. Moreover, many of those actors working in the open data field, who are currently public officials, have been members of civil society organisations (CSOs) in the past and vice versa. This fluidity of roles has been a great help in maintaining momentum and ensuring the continuity of many open data policies.24

From 2013 onward these actors worked to create channels of communication that allowed for more ongoing interaction. At first, messaging channels created for events were routinely deactivated after the end of the event (Telegram, WhatsApp, Slack). However, after the third edition of AbreLatam in Chile in 2015, the messaging channels remained active even after the end of each event. Although informal, and without any explicit governance structure, these channels remain active through the collaboration of participating members, which, as of March 2018, exceeded 300 in number.

In spite of all the progress and the unique strength of a Latin American open data community, there are a number of areas for improvement. A session focused on a regional “collaborative agenda” held during the fifth AbreLatam-Condatos in Costa Rica identified particular challenges related to private sector inclusion and a regional strategy.25

In terms of inclusion, networks between civil society and government are strong, although there has, to date, been less inclusion of private sector actors from the larger corporations and from small and medium businesses.26Although there is a recognition that private sector companies using open data need to be included in regional discussions and activities, substantial efforts to make this happen have not yet materialised. There are several businesses working with open data and civic technology in the region, but only a small number work with civil society and governmental actors in the open data community, with firms such as Properati,27Junar,28and Dymaxion Labs29acting as the exception rather than the rule.

Improving regional collaboration at the project, as well as the policy level, is a topic repeatedly discussed at Latin American events. Participants have explored whether the region could develop cross-country open data initiatives that address specific topics and bring together more actors from civil society and government to carry out local projects within an overarching strategy and/or guiding framework. Common areas of work cannot be imposed but must be developed through dialogue and agreement. At AbreLatam-Condatos in Costa Rica (2017), issues related to gender violence emerged as the potential focus for shared actions across the region in 2018. As yet, however, there are no transnational governance structures or strategies to coordinate agreed upon actions toward the creation and use of shared open datasets or data infrastructures on gender violence, and there remains significant work to be done to secure progress on commitments to thematic regional collaboration.

In addition, an observation of the actors who have been engaged in the regional open data field over the last five years points to a further area for development: regional and linguistic inclusion. At present, the Latin American open data community is largely focused on Spanish-speaking countries and actors. Although there are many successful Brazilian open data projects and actors, as Spanish is the dominant language at Latin American open data events, Portuguese-speaking actors are not as involved as they should be. A similar issue exists in the relationship between Latin American and Caribbean actors. Despite being geographically linked, there are historical, cultural, and language-related differences that currently prevent these actors from being as integrated as funders might assume based on conventional regional groupings. Language barriers also have an impact on knowledge sharing in the region. Although there is a vibrant Spanish-speaking community, comparatively little research is published in Spanish, as Latin American researchers choose to write in English to secure greater exposure for their work.

Open data and startups

The region has seen a number of startups emerge, exploring a range of business models. One example, Properati, was founded in 2012 as a startup focusing on online real estate operations in Argentina.30However, unlike the traditional business model, where real estate companies pay to place ads on a site, their business model is based on the sale of leads (interested contacts). That is, Properati charges the real estate or construction company whenever a user contacts it via the platform. To increase the chance of such leads ending in effective business relationships, Properati uses open data and provides tools that give additional information to future buyers, tenants, or investors in relation to the properties on the site.

Properati has also proven to be a development ground for new open data entrepreneurs. In 2017, a couple of former Properati staff members created Dymaxion Labs in Buenos Aires.31Dymaxion uses satellite images and open data with the goal of extracting knowledge and providing evidence to inform public policy. Since its creation, Dymaxion Labs has developed AP Latam, a monitoring platform for informal settlements32with the support of Mapbox and TECHO, as well as “The Flood Monitor” used to observe and monitor the progress of floods in real time33and ‘Detection of Changes’,34an application used to identify possible land-use modifications.

Policy

In addition to strong civil society leadership and an emphasis in public discourse on open data projects related to accountability and public service delivery,35governments in Latin America have progressively developed policies and policy environments to support open data.

In 2017, the ODB revealed that most Latin American countries had either increased or maintained their scores from the past year, contrasting with declining performance in some other regions. Regional leaders, including Mexico, Uruguay, Colombia, and Brazil, saw their ODB-ranked performance increase and extended their edge over the rest of the region with Mexico and Uruguay becoming established as challengers to traditional global leaders. Yet, a number of newer players have also seen significant improvements in their policy and practice in recent years, with Argentina and Paraguay rising 14 and nine places in the ODB rankings respectively.36

Two exceptions to the upward trend emerged in 2017. Ecuador and Costa Rica saw dramatic declines in their ODB rankings. This can be mostly attributed to a lack of sustained political support for their initial open data commitments.37However, the situation in Costa Rica has started to be rectified through the process of developing and adopting an open data decree. The Organisation of American States (OAS) through its Department for Effective Public Management has deployed a participatory methodology to contribute to the development of open data policies. In partnership with OAS, the Latin American Open Data Initiative (Iniciativa Latinoamericana de Datos Abiertos – ILDA) has delivered a tailored programme of support to the Government of Costa Rica to set up an open data policy, leading to a decree signed in May 2017.38This decree provides the policy leadership to support open data implementation, and ILDA was subsequently invited to design and implement a training course for 150 public officials. This online training, developed with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), not only explains the basic concepts behind open data to officials but also helps them to realise the potential of the data in their own organisations.39

In the decade ahead, the regional focus will need to continue to shift from policy-making to policy execution as government officials stress the need for material and human resources and training, in addition to political support and frameworks, as the necessary elements to the successful implementation of open data commitments and policies.40

Data focus: Social and political development

Corruption scandals4142and gender-based violence incidents43are high on the public agenda in Latin America. As a result, some of the main lines of work exploring the use of open data to address social, political, and economic development problems have focused on gender equity and public procurement.

Gender-based violence: The urgent need to address issues related to violence against women, and its worst expression in the form of femicides, has seen important progress in recent years via both regional and global discussions. The open data community is engaging with these issues by raising questions about the availability and use of data to track the problem, and work is being done to map gender-based violence in a number of countries,44as well as to develop data standards that can better join up information to support informed advocacy for policy reform.45This project-based work on data and tools is receiving policy support from the OGP with its launch of the Feminist Open Government initiative,46which provides an important opportunity to bring the data dimensions of an often sidelined issue into the spotlight.

Procurement transparency: After the launch of the OGP and the creation of the Open Contracting Data Standard, Latin America was quickly established as an early-adopter region with a number of governments seeking to open up data on government contracting, and CSOs exploring connections between procurement and other areas of transparency.47Projects in Mexico, Paraguay, and Colombia have demonstrated the potential of open data to address corruption and inefficiency in procurement.48In 2017, ILDA was selected as a regional hub to provide support to open contracting implementers within Latin America.49

Data use and users

The creation of public value from open data is only fully possible through data reuse. The idea that intermediaries in civil society and the private sector, educators, and public officials can work with data to secure social impacts has been key in the design of open data policies in the region and in sector-specific data-use projects looking at issues, such as cities,50local budgets,51parliaments,52health,53education,54and public procurement.55

With regard to data use, journalists have played a particularly active role acting as intermediaries. Groups, such as LNData56(data section for the newspaper La Nación), Chequeado,57a fact-finding organisation in Argentina, Ojo Publico58in Peru, and La Nación 59in Costa Rica, are examples of journalists becoming key actors analysing data and making it accessible for a larger audience. Beyond journalism, there are numerous CSOs working with open data, as well as advancing data literacy within civil society through initiatives such as the regional adaptation of School of Data, Escuela de Datos.60It is also important to add that, in many cases, the data used by these organisations is not only generated by the public sector but also draws on complementary datasets created by citizens to add to and/or correct official data. One example of this can be found in the inclusion of informal settlements of the City of Buenos Aires in the official cartography that incorporates work carried out by a consortium of CSOs to map missing areas.61

Within the universe of non-governmental open data users, there are notable differences in terms of their perspective vis-à-vis government. Both journalists and transparency-focused organisations have adopted a “watchdog” position. By contrast, other organisations with a greater emphasis on technology rather than transparency often develop a more collaborative approach.62Nevertheless, data users are able to draw on a reasonable stock of accountability-related datasets. As the ODB’s most recent regional report noted, “Influenced by its long held ‘right to information’ tradition, Latin America generally performs relatively well in opening up datasets that are key for holding governments to account. In fact, more of this type of data is available in the region than anywhere outside of Western Europe and North America.”63

Governments have also been direct users of their own data or have established partnerships with academia or civil society to develop data-driven platforms and services, such as “To your Service”64or “For my Neighbourhood”65in Uruguay. As governments become more sophisticated in using their own data, they are also developing new services, such as the “Commercial Opportunities Map” in the City of Buenos Aires,66or small campaigns that make creative use of open data to raise awareness of open data policies, such as the “Popular Names in Argentina”.67This represents a break with the idea that all governments need to do is release data and leave it to others to build something with it.

Both governments and civil society actors seeking to engage with open data in the region are reasonably well supported by funders. Organisations, such as IADB, OAS, IDRC, Omidyar Network, ECLAC, Hivos, and Avina Foundation, support open data projects in the region, and initiatives, such as Altec, allow organisations to test their ideas and to understand how to make their projects sustainable in the medium and long term. However, as welcome as external funding for open data innovation is, and in spite of some of the examples given above, direct government support for open data use remains limited.

Knowledge

As we look to the future, one of the largest challenges for open data practice in Latin America relates to the lack of systematisation when it comes to knowledge generated on open data and civic technology in the last decade. In spite of community networking, numerous investigations, and all the projects that have been developed and implemented in the region, it has been difficult to gain a clear picture of regional practice or to make sure learning is shared. ILDA has recently launched RIGA,68a research archive with the aim of contributing to knowledge-management efforts at the academic level, although there is still much work to do in this area. Developing a map of the open data and civic technology initiatives in the region remains important to being able to learn from existing practice and to inform future work.69

The Caribbean

The Caribbean could justifiably lay claim to being one of the most culturally and politically diverse regions in the world. Blessed with deep, large natural harbours and short channels to open seas, the Caribbean has had a long history of cultural and commercial “openness” situated in a geographically advantageous location astride the major East–West shipping lanes. From Cuba and the Bahamas in the north to Trinidad and Tobago and the Dutch Antilles in the south, various colonial powers from the Spanish and the British to the Dutch and the French have had their way with this archipelago of islands, leading to a multiplicity of social and cultural influences of adaptation and assimilation – European, African, Asian, and North American – leaving an eclectic legacy of influences in political, social, cultural, and administrative institutions.

Public sector organisations of the Caribbean, generally speaking, perhaps due to the perceived power of information, often consider data produced using public resources as the private property of the agency which produced it, and cultural and institutional habits often limit the active sharing and use of data and other forms of evidence for policy- and decision-making. Aside from these inherited tendencies, there are also structural/institutional barriers that arise from the limited scalability and resources of the public administrations of small island developing states (SIDS) that inhibit effective data sharing and use.

Absent the impetus of active civil society and media advocacy demanding open data, Caribbean governments have been slow to embrace the more formal open government and open data movements. As a result, the open data landscape has evolved unevenly and depended considerably on the stimulus of external funding resources and institutional actors. IDRC, the Open Data for Development (OD4D) network, the World Bank, and the United Kingdom’s (UK) Department of International Development (DFID) have all been major contributors in this regard.

Nevertheless, there is an interesting and distinctive Caribbean open data narrative that spans the last ten years.

A brief history: High demand and slow supply

Very soon after the beginning of the global open data movement, IDRC convened a meeting in Kingston, Jamaica in June 2010, titled “Towards a Caribbean Open Institute: Data, Communications and Impact”. The meeting brought together 40 high-level public policy specialists from across the region along with international experts, and out of the conversations that took place, emerged the Caribbean Open Institute (COI),70conceived as a forum and a catalyst for research, advocacy, and mobilisation of key stakeholders around a regional open data agenda.71This dialogue also laid the groundwork for staging the first open data hackathon in Jamaica in 2012, which experimented with the creation of the first agriculture open data portal in the Caribbean.

This fledgling event in 2012 was significant in several respects. Labelled at the time as the Slashroots Open Data Conference, it was the genesis for the DevCA (Developing the Caribbean) open data conference and codesprint. With its unique multi-country model, DevCA has become the signature forum for convening open data actors, stakeholders, and experimental innovations within the region over the subsequent years. It also provided the basis for engagement and ongoing partnerships between open data actors and the Rural Agriculture Development Authority (RADA), the government agency responsible for extension services to farmers in Jamaica. This focus on agriculture has been especially significant given the enormous social and economic influence of the agriculture sector in the region.72

Developing the Caribbean (DevCA)

The first edition of Developing the Caribbean (DevCA) in 2012 was modelled on the Developing Latin America (Desarrollando América Latina) event as a multi-country open data conference and hackathon. DevCA has become an important pillar of regional open data advocacy, engagement, and outreach. Over the course of its multiple editions, DevCA has taken place in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Guyana, Barbados, and St. Kitts.73

While many similar events have succumbed to “hackathon fatigue”, DevCA continues to be relevant to the Caribbean open data discourse. Its uniquely configured conference and codesprint combination has allowed it to evolve as a significant regional innovation and engagement platform. For instance, the DevCA2016 event in the Dominican Republic focused on the country’s national, provincial, and municipal election monitoring in partnership with the non-governmental organisation, “Participación Cuidadana”,74while the event in Jamaica tackled the Zika Virus Challenge in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and their regional and international development partners, including the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).

Initially, the Slashroots moniker was adopted as an informal label by a community of tech enthusiasts, but it eventually morphed into the SlashRoots Foundation,75now one of the key civic technology actors in the region responsible for a range of regional discussions and open data projects particularly focused on agricultural development and on models for managing privacy and consent issues around open data. Another key initiative in the early phase of Caribbean open data was the mFisheries project, conceptualised by the Caribbean ICT Research Programme (CIRP) based at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, in Trinidad and Tobago.76The project used open data as a platform for delivering mobile-enabled services to fisher folk in Trinidad and Tobago and was an early demonstration of demand-side engagement and action research, setting a pattern that has perhaps become a defining characteristic of the COI’s model.

From its early beginnings, the COI moved from a concept to a virtual coalition of a core of regional founding partners77and has emerged as a consistent actor in crafting the Caribbean open data narrative. In 2013, the COI became an official member of the OD4D network78as the regional hub for the Caribbean. Over the period 2014–2017, through the project “Harnessing Open Data to Achieve Development Results in Latin America”,79funded by the OD4D network, the COI mobilised a portfolio of demand-side research initiatives designed to investigate, articulate, and test value impact opportunities for open data in the key sectors of agriculture,80tourism,81national statistics,82and marine protected areas in the Caribbean.83These studies have provided important insights and empirical support for the potential demand, use, and value opportunities for open data for development in the Caribbean.

Agricultural Digital Services in Jamaica

An Agriculture Digital Services pilot in 2016 explored the potential of emergent best practices in government digital services to address challenges related to data accessibility, quality, and data gaps in agriculture. This initiative employed a co-production partnership model between a government agency (RADA) and technologists (Slashroots) and demonstrated a novel approach to providing key public infrastructure and enhancing information sharing in the agriculture value chain.84

In parallel with these primarily demand-side research-oriented activities of the COI, the World Bank, in a funding alliance with UK’s DFID, also mobilised several country-level open data initiatives in the Caribbean with the primary focus on engaging central government actors to conduct open data readiness assessment (ODRA) studies, and in some cases, to facilitate open data policy formulation and open data portal implementations. Over the period 2014–2017, this endeavour saw ODRA studies conducted in Antigua, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, Jamaica, and Haiti.85In some cases (e.g. Jamaica), this initiative brought a valuable supply-side orientation and attention to policy-making that complemented the work being undertaken through the COI’s and OD4D’s networks. More typically, however, these supply-side initiatives sparked interest for the duration of the engagement but failed to generate any sustainable momentum in national open data programmes. In a number of instances, changes in political administrations arising from national elections have considerably slowed momentum with the turnover of individual personalities and priorities.

As of early 2019 at the time of this retrospective, open data in the Caribbean is still seeking to establish a scalable and sustainable platform. There is unquestionably a solid foundation to build on, grounded in a robust demand-side community, strong levels of open data awareness, technical capacity to apply open data, and a portfolio of research and pilot initiatives that have demonstrated social and economic value opportunities for open data in the Caribbean. The region also has active representation and participation in the global open data community through the COI and regular networking opportunities through DevCA, a recognised regional platform for convening stakeholders and communities around thematic open data innovation. As the most recent ODB report for the Caribbean reflects, “There is pent up demand from businesses and entrepreneurs to take advantage of the economic opportunities offered by open data”, but “[g]overnments in the region have yet to commit to developing the initiatives and policies needed to support demand-side opportunities”.86

Unlocking potential: Future challenges

One study looking at the social and economic opportunities for open data in the Caribbean estimates a potential impact of 1–2% of GDP for key sectors, such as agriculture, tourism, and education.87For the majority of the countries of the Caribbean, small island developing states with limited economic resource endowments and persistent growth challenges, this represents a significant value opportunity, yet unlocking this potential requires a number of challenges to be addressed.

Political commitment

The persistent apathy of political leadership in the Caribbean toward the open data/open government agenda continues to be disappointing. Notwithstanding strong advocacy efforts on multiple fronts, most countries, especially in the Anglophone Caribbean, have realised little to modest gains in terms of focus on open data from a policy perspective. Recent changes in the political administration in countries, including Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and St. Lucia, have had the effect of slowing momentum as relationships and advocacy cultivated with various government leaders have to be continually re-built. Even in cases where countries have been signatories to OGP commitments, progress on the formulation and execution of National Action Plans has been pedantic at best. The enactment and institutionalisation of national open data policies is particularly important in signalling to both public and private sector actors the extent of the commitment of the political leadership to the open data agenda, and without more action on this front, progress may remain limited.

Key actors and intermediaries

Even in cases where there is active intent, many Caribbean governments and public sector agencies typically fall short of having the internal capacity, technical expertise, and resources needed to initiate and undertake open data initiatives. In a region where SIDS struggle to cope with the lingering effects of the economic recession and fiscal policy dictates, open data must contend with a range of other socioeconomic policy demands for scarce resources and political attention. Intermediaries, with the support of multilateral funding, will continue to play a critical role as enablers of emerging open data initiatives in the Caribbean. Providing innovation fellowships, such as in the case of the Agriculture Digital Services, partnership brokering, such as in the case of Community Tourism in Jamaica, and Election Monitoring, such as in the Dominican Republic, demonstrate different models of intermediation that have catalysed valuable open data initiatives (see boxes on Agriculture Digital Services and Crowdsourced open data for community tourism).

Crowdsourced open data for community tourism in Kingston

In late 2015, an open geodata and Interactive Community Mapping (ICM) initiative was initiated in an inner-city community in Kingston, Jamaica, to explore how crowdsourced open data could contribute to advancing community tourism activities and provide a platform for developing new tourism products and services. The initiative brokered a partnership model with community organisations, government agencies, local businesses, and academia all involved in the creation of an open geodata ecosystem and seeking to encourage tourists to access a wider range of locally provided services outside of all-inclusive package tourism.88

Capacity building

The Caribbean region has been generally regarded as “data poor”, not just because of limited access to high quality, locally relevant data, but also due to cultural and institutional habits and capacity limitations (both in the public and private sectors) that restrict the use of data and other forms of evidence for policy- and decision-making.89Building sustainable open data infrastructures and enabling the effective use of open data in the Caribbean requires actors from all sectors (public, private, media, CSOs) to invest in individual and community capacity across the whole open data value-chain. The Caribbean School of Data (CSOD),90hosted by the COI, is seeking to provide a comprehensive and sustainable data literacy programme that will help to develop greater awareness, attitudes, competencies, and capacity to build a stronger data culture across the Caribbean. This will be a critical and essential component of future open data initiatives. The current “Ayitic Goes Global” data literacy pilot initiative in Haiti is an important learning opportunity in this regard (see box, Ayitic Goes Global).

Ayitic Goes Global – Building digital literacy

Digital literacy is a critical prerequisite for sustainable digital development. “Ayitic Goes Global: Empowering Women through Digital Markets”91is a research initiative that seeks to increase women’s access to online employment in Haiti by building digital and data capacities in the field of information technology. However, the typical assumptions about the availability of digital infrastructure and the evolution of social and cultural habits toward normative online behaviours in the digital economy are rigorously challenged in the Haiti context. This initiative has explored new pedagogical approaches for online digital education in resource-constrained environments.92

Regional agenda, global connections

There is growing evidence to demonstrate the potential of open data in key Caribbean sectors, such as agriculture and tourism. This creates the imperative to find strategies and business models that can scale by applying regional approaches to these common priority sectors. The implementation of shareable platforms that go beyond publishing open data and application programming interfaces (APIs) to leverage, where appropriate, international standards, such as the GODAN Agriculture Open Up Guide (see Chapter 2: Agriculture), to create strong value propositions and reduced transaction costs for data custodians and data consumers across the Caribbean will be an important enabler. To secure a stronger future for open data, Caribbean governments, together with key regional actors and stakeholders, should look to the experience of other regions and contemplate the formulation of a Caribbean Data Consensus to align efforts toward a regional data commons. A continuation of current fragmented approaches to the data for development agenda in the region will limit its effectiveness and sustainability.

Conclusion

This examination of the open data landscape in Latin America and the Caribbean demonstrates several points of convergence, as well as areas where collaboration could be fostered, including on data use, capacity building, and improving political leadership.

In the first place, both regions recognise the importance of moving from a generic approach to a sectoral focus. However, the sectors of focus vary. Where research in Latin America has unearthed significant opportunities in areas, such as health, procurement, and energy, Caribbean research has prioritised agriculture and tourism. A sectoral focus can also aid work to engage non-traditional actors and those not previously involved in the open data agenda, particularly the Latin American private sector. This may provide the opportunity to multiply the number of uses and benefits of open data that is currently available.

Second, there is still a pressing need to build the capacity of governments and society at large to engage with an open data agenda. In the case of Latin America, there is a strong organised civil society which demands, and uses, data in many of the countries. They are a powerful force in advancing the agenda, and they should continue to be part of the development of policies and other governmental activities. But making demands of government without supporting government capacity is fraught with difficulty. Training for officials and for users of data is a vital component when implementing open data policy. Public officials need to be aware of key data concepts, as well as their duties in relation to opening data. In the Caribbean, capacity-building efforts to date have focused broadly on digital competencies and data literacy through initiatives such as the Caribbean School of Data. At the political leadership level, where open data policies have not advanced at the same pace as in Latin America, there is scope for the application of initiatives to better network and support leaders, potentially drawing on the model of the OD4D-backed Open Data Leaders Network.93The opportunity for networking between Latin American and Caribbean leaders should also be considered. For example, the experience of building consensus to secure open data policy in Costa Rica could contribute learning to policy development processes in Caribbean countries.

Finally, while acknowledging language barriers and other socio-cultural differences, there is much value to be secured by creating stronger linkages between actors in both subregions. Despite sustained dialogue through the OD4D network, there is still a considerable gap to be bridged. Actors engaged in similar work, in spite of language barriers, should be encouraged to share their expertise and to consider joint initiatives. Events, such as AbreLatam, Condatos, DevCA, and IODC, and others, should provide the opportunities to enhance these linkages moving forward.

Silvana Fumega

Latin America Initiative for Open Data (ILDA)

Silvana Fumega is Research and Policy Director of the Latin America Initiative for Open Data (ILDA).

Maurice McNaughton

Mona School of Business & Management, University of the West Indies

Maurice McNaughton is a founding member of the Caribbean Open Institute and is a Director at the Mona School of Business & Management, University of the West Indies.

Further Reading
References