** This insight was written by TH Schee OK Taiwan ambassador **
Taiwan has surprisingly topped the Global Open Data Index 2015, and it’s not without questions as how this could be have been achieved without further examination. Even though Taiwan has been very active and recognised as one of the hotspot of open data, little is known on actual landscape outside the island. Take a look at tech president , Nieman Lab, and Science & Technology Law Institute of Taiwan for more context.
To give some background to the seemingly odd result, context is needed to better understand how the Index has shaped Taiwan’s overall effort and awareness of it since 2013, and possibly even more so in the long run.
According to the “Freedom of the Press 2015”, Taiwan is considered among the top in Asia Pacific, along with Japan, Australia and New Zealand. It’s extremely vigorous, diverse and free environment of press freedom has served a facilitating catalyst to any communities, not just limited to the journalistic world, but also the public and private sectors which are part of the broader “reuse” groups of public sector information to engage in a way that enthusiasts in neighboring countries and economies can only shy away for safety reasons. To put it in simple terms, you are literally free and able to enjoy more freedom to interpret data, check the integrity of it, report it, or even use it to hold your government accountable in litigation.
The country staggeringly claims the world’s highest penetration of Facebook users to overall population. This has also contributed to a fast, and to some degrees even vicious, cycle of feedback loops on public discourse of any datasets released from dozens of data portals. This has greatly enhanced visibility of the agenda carried on by the #GODI15 on the island.
From the government perspective, another major contributing factor has been the establishment of the formalised mechanism on public consultation, in forms of dedicated committees in all ministries. A total of 30+ were established in first half of 2015, and seat rotation on a 1~2 year nominal terms is enacted, with majority of members from the government plus selected few from civil society, academia and private sectors. This has served very well to raise awareness of Open Knowledge and the #GODI15 inside the government, and serious actions were taken to study the #GODI15 in detail as early as 2013. This proves to be somewhat controversial in the final outcome, but we are seeing how the Index has formally affected the perception and assessment of its own mandates and initiatives in Taiwan. The discourse around #GODI15 is public in meeting minutes that are available through taking a look at http://data.gov.tw.
The third contributing factor is slightly uncomfortable because the government has supported some very disputable mandates, including possible release of personal data in form of open format from the National Healthcare Insurance Program without prior agreement from insurants. It has dearly caused major concerns from several human right groups and the civil society are still waiting for court verdict because a class action has been filed against the government. The case raised a whole new spectrum of understanding on issues that open data initiatives might bring a forth among transparency groups and the congress, and has created a much broader community base around provocative but valuable issues that we generally find it challenging to foster from top-down, technology-driven initiatives.
The upcoming Presidential election is set to take place in less than 40 days from now and it’s widely agreed that the agenda on open data and policies would be carried out in the new government. The best thing so far has never been the ranking, but a true dialogue among local and even regional stakeholders. The #GODI15 has only served a fresh start for Taiwan, and without it, sincere and reasoned debates would not even surface.