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Researching Open Data in the Caribbean – In Search of Evidence

Data that is readily accessible, typically via the internet, and can be used and redistributed without restriction is an apt description of “Open Data”. There is now compelling evidence that, Open Data can facilitate greater efficiency and coordination and planning across numerous social and economic activities to generate a range of benefits at multiple levels.  This is potentially of significance to those social and economic agents likely to be data constrained for a variety of reasons; in particular small and mid-size enterprises and public sector entities.

More broadly, Open Data is a global phenomenon, and the numbers are staggering when one considers its potential economic value.  The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that approximately US$3 trillion of value potential exists across 7 sectors, while the Warsar Institute for Economic Studies projects a contribution of €205 billion annually to the European Union. These estimates suggest that huge economic benefits can be derived from a resource that is already in the hands of most governments across the developed and developing world. According to Nigel Shadbolt of the Open Data Institute “Making the best possible use of an existing and increasing resource is not just common sense, it is the closest we can get to generating economic winners without losers.”

So, if this seems like a social, political and economic no-brainer, why are the Governments of the Caribbean, small island developing states with limited economic resource endowments and persistent growth challenges, not enthusiastically embracing the open data agenda? The primary issue appears to be one of credibility and context-relevance. How does a Caribbean government make sense of the scale of numbers associated with the typical global open data estimates? Jamaica, one of the larger countries in the English speaking Caribbean, has an economy less than 1/200th the size of the McKinsey estimates. Tourism as a target sector is rarely mentioned in the global open data discourse, although it represents for most Caribbean countries the most important contributor to their economy, in some cases in excess of 50% GDP. As an example, estimates suggest that only 30% of the total food purchases in the Tourism sector in Jamaica come from domestic Agriculture, with the rest being imported. Effective use of Open Data about the demand and supply of agricultural produce could facilitate increased linkages and economic multiplier effects between Tourism and Agriculture. 

The Mona School of Business & Management (MSBM) is one of the founding members of the Caribbean Open Institute (COI)  a regional coalition of individuals and organizations that advocates open development approaches within the Caribbean, using open data as a catalyst. The activities of the COI are supported through grant funding by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) based in Canada. Under this research program, MSBM has conducted a portfolio of applied research and experimentation geared towards identifying the high value impact opportunities arising from Open data; and to inform Government policies & approaches that allow for targeted interventions and optimal allocation of resources to the most impactful open data initiatives.

Over the past 24 months, this research program has employed Action Research methodologies to analyze the data ecosystems in key Caribbean sectors, to uncover value opportunities and, formulate and tentatively validate theories of change about Open Data. An economic study done in collaboration with CaPRI estimated (conservatively) that Open Data initiatives in 3 key sectors – Agriculture, Tourism and Education - could add over J$15 billion in aggregate, annually to the domestic economy; approximately 1% contribution to GDP. For a country that has rarely seen better than 1.5 to 2% GDP growth in the last several decades, and negative growth in many instances, this is a significant impact.

The project has generated a significant portfolio of outputs including Technical Reports, Blogs, Conference and Journal publications, as well as technological artifacts that collectively provide valuable evidence-based support to the enormous value potential that open data represents to the region.  In an environment where small island developing economies struggle to cope with the lingering effects of the “great recession”, tight fiscal space, and limited economic policy discretion (due to the compliance strictures of IMF-dictated economic programmes), Open Data contends with a range of other socio-economic policy demands for scarce resources and political attention. In such circumstances, we believe this type of applied, context-relevant research can help stimulate debate, inform the policy agenda and spur Caribbean Governments to embrace Open Data initiatives with greater urgency and commitment. To review some of the research artifacts from this ongoing program of research, visit: http://caribbeanopeninstitute.org/coi-research

 

For more information about this body of research, contact:

Dr. Maurice McNaughton, maurice.mcnaughton@uwimona.edu.jm

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