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Creating a pioneering Open Data ecosystem in Russia

Alexander Ryabushko's picture
Two years have passed since the World Bank’s information and communications technologies (ICT) team conducted the world’s first Open Data Readiness Assessment in Russia’s Ulyanovsk region.  Shortly after this assessment was completed and an action plan produced, Ulyanovsk launched its Open Data portal, which was widely acknowledged both by Russia’s federal government and a range of international experts.  Following this successful pilot, the World Bank has conducted Open Data Readiness Assessments in Rwanda, Tanzania, Antigua and Barbuda, Burkina Faso, Peru and Ethiopia.

We are proud to have worked together on an Open Data Initiative whose experiences and lessons learned have informed ongoing work in so many other countries. Highlights of our project in Ulyanovsk include two main results:

First, the creation of an entire Open Data ecosystem, anchored by an Open Data portal: http://opendata.ulgov.ru. There are currently 263 data sets (available in CSV, XML, JSON, HTML, XLSX and XSD formats) for viewing and downloading. All data complies with Russian laws and international standards.

The project demonstrates a high level of engagement: citizens, journalists, experts and investors looked through the data files more than 313,944 times and downloaded them more than 64,156 times. The Open Data Portal has helped a variety of clients and stakeholders make more informative decisions in a shorter amount of time, therefore saving financial and other resources. Four mobile apps and a GIS portal, based on Open Data, together form the finished project.
 
Screenshot from the winning app, "Cultural 
places guide of Ulyanovsk"

Second of all, since the launch of the Open Data ecosystem, the Ulyanovsk region has maintained sustainable leadership in this field. The global IT community, media and citizens were all involved in the development of this initiative. A series of workshops and an international webinar were organized to share best practices and gather useful feedback. Local developers from Ulyanovsk won the national Open Data Hackathon with an app titled “Cultural places guide of Ulyanovsk."

The experience we’ve had during development of the Open Data Initiative has been recognized around the world, leading to economic development opportunities including the opening of a WeGo office in Ulyanovsk. Our accomplishments have also been applauded by leaders and experts from Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development, Russia’s Analytical Center and the World Bank.  

The Ulyanovsk government has obtained some very useful information while promoting the Open Data Initiative, which is worth sharing with the global community in order to help other countries get greater benefits from their Open Data projects.
  • There’s no need to spend large sums of money on an Open Data initiative. From the beginning, very limited funding and human resources were provided to the Ulyanovsk region project: in some cases, allocated funding was several times smaller than that of other regions. This mindset of “having to do more with less” helped to promote a number of thoughtful, strategic policy decisions, along with operational and technological innovations. It also increased awareness about international best practices on Open Government and Open Data among relevant stakeholders.
  • The list of data sets and their contents should be carefully specified before releasing, including definition and analysis of possible positive and negative consequences. Released Open Data should not cause any harm to society or stakeholders. To make this possible, an Open Data Readiness Assessment should be conducted well before the project starts. This will help to take into consideration useful guidelines and potential risks. Local officials have the responsibility to channel Open Data projects in a constructive way that benefits a wide variety of users.
  • Sustainability of the project is vital. This means that it is not enough to just launch a portal and wait for something to happen. An Open Data initiative is all about sustainable development; data sets should be refreshed in a timely manner, and collaboration with citizens, experts, the global community and other stakeholders should be constant. Therefore, the effectiveness of the project cannot be measured only by the amount of data sets and apps released. Effectiveness must also be assessed by the amount of views and downloads; in other words, how the government satisfied the demand side. Only under these conditions will the project be successful and beneficial for the government, business and the society.  
Our Open Data experience shows that, with the World Bank’s help and buy-in from developers, officials and the wider community, an initiative can come to fruition fairly fast and great results in the field of Open Data can be achieved. The Ulyanovsk Open Data Initiative has set the stage for effective sustainable development in the region. 

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