Data.gov.ph launches: Open data for good governance
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government on Thursday, January 16, launched data.gov.ph, a website that consolidates the data from different government agencies and makes it available in formats meant for easy downloading and use.
In a video explaining the Open Data Philippines initiative, the site aims to "institutionalize open, transparent, accountable, and participatory governance" by digitizing hard copies of agency data into computer-readable formats, namely .csv files, .txt documents, and Excel spreadsheets. These files are meant to be shareable, and certain portions of the site itself have widgets for sharing the site on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. (READ: New in gov't: Open data, cashless purchases)
The site has 7 main pages aside from the front page serving as hubs: About, Contact, News, Data, Infographics, Apps, and Community.
Users can also choose to create an account on the site to use some of the site's services, such as the Community hub, though a membership to the site is unneeded to access the data and infographics pages.
General information pages
The site provides a number of general information pages that people can check before looking through data.
The About page provides the basic background of the site, including its objectives and a list of institutions that have joined the initiative. The Badges for the task force members and partner institutions on the right of the page link to the websites of the partner institutions, making this an excellent bookmark for fast access to 19 different government agencies.
The News page provides the latest updates and announcements regarding the site, while the Contact page provides a form that people can fill out to send feedback to the site's developers.
The Community page acts as a hub for discussion. Aside from testimonials about the Open Data initiative, this also features news reports that come from the News section of the site, as well as posts from the data.gov.ph site forums. The forums themselves currently do not have any posts explaining conduct or its use, and currently only have test posts, though this may change as the site gains traction.
The site's Apps page currently looks to be a work-in-progress portion of the site. While it appears to have a listing of a number of different apps meant for Filipinos to download and use, individual pages for the apps themselves do not provide a download link to the applications and have placeholder screenshots for the app.
Some of the apps may actually be operational, such as a commuter information app Sakay.ph. The lack of information on how to get these apps, as well as ratings and possible tutorials on their use, will likely be filled up later.
The main draw of the site will come from the information in the Data and Infographics Pages.
The Data page is a searchable index of information from the various agencies, with the information readily downloadable by clicking on the upper right hand side of a given box. In the picture above, for example, users who want to download data from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) as of Oct 31, 2012 can just click on the download icon to pick up a CSV file of the data requested, then use software that reads the given data type to see the information presented.
Users can search for datasets using keywords, particular categories of data, the format of the information that can be downloaded, or the agency publishing the data you want to download.
For those who want their information in a more presentable format or who want to better understand government data, the Infographics page may be a big hit. This hub provides infographics – visual representations of information from government agencies – as well as easy-to-read, regularly updated dashboards – searchable data tables of agency information.
Among the available visualizations, the Infographics page has an interactive Budget Visualization infographic, allowing users to see national government expenditures by sector, regional expenditure allocations, and breakdowns of the budget from 2010 onwards.
There is also a Customs Dashboard available there, where users can search through customs information for how a given import ranked on a particular criterion. Users can choose a year and then fine-tune the results using different categories and a given month to search through.
The Data.gov.ph website still needs some work, but the information that will be placed there will be valuable for maintaining transparency and accountability.
Aside from the issue with the Apps page, one major improvement that should be taken into account by the developers would be the usability of the site and its information pages. The site needs tutorials or a Frequently Asked Questions page to address potential or common concerns regarding site use, such as how to properly use the dashboards and what free programs can be used to read particular file types like .csv files.
The community section, particularly its forums, may also be better served in the future by having a code of conduct and someone to enforce it. Should the site reach a critical mass and become popular, someone has to make sure the site forums remain helpful rather than empty or, worse yet, hostile.
That said, data.gov.ph will likely prove its worth in the months and years to come, provided more data reaches the site and people learn to use it properly. – Rappler.com