The pilot edition of the Global Data Barometer boasts of remarkable regional partnerships that have made possible collaborations with researchers in over 100 countries. Internet Society Hong Kong (ISOC Hong Kong) is the GDB regional partner in Hong Kong with a keen interest in the land module results and how findings from across other countries can be used to address existing land challenges in Hong Kong.
ISOC Hong Kong is a chapter of Internet Society and their work is centered around ensuring that the internet is bigger and stronger. As part of the Internet Society, they work to increase access to the internet across the world and ensure that everyone’s story is shared and heard on the internet. Its newest project is the Hong Kong Open Data Index, launched in 2019. The team at ISOC Hong Kong shared that they have a vision to build resilient partnerships that would see them grow and have a greater impact.
Q: Can you tell me about your work at ISOC Hong Kong?
Hong Kong Open Data Index is our first open data project that started operating in 2019. Our approach is mostly looking into the international standards of open data, making reference to previous projects, including the Global Open Data Index and Open Data Barometer. We use these projects as guides for developing our own assessment standards for example, machine readability and availability of data under open license.
We completed research in early 2020 and we launched our first report in May 2020. While this was a learning experience, Hong Kong performed really bad in land and company ownership data.
With this in mind, the GDB gives us an opportunity to learn about these aspects in other countries and compare the state of open data in Hong Kong.
Q: Now that you have the Hong Kong Open Data Index, are you sharing your results with communities or you’re only targeting the government?
To promote open data, we definitely need to talk to the government. In Hong Kong, the department that takes care of open data policy is the Office of Government Chief Information Officer. After we launched the report, we engaged the government to further elaborate our recommendations. The next step was engaging civil society which is a major part of our work because civil society groups have been advocating for open data in Hong Kong earlier than the government.
Even when we were starting the Open Data Index we engaged civil society, those in the IT industry and other stakeholders dealing with land issues, housing, and environmental issues—because these are some of the problematic areas where data is not available but is needed. The land challenges emanate from Hong Kong being a small city and a number of organisations are talking about how there is a lack of transparency in how the government deals with the issues. To get as many people involved in the conversations we have also engaged the Liber Research Community as they are well versed in land rights issues and we organize seminars and publish articles about our research.
Q: Aside from land data, what other areas do you have an interest in?
The public transport sector in Hong Kong is another challenging area. There has been a lot of concern regarding public transport data, specifically real time arrival data. Public transport, particularly buses, are not controlled by the government in Hong Kong and there has been a lot of pressure directed towards private companies to release this data in the last two years. Due to the push from civil society, there has been progress, some companies started releasing data in 2019 though some are still being pressured to release this data.
Q: What is your vision for ISOC Hong Kong?
In our initial planning of the Hong Kong Open Data Index, we only planned for three years. The first year was dedicated to research and finding the major issues. Our plan is to get involved as much as possible in open data governance, the technicalities of open data and we want to be more involved in community engagement and linking with organisations already involved in open data to see how open data can contribute to solving land issues.
We are still a young organisation but if we manage to create resilient partnerships now, we can get involved in the main agenda with other organisations and we can be in a place to provide recommendations for the government when dealing with open data.
Q: Where do you think your work and the work of the GDB intersect?
One of our interests is data governance, which happens to be one of the pillars of the GDB. What we value about the GDB is that it is built on the historical experience of the Open Data Barometer. The upcoming assessments also allow us to learn from the international open data communities. This is also an opportunity to introduce our work to a larger global audience.
Q: What are some of the data-related challenges you have encountered in your work?
There are a lot of challenges, the main one is that we are quite new. There have been a number of organisations working on open data but it has not been consistent and we are carefully navigating in greater detail the open data history to map our path. We have accepted that this is still a learning curve and we can make mistakes but we will learn from them. We have learnt that capacity building is a core element of this journey and we aim to invest more time in that. However being able to work towards that is hard in a protest environment which has been happening since 2019. A protest environment makes it hard for civil society to engage the government. There is also a need to improve data literacy and we have noted that gap and we hope we will be able to work on that.