Four years ago, the concept of Open Data was introduced to the Sri Lankan government. The gov.lk website hosted 89 datasets from different departments. At the time we described it as, “While the gov.lk data is largely outdated, it’s a fledgling project headed in the right direction.” Today, the data is still woefully outdated and the project hasn’t gone anywhere.

What’s actually happened over the past four years?

The gov.lk website no longer hosts any datasets. Instead, they’ve all been moved to another website, which is www.data.gov.lk. Go through twitter and you’ll find tweets mostly praising this as an initiative that the government should continue. But data.gov.lk was launched in 2015

Open Data Initiative is outdated and dates back to 2012
Even in 2018 much of the data is still dated back to 2012

And since then hardly anything has changed. Many of the datasets on the website are still from 2012. In other words, the data is ancient now. Of course, there are a few exceptions. Yet for the most part, the only thing that’s changed is the design of the website.

But you’ll find that this redesign is also broken when you visit the forums. Click on any of the posts and you’ll find dummy text inside. All of this is disappointing but sadly not surprising.

Our governments have a poor digital track record

From the Google Loon fiasco to the National Payment Platform debacle. From the e-local government travesty to the controversial Facebook ban. Sri Lankan governments have never been known to have a successful digital track record. As such, the stagnation of the Open Data initiative isn’t surprising.

Meanwhile, other countries have continued to march forward with their Open Data initiatives. Back in 2016, we reported that India had made over 12,811 resources openly available. Today its Open Data portal boasts over 165,355 resources. And it’s also gone an extra step further with over 4000 API’s allowing developers to build products with this data.

From Google Loon and everything else we learned that the Sri Lankan government has a poor digital track record
Our governments have had a poor digital track record (Image credits: Google X)

When developers have access to open data from the government, more services become possible. But to quote Adnan Issadeen – Systems Engineer at Buffer, “Outdated data isn’t Open Data.” The failure of the Open Data initiatives adds another item to the list of digital disappointments from the Sri Lankan government.

But who is to blame for this failure?

It’s easy to blame the ICTA for the stagnation of the Open Data Initiative. After all, they’re the organization that’s in charge of building and maintaining the platform. Additionally, it was also the ICTA that hosted an event to commemorate the launch of this redesigned website. Yet, this is a project that involves the whole government.

The Open Data initiative is one that requires the participation of every Sri Lankan government department to succeed. To be precise, these departments need to digitize the many records they have and then share it. And they needed to do this out of their own free will. But this didn’t happen and the ICTA doesn’t have the mandate to force them to do so either.

Thus, one can only wonder, “will anyone ever do something about this?” With everyone in Parliament passing no-confidence motions against each other, we can confidently say that the answer is, “No” for the foreseeable future.

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