Open data is often heralded as a game-changer for transparency and government accountability. Proponents of open data, which broadly refers to publicly available data that can be freely reused and redistributed, argue that open data allows citizens to hold governments accountable and thereby drive better service delivery. New research suggests that this may already be happening in a few countries in Africa.

Governments across the world are increasingly sharing data with the public. For instance, the government of India’s open data initiative, data.gov.in, regularly publishes data released by different government ministries. In a new World Bank study, Michael Jelenic suggests that this type of open government data could improve both government accountability and service delivery.

To show this, he analyzes data from 25 sub-Saharan African countries between 2013-16. Specifically, he explores the relationship between a country’s level of open government data, measured through the Open Data Barometer calculated by the World Wide Web Foundation, and measures of governance, calculated using the Mo Ibrahim Index of Governance, a composite index of various governance indicators.

He finds that countries with more open data have higher levels of accountability (which includes less corruption and greater transparency in government work). He stresses, though, that open government data is only associated with greater accountability when there is political agency for citizens to act on the data (e.g. free and fair elections).

Improved accountability could also affect service delivery. For instance, greater accountability through open data is associated with better public health services and outcomes. But this varies by sector: in education, Jelenic finds no such association. Since open data is a relatively new phenomenon, he suggests that more research is needed as open data expands to explore its effects on service delivery.

Also read: From Theory to Practice Open Government Data, Accountability, and Service Delivery

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