Arabic speaking members of the OpenCon Community had their first Arabic language webcast a couple of weeks ago to discuss the status of Open Data and Open Access in the Arab World. This was the first non-English OpenCon Community Call, and organizer Riyadh Al Balushi has provided a summary of the discussion.
Arabic speaking members of the OpenCon Community had their first Arabic language webcast a couple of weeks ago to discuss the status of Open Data and Open Access in the Arab World. This was the first non-English OpenCon Community Call, and as OpenCon is open to replicating this experiment with other languages, I thought it would be a good idea to share some of the things we discussed in this webcast in a blog post so that other members of the community have an idea of what is happening in our region.
The webcast I moderated featured a number of OpenCon alumni from different Arab countries as well as a couple of Arab Open Data experts. The panel consisted of Aisha Gharaibeh - Jordanian Alumni of OpenCon 2014 and medical intern doctor in King Abdullah University Hospital, Osman Aldirdiri - Sudanese Alumni of OpenCon 2014 and founder of Open Sudan, Mohamed Hegazy - Egyptian Alumni of OpenCon 2015 and co-founder of Transport for Cairo, Sadeek Hasna - lawyer from Syria and Open Data advocate, and Yousuf Al-Busaidi - lawyer from Oman and co-founder of Qanoon.om. The webcast was only a few days after the Open Data Day and took place during the Open Education Week. We decided to focus on Open Data in the Arab World, but also touched upon Open Access and Open education.
The first panelist to speak was Aisha who shared with us the difficulties that the Open Access movement in Jordan faces. We learnt from Aisha that academics in Jordan are under the same pressure facing academics in universities all around the world to publish in traditional high profile journals to improve their chances of getting promoted. Institutional repositories are also unheard of in Jordan, and even though many Jordanian universities have electronic system for managing their educational resources, such systems are not available to other universities or the public in general. On the bright side, there are a number of promising educational initiatives in Jordan, such as the Jordan Education Initiative - an initiative for providing schools with integrat educational systems and e-resources, and Edraak - an Arabic language MOOC portal. Even though such initiatives are not “Open” in technical sense, they signal the existence of efforts in Jordan to share knowledge and improve education using technology.
Osman spoke to us about Open Sudan, a student initiative that he founded to raise awareness of Open Data, Open Access, and Open Educational Resources in Sudan. Open Sudan has a number of projects that currently focus on medical Data and medical research. The first of these projects is a database for collecting research data from medical student research results. This database is already available to the public and is used in developing programs for combating diseases in Sudan. Another project by Open Sudan is a public database concerned more with educational materials that provides Open Access to the research output of medical students and academics across Sudan. The project currently focuses on research in medicine, but there are plans to eventually make it available for other disciplines outside medicine.
I recently worked with Sadeek on a report about Open Data in the Arab World and he gave us an overview of the status of government Open Data across the Arab World. Sadeek highlighted some of the recent good examples of Open Data in the Arab world such as the websites for the Emirati National Budget Data, the Qatar and Omani Legislation Data, the Egyptian Elections Data, and the Bahraini Company Data. Sadeek explained that these success stories are strangely not part of the official government Open Data projects in these countries, but are independent run by organisations not directly concerned with Open Data. On the other hand, official government Open Data portals in the Arab World appear to be not user friendly, and the data published on them is usually out of data. Sadeek also pointed out that this problem probably arises out of the lack of understanding of the principles of Open Data by government employees in these countries, and that the principle of technically openness and legal openness must be seriously considered for government Open Data in the Arab World to achieve its potential.
Hegazy shared with us his experience working on Transport for Cairo, a project that aims to create a map for all the means of public transportation in Cairo. Hegazy shared with how ‘scale’ is the biggest problem for achieving such a project, and how his team saw the ‘Open Data’ approach as a key element for the success of Transport for Cairo, especially because having the data open can help members of the public develop applications around Transport for Cairo, can provide researchers with analytical data, and provide entrepreneurs in Egypt with new business opportunities. Hegazy’s team has been working on this project for six months now and already have a database that covers the metro details such as the map and train timing using the GTFS open standard.
Yousuf told us about his experience as a co-founder of Qanoon.om, a website for making Omani legislation data available the public. The website is the only resource that publishes all primary Omani legislation text for free on the internet. Even though the Omani government attempts to make this data available to the public, it is lacking in several areas. Yousuf noted that what makes Qanoon.om possible is the fact that the government has a legal obligation to release this data periodically and that the data is exempt from copyright protection, hence the data can be provided on Qanoon.om easily and systematically. The website is already used by thousands of people in Oman such as lawyers, civil servants, researchers and members of the public.inset
It was great to learn about the developments of “Openness” in the Arab World and to learn about the different Open Data projects in the Arab World. Like the rest of the world, members of the public in the Arab World are data-hungry and are looking forward to see their governments put more effort in this regard.