The Government and businesses are being asked to consider an open data policy used in Colombia which has seen it rise far above New Zealand in an OECD transparency index.

The Open Useful Re-usable data (OURdata) Index assesses and benchmarks open government data policies and their implementation. Colombia is ranked third and New Zealand – 13.

Carlos Rozo, the former digital government director in the Ministry for Communications and Information Technologies in Colombia, oversaw the development, which opened up all government contract and procurement information, detailed expenditure and business financials.

“Literally every day, every contract that is signed in the national government is being uploaded and it’s available. So, if I signed the contract yesterday, today I will be able to see it… a few years ago that was just unthinkable.”

He said it had tackled the country’s corruption reputation head on as well as helped businesses make better decisions.

“Getting data is a very costly effort that most small businesses won’t be able to do on their own, but if the government helps… it will help them to do better business.”

He gave the example of an early childhood business benefiting from open data.

“Whoever comes up with that idea will want to know where young parents are, where is the best place for them and it’s usually a trial and error situation. Trial and error for a small business can be very costly.

“Being located three blocks away from where you should have been could be the difference between running a successful business or not.”

He said a solution to extended payment terms in Colombia was devised by an entrepreneur once a small business’ financial statements became public information.

“Payments are made 120, even 150 days after the goods have been delivered and for a small family business it’s very difficult… they are pretty much at the mercy of a large company.

“There’s a start-up now in Colombia that finances those companies straight away, they crowd-fund the investors so if you have $1000 you can put it there and they will give you a return.

“It’s a very clear example of using the data to take advantage of a business opportunity… and it keeps the economy oiled.”

Rozo said opening the government tender process had also created stronger economic competition.

“Since there are so many rules and steps, the company that knows how to work in them is way more likely to win a bid. A company that has never done it might make mistakes in the middle and be left out.

“Seeing how it works has helped. It has also helped pinpoint some contracts that definitely have something behind them so it’s helping target those [corrupt] investigations.

“Large businesses usually don’t want that information to be disclosed, it’s against their interests, but it’s in the public’s interest.”

Rozo said he was surprised Colombia had more government and business data publicly available than New Zealand.

“The fact that someone says ‘I don’t want to share that information’ is not good enough and that’s where the government must step in and say – we want a more transparent business environment.

“You don’t miss what you don’t have, so if you don’t have data you don’t miss it but as soon as you have it, suddenly, there’s so many opportunities opening up… businesses are more efficient, people better understand how government works, transparency is the norm.”

Rozo spoke last week at the Stats NZ open data forum in Wellington.

This article was originally published on RNZ and re-published with permission.

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