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Muscat Daily - - NATION - Riyadh Ab­dul Aziz

UP­DATES ON THE GOV­ERN­MENT DATA PORTAL

Riyadh Ab­dul Aziz is a blog­ger in­ter­ested in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the web and so­ci­ety. You can email Riyadh at riyadh.aziz@apex­me­dia.co.om

The Na­tional Cen­tre for Sta­tis­tics and In­for­ma­tion (NCSI) has re­cently up­dated the official gov­ern­ment data portal mak­ing it a much more use­ful re­source for mem­bers of the pub­lic.

NCSI has been quite suc­cess­ful achiev­ing its in­sti­tu­tional ob­jec­tives in col­lect­ing in­for­ma­tion about all as­pects of life in Oman and dis­sem­i­nat­ing this in­for­ma­tion to the mem­bers of the pub­lic. The dig­i­tal li­brary sec­tion of the web­site of NCSI hosts a great num­ber of pe­ri­odic pub­li­ca­tions that are fre­quently up­dated and cover a va­ri­ety of top­ics from in­fla­tion, the cli­mate, and em­ploy­ment, to higher ed­u­ca­tion, di­vorce rates, and car ac­ci­dents. These re­ports are ex­tremely use­ful for pol­i­cy­mak­ers, busi­nesses, and re­searchers as they can help us un­der­stand life in Oman and pro­vides us with the knowl­edge nec­es­sary to make more in­formed de­ci­sions.

How­ever, one of the short­com­ings of the in­for­ma­tion dis­sem­i­nated by NCSI is that this in­for­ma­tion is usu­ally pre­sented in­side cum­ber­somely for­mat­ted PDF files, images, or even video files. This makes ac­cess­ing the in­for­ma­tion ex­tremely dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially by those who wish to copy the data and use it in spread­sheets or any sort of data ma­nip­u­la­tion tool.

NCSI has been aware of this lim­i­ta­tion and launched many years ago a ded­i­cated data portal (www.data.gov.om) that al­lows mem­bers of the pub­lic to browse the raw data that NCSI col­lects, vi­su­alise it us­ing a va­ri­ety of tools, and even down­load the raw data in Ex­cel or CSV for­mats. In the­ory, this portal can al­low any­body who needs Omani data to down­load it and use it as they please to cre­ate, for ex­am­ple, in­fo­graph­ics and ap­pli­ca­tion that use re­li­able Omani data from the official gov­ern­ment source.

How­ever, this portal had not been suc­cess­ful be­cause the data that was on it used to con­sis­tently be out of data. More­over, the web­site used to be ex­tremely slow and dif­fi­cult to use which made the process for find­ing in­for­ma­tion a night­mare. Un­like the pub­li­ca­tions found on

NCSI’s main web­site, the data found on NCSI data portal was years out of data and in­ac­ces­si­ble by most peo­ple.

For­tu­nately, NCSI has re­cently up­dated the official gov­ern­ment portal. The re­vamped web­site has a sim­pli­fied in­ter­face, pro­vides vis­ual cues to as­sist the user in tak­ing ad­van­tage of the vi­su­al­i­sa­tion tools, and of­fers a func­tion­ing sys­tem for dis­play­ing and down­load­ing the raw data. Most im­por­tantly, the web­site ap­pears to be up to date to an ac­cept­able de­gree. For ex­am­ple, the pop­u­la­tion sta­tis­tics are up to date to April 2017. This is a ma­jor im­prove­ment over the pre­vi­ous it­er­a­tion of the web­site and makes the official data portal a vi­able op­tion for those seek­ing Omani data.

Not­with­stand­ing the new up­dates, the data portal can still ben­e­fit from some additional im­prove­ment. For ex­am­ple, the data on the web­site is still poorly la­belled and pro­vides lit­tle ex­pla­na­tion as to what it means. While the indicators in the ‘ pop­u­la­tion’ sta­tis­tics cat­e­gory are gen­er­ally easy to un­der­stand, the same can­not be said about the indicators in the area of ‘so­cial se­cu­rity’ or even ‘tourism’. The portal has a ‘glos­sary’ sec­tion, but it is only avail­able in Ara­bic and pro­vides no easy mech­a­nism to look up in­di­vid­ual terms quickly. This dif­fi­culty in de­ci­pher­ing what the data means greatly de­creases its value.

The le­gal frame­work for us­ing the data also re­mains un­clear. The terms of use of the portal sim­ply state that the ‘data is open’ and that ‘no li­cence is re­quired to use/re-use it’, but does not ex­plain to the users if this in­cludes com­mer­cial use or if at­tri­bu­tion is re­quired. This prob­lem could be eas­ily solved by draft­ing a data li­cence or sim­ply adopt­ing an off the shelf open li­cence, such as a Cre­ative Com­mons li­cence.

With­out a doubt, the up­dates to NCSI’s data portal are a great im­prove­ment. Let’s hope that his­tory does not re­peat it­self and that NCSI con­tin­ues to reg­u­larly up­date the data on this valu­able in­for­ma­tion re­source.

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