Benefits of Open Government Data Initiatives in Saudi Arabia and Barriers to Their Implementation

Benefits of Open Government Data Initiatives in Saudi Arabia and Barriers to Their Implementation

Ibrahim Mutambik, Anastasija Nikiforova, Abdullah Almuqrin, Yulong David Liu, Ahmad Yahya M. Floos, Taha Omar
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/JGIM.295975
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Open Government Data (OGD) initiatives can deliver many cultural and institutional benefits. This is why many governments are trying to establish an OGD ecosystem. However, although many countries have made good progress in doing so, some face significant challenges. In such cases, country-specific studies can prove valuable in understanding not only the current situation, but also in defining the obstacles to progress. As far as the authors of this paper can determine, this study is the first to examine the benefits of, and barriers to, implementation of the OGD initiative Saudi Arabia. The study conducts and analyses interviews with Saudi Arabian government officials in both leadership and technical positions, in order to obtain an informed view of the OGD initiative in Saudi. The study contributes to the existing knowledge base by identifying the main benefits of the Saudi Arabian Open Government Initiative and the barriers to its implementation.
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Today, many countries invest a large amount of effort and money in open government activities, particularly in open data. These data are typically made freely available through online gateways, called open data portals, which allow the collection of data from different fields such as traffic, weather and education in a uniform way, and allow their use without restrictions (Thorsby et al., 2017). The implementation of such OGD initiatives helps governments to achieve goals related to administrative efficiency, transparency, and citizen collaboration (De Blasio & Selva, 2016; Han et al., 2021; Nam, 2019; Vakeel & Panigrahi, 2018). This, according to Diamantini et al. (2021) and Yin et al. (2019), can also contribute to economic growth. Overall, OGD initiatives are characterised by political, social, economic, cultural and institutional benefits (Altayar, 2018).

However, although OGD initiatives have been initiated by many governments, studies have shown that more developed countries have generally been more proactive, while emerging economies have been slightly slower (Saxena & Janssen, 2017; Zuiderwijk et al., 2015). The reasons for this are probably due to differences in infrastructure development. Furthermore, of the countries that have implemented the initiative, several have been only partially successful, or have failed to achieve their goals (Brown, 2013). This, as some of the latest Arab studies show, is particularly true for Arab countries (Altayar, 2018).

This could be for a number of reasons. According to Clarke and Margetts (2014), for example, a robust OGD initiative should be effective and sustainable at both local, regional, and national levels (Gonzalez-Zapata & Heeks, 2015). Furthermore, an initiative will only succeed if the correct technical, legal, economic, and cultural regulatory standards are followed (Tsiavos et al., 2013). However, even if these conditions are met, implementation of an OGD initiative faces significant barriers, such as those associated with user practices, digital technology and public management practices – all exacerbated by political/administrative conflicts or the socio-demographic profile of the country concerned (Martin, 2014).

In order to fully realize the benefits of OGD, Saudi Arabia has recently increased significantly the number of OGD initiatives it has implemented. The intention is to enable government and private institutions to pursue a variety of related goals by providing complete transparency. To this end, the e-Government Program (Yesser) has developed the open data portal (Yesser, 2019). This has been developed to allow a variety of stakeholders to make more comprehensive and effective decisions, while also empowering communities (Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence, 2021). However, although various interested parties have set out the arguments in favour of OGD in recent years, the effectiveness of these initiatives in achieving the “commonly-cited” goals remains unclear. This lack of clarity is, at least partly, a result of the fact that, to date, the number of studies involving the Saudi Arabian OGD is very few. Furthermore, in those studies which do involve it, Saudi Arabia is not examined specifically, but as one of a group (typically GCC countries). Such studies therefore tend to be too general, and bring little of value to our understanding of the country-specific situation.

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