Open Data In Land Fellowship

Frank Pichel, Chief Programs Officer

Cadasta Foundation And Open Knowledge International Announce Open Data In Land Fellowship

Open data and transparency in land and resource rights is critical to our mission at Cadasta Foundation, where we are working to ensure that all property rights can be captured and recorded on a globally accessible and transparent platform. Unfortunately, in many countries, the vast majority of individuals are left out of the formal land sector entirely, and in most cases the land administration system remains opaque – trying to identify who has a right to what and where that right applies can be difficult, if not impossible through official channels.

The importance of open property rights data as a resource cannot be overstated however – for those emerging economies it is critical to the overall development agenda and key component in promoting investment, increasing food security and reducing conflict. In more developed economies, open government land information data has proven to be an incredible catalyst for property based services – a recent report (PDF) commissioned by the Omidyar Network noted that $1.4bn USD was invested in 2014 alone into property technology startups, most of which use open government data sets as a core component of their business model.

Unfortunately, there remains a lack of consensus on what “Open Property Rights Data” really means.  Does it refer to simply the cadastral boundaries?  Does it include property sales figures?  How about details regarding the person or organization that possesses the right to a property?  Even amongst those countries that are generally known to support open data, such as those in Europe, there is significant variation regarding how cadastral agencies interpret “open data”.

Given the role Cadasta is playing in advocating for the release of open land information data sets, it is crucial to better understand what property rights data government have released (or are considering releasing).  Thus, the inclusion of a “Land Ownership” for the first time within the recently released 2015 Global Open Data Index from Open Knowledge International was of particularly interest. The Index is not an official government representation of open data availability, but is instead an independent assessment from the citizen’s perspective – a crowdsourced alternative to official positions governments might have on open data.

In reviewing the draft data set however, we recognized that there is room for improving the “land ownership” indicator, which is no surprise given the difficulty in measuring “openness” of land data, and an issue in which there is no baseline agreement on the definition.  A further challenge is the question of how to assess open data on land information in federal systems wherein the degree of openness varies considerably at the subnational level.  Lastly, relying on crowd based submissions can be a challenge given the niche nature of land rights.  Based on this review of the Open Data Index, we at Cadasta Foundation have been working to identify how we might support an improved open data indicator for land.

We are proud to announce that Cadasta Foundation and Open Knowledge International will collaborate to sponsor an “Open Data in Land Rights” Fellowship in 2016.  This Fellowship (or potentially Fellowships) is intended to offer a current, or recently graduated, student the opportunity to work in collaboration with staff of the Cadasta Foundation and Open Knowledge International over four to six months in early 2016.  The Fellow will work to develop a more precise definition of open data in property rights, and then to collect, review and document national level information on open data practices at the national level.  The end result, will, we hope, lead to an improved Land Ownership component of the Open Data Index, and greater clarity regarding open data sets relating to land information.  If interested in learning more, please read the full description of the fellowship.