Lack of transparency and corruption in the land sector are widespread problems in many countries. From murky and duplicitous land allocation practices to outright corrupt practices such as bribery of individuals, purging of land titles, or even the illegal large-scale sales of state land by public officials, progress towards achieving secure tenure and land rights for all remains seriously hampered. At the Land Portal Foundation, however, we believe that making the existing data and information ecosystem on land more democratic and inclusive by promoting open data principles and practices can tip the scale in favor of justice.
Earlier in December, I had the opportunity to present the Land Portal Foundation's perspectives on these issues at the LandHub event hosted by the GIZ, the German agency for international cooperation and development. My aim was to answer the question of how to break down data and information silos created by organizations and institutions jealously holding on to their information can build an information ecosystem that ushers in real and meaningful changes in the way people deal with information and data, and ultimately contribute to transparency and the elimination of corruption. I propose four ways that we can accomplish this with practices that lead to truly open data:
Structuring data according to international standards – The unfortunate reality is that data and information managed by government agencies and other organizations, especially in the Global South, is often scattered, fragmented, inaccessible, and poorly organized. By structuring data and information and publishing according to open and globally recognized standards and using well-curated and enriched metadata, this information will be more easily picked up by search engines and will substantially gain in visibility. Additionally, the information system will be much more sustainable and manageable over the long term.
Packaging and contextualizing existing data and information - By providing a narrative around data and information and visualizing it, rather than presenting the raw data that only researchers and scientists are likely to understand, this information can be made intuitive and understandable by a wide range of users.
Elevating the voices of those who often go unheard – By putting the data and information, and the voices of civil society on an equal level as governments and international organizations, we are leveling the playing field. Passing the microphone to key stakeholders through blogs, co-organizing online discussions and spearheading media partnerships with organizations to elevate and draw attention to local, less visible land related events is an effective tool for expediting change towards more just systems.
Adopting open data licences – By helping partners to improve their data publishing practices and adhere to international open data standards, their data and information becomes much more visible at the global level. Beyond this, by putting data and information in the public domain by adopting Creative Commons and other open licences increases the possibility of their data to be used by others. This applies to civil society as well as all levels of government. This will help transparency to increase dramatically.
How does all of this contribute to increasing transparency and reducing corruption?
Although realizing the full potential of open data will require developing capacities at all level to create, publish and use data, the benefit of this for more transparency could be enormous in the land sector. Having access to land information encourages citizen participation, fosters joint actions and provides transparency in land markets, while holding governments accountable and allowing for substantially improved monitoring of land governance globally. Moreover, many countries, such as the United Kingdom, have demonstrated that open data is an engine for both efficiency and growth. When properly analyzed and digested, open data helps us to make decisions, build services, applications, tools, and gain crucial insights that lead to better land governance and management.
Open data technologies enable the flow of information in the same way our roads, railways and energy networks allow us to move from place to place. We should start treating the flow of our data as importantly as we do our roadways and physical infrastructure. This new approach offers endless opportunities and will increase people’s access to data globally at a speed and at a scale that would otherwise not be possible. At the same time, as roads helps us reaching a precise destination, data should be open for a purpose. This entails, among other things, encouraging all actors to assess the potential for misuse and unintended consequences that opening up data can have for the most vulnerable groups.
By making available the full range of information needed to effectively monitor governments and private actors, we will be able to not only determine whether land corruption exists, but also prevent land corruption, share good and virtuous practices, while increasing understanding and awareness among the public regarding fraudulent conduct and the ramifications this has on land governance and tenure security. Giving the public access to this vital information will ensure a meaningful and informed multi-stakeholder dialogue on corruption, and greater transparency and accountability in the land sector will be possible. By building a strong an informed critical mass of people aimed at talking about corruption and getting organized to fight land corruption, we can realize the principles of fair, just, and responsible land governance.