Open Land Data in the Fight against Corruption | Land Portal
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Reviving Documentation of Property Rights

Cadasta Foundation is dedicated to the support, continued development and growth of the Cadasta Platform – an innovative, open source suite of tools for the collection and management of ownership, occupancy, and spatial data that meets the unique challenges of this process in much of the world.

The global data revolution has undoubtedly reached the land sector. Land information is increasingly created, stored and shared as data.  

The land sector is regularly ranked among the sectors where people are most likely to pay bribes for access to services, according to Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer. Corrupt government action and the looting of state property are often considered a priority development challenge. Open Data has been put forward as a tool to increase transparency, support innovation and increase civic engagement. Open Data is data that can be freely used, shared and built-on by anyone, anywhere, for any purpose. The argument that open data, as a key public good, empowers citizens to gain more insight on government spendings and decisions and gives them the power to hold their governments accountable for those actions, is one of the main arguments used in support of Open Data. 

Still, land ownership data systematically ranks lowest on the Global Open Data Index or the Open Data Barometer: year after year, the land ownership dataset is marked least likely to be open. The Land Portal’s State of Land Information reports piloted in four East African countries corroborate these conclusions. The land ownership chapter in the 2019 State of Open Data report also concludes that, when it comes to land ownership data, “we are confronted by a transparency gap and a messy reality of patchy and overlapping recordkeeping and data systems”. 

The question we are faced with is: how can we leverage the Open Data revolution to ensure that data related to land ownership becomes open in ways that can be used to tackle land corruption? In this debate we explored the potential for a step-change in support of and advocacy for open data on land ownership and land governance.


While a taboo subject just a few years ago, today corruption is widely debated in both national and international forums. Efforts have been made to identify the underlying structural problems and reasons for lack of transparency in the land sector. Civil society and grassroots organisations are increasingly making efforts to hold their governments accountable. Donor agencies are exploring how they can share knowledge, lessons learned and data from development interventions to improve the results of their efforts. 

The question we are asking ourselves at the Land Portal is, “can open data become a tool to increase transparency and fight land corruption?”. Although the amount of data and information on land has grown exponentially over the past decade, increased data availability doesn’t necessarily mean increased data accessibility. How do we ensure that the availability of this data democratises the information ecosystem, rather than amplifying already existing power-differences? How do we ensure that the full potential of data can be realised and people are aware and educated on how to use land data to meet their goals, to protect communities, to defend their land rights?  

A strong case has now been made that open data should be part of the anti-corruption toolbox with the recognition that, given the highly sensitive nature of land data (particularly for vulnerable communities), not everything can or should be made entirely open.

There are many examples that show opportunities for land data to be used. Where data is open it can generate more research and support in investigative journalism efforts, for example. It can empower communities and inform advocacy efforts, government strategies and private sector investments. Despite this global availability of land data, ownership data is especially scattered as tracked by the Open Data Index and Open Data Barometer, which both report that land registry data continues to be the least available category of data. To help us dig into this particular type of data, we have invited the Cadasta Foundation as one of our esteemed partners to help us looking into the risks and opportunities of opening cadastral and ownership data.

Besides land administration data, what other data types and information can support research and advocacy in the land sector and increase transparency? How does responsible, effective and responsible data management influence the way data and information is published and accessed by people? Can data literacy play a role to support people’s capacity in dealing with data and use data in a responsible way? 

We are well aware that it takes more than Open Data to fight corruption. We are also well attuned to the fact that opening up information comes with its responsibilities. One unintended consequence is that those in power can take advantage of this information. What should the global community do to ensure that we open up information in ways, and at levels, which can at once empower and protect people? Opening up information can promote transparency, but much work remains to be done on empowering people’s participation.

We firmly believe that kicking off a debate around these issues can open the door and stimulate thought-provoking contributions that can enrich the debate around open data as a tool to increase transparency and accountability, and therefore reduce corruption.  

We welcome you to our online discussion on “Open Data as an Anti-Corruption Tool” taking place from today to 27th. We would like to thank our partners and colleagues at the Cadasta Foundation and GIZ for helping to spearhead this discussion. I am confident that our facilitators Tim, Amy and Lisette will get some thought-provoking and stimulating conversations going… let’s get started! 


Thanks for this excellent framing of our discussion, Laura!

Can open land and property rights records fight corruption? This is indeed a powerful question. The answer? On the surface, we want to declare an unequivocal, “yes!”  Yet a more nuanced and thoughtful response is our collective challenge over the course of this discussion hosted by Land Portal. So let’s begin. 

A few minutes ago, I typed in my search bar “who owns ...” and put my home address in Maryland. And there it was, my home’s listing, with home and land specifications, plot size, square footage, our names, when we bought it, for how much, the taxes paid on it, and who the neighbors are. This record comes from the county in which we live. How’s that for open records? Is there a downside? And perhaps more relevantly, Is my privacy being violated? Are my rights being protected by having this information made public? Do I feel more secure about not being evicted or having my land grabbed?

My answers to those questions are completely contextual. Where I live, this transparency doesn’t feel threatening. I believe my tenure to be secure. But if I were in Nairobi, Chang Mai, or Bogota, the answer might be quite different. 

At Cadasta Foundation, our mission is to provide technical tools and services to support documentation of land and resources rights in order to build more sustainable communities. We believe that documenting communities and households that are “invisible” and literally putting them on a map does in fact advance people’s rights. The visibility achieved by documented claims brings transparency and clarity. In theory, this can cut down on the ability to profit from opaque and confusing land systems, help people feel more secure about their tenure, and forge a path to more formal recognition.  

But many questions are also raised: what if there are competing claims to the land? What if more visibility in a conflict setting can lead to targeting of vulnerable people, coercion to sell, raising of rents, denying of inheritance rights, solicitation of bribes, or other corrupt practices? Does openness and clarity always mean reduced corruption? What if governments and land officials are complicit in corrupt practices? What if companies use these data to advance their own interests at the expense of the communities? What if the land data is NOT shared with the owners or communities, but rather, stays in the hands of intermediaries? What is government’s role in protecting these data and people’s rights?

These are some of the tough questions, among others, that frame our discussion. Cadasta is committed to empowering people through the collection, ownership, and management of their own data, using community-led mapping and accessible technologies. We share these aggregated data sets on our global platform--now with over 1.6 million people’s land documentation from 17 countries-- but without personal identifiers, unless our partners choose to share. Our partners decide who can upload, view, and edit their land records, and whether or not they will be made public. 

Cadasta’s answers to our opening questions include a core principle: people need some say over their data in places where protections are not in place. This empowers people in their own contexts to decide what open data means to them. In some cases, sharing these data can help people access titles, government services, or private services. In others, people are afraid to share and instead use their land data for their own planning and development objectives. In my case, my local government has decided to make my land information public. In Maryland, I am ok with that. But assuming that is okay in other places is not a good starting point.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts on these questions and how you, your organization or agency are answering these ethical and practical issues in your context. Let’s hear from you and let’s learn from each other!

Corruption in the land sector is an invidious problem. From officials seeking bribes for processing land ownership paperwork, to governments designating traditional lands as available for investors and facilitating illegitimate land deals, corrupt actors find many ways to secure illicit profits from land. Add to this the risks inherent in the large scale sale of public land, and the way in which private land and property are often used to launder the proceeds of crime, and it quickly becomes clear that land corruption is a major public issue. But is it an issue where open data can play a role? And if so, how? This is the focus of our online discussion over the coming weeks.

To address these questions we need to explore a number of areas.

Firstly, we need to understand the different corruption risks related to land. A decade ago, many open data initiatives were supply-side driven, focussing on data first and working out what to do with it second. Yet, today, there is a strong recognition that work should be problem-led, embedding open data as a problem-solving tool.  Drawing on the Land Portal’s thematic pages on land and corruption and looking at resources such as Transparency International’s Land Corruption Topic Guide we can see a whole range of areas with corruption risks, including:

  • Planning, zoning or designation of land as open to investment;
  • Land valuation;
  • Granting of licenses; 
  • Sale of public lands;
  • Monitoring investors obligations; and
  • Money laundering through land transactions.

Alongside legal reforms, and administrative measures, transparency is often seen as an important way to address these corruption risks. Yet in each case the exact role transparency can play may differ, and through this dialogue I’m hopeful we can identify a range of cases of corruption risk and transparency response. 

Secondly, we need to identify the different kinds of data that could be opened up. It can be tempting to think that open data in land is just about whether the land registry is published in an open data format. This is, after all, what has been surveyed by the Open Data Index and Barometer in recent years. But land registers are just one part of the picture, and, given their patchy quality in many countries, one of the most difficult to open up. Data relevant to land corruption may also include planning application data, details of contracts related to public land, and information on the ultimate beneficial owners of land

The government data that exists, and how it is managed, will vary from country to country. But we should also keep in mind datasets that don’t come from government, and that could be used in anti-corruption efforts - from satellite images to crowdsourced records of how land has been used in the past.  

Thirdly, we need to identify the difference that open data makes. In land, many transparency policies stop short of providing open and standardised data. For example, in my local area, planning notices are put up on noticeboards, and can be found on the local government’s website, and information on public land sales can be pieced together from public records. But, getting hold of, and analysing this information, is complicated and time-consuming. Without access to open datasets it is harder to look for the connections between land transactions, company ownership and assets disclosures of officials, or to apply AI-driven red flag analysis to information on zoning changes. 

Over the course of this dialogue, I hope we will be able to identify existing examples of open-data enabled anti-corruption efforts, and to find areas where, with better access to open data, new approaches could become possible. At the same time, we need to be aware of the power and political dynamics around open land data, and key considerations about privacy and security.

Across each of these steps, we need to draw on interdisciplinary learning from land governance, anti-corruption and open data professionals. As Florez and Tonn explain in their recent chapter on accountability and anti-corruption for The State of Open Data: Histories and Horizons, “An established international field working on anti-corruption and accountability has existed only marginally longer than the open data movement itself. Open data for anti-corruption holds great potential, but efforts often face the common challenge that data availability does not automatically translate into effective data use.”

It is only through pooling the knowledge of land governance practitioners, anti-corruption experts, and open data specialists, that we can find the most effective ways to improve the supply and use of land open data for anti-corruption ends. 

The GIZ Anti-Corruption and Integrity Programme is pleased to be a part of this discussion on Open Data in the Fight Against Corruption.

Corruption is one of the greatest obstacles to development, as it misuses public resources for private purposes. It weakens public administration, prevents equitable decisions from being made for the common good, and reduces the quality of public services. It can weaken the legitimacy of a government and democratic institutions and significantly slow down reform processes. 

Supporting anti-corruption measures and strengthening good governance therefore form a central element of German development cooperation. This work is based on the Anti-Corruption and Integrity Strategy of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The objective of the sector programme is to support the implementation of this strategy in the German development cooperation.

Good land governance is an important prerequisite for the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Considering the costs of corruption, effective anti-corruption in land and land policies is a fundamental requirement for achieving these goals. 

Land corruption is a complex crime. It is driven by networks of officials, professional intermediaries and companies. So in order to tackle corruption effectively, one needs to understand and dismantle these networks. Furthermore, experience has shown that development work on land issues in general is not sufficiently attentive to the integration of good governance and anti-corruption principles in the design, implementation and effectiveness control of decision making processes in land governance. 

It is our hope that this discussion will raise awareness of the relationship between open data, land governance and transparency as well as public sector integrity. We therefore invite concerned stakeholders to add your voice to this discussion, which will serve to inform the Conference on Land Policy in Africa, CLPA-2019: “Winning the fight against Corruption in the Land Sector: Sustainable Pathway for Africa’s Transformation", which will take place from 25-29 November, 2019.

"Land corruption is a complex crime. It is driven by networks of officials, professional intermediaries and companies. So in order to tackle corruption effectively, one needs to understand and dismantle these networks." 

This is a really important point - and one explored at more length in the Open Up Guide on Open Data & Anti-Corruption. The guide makes the point that there are two cycles interacting: a policy cycle, in which problems are identified, policies formed, budgets set, policies implemented, and outcomes evaluted; and an anti-corruption cycle, where at each stage of the policy cycle corruption might be prevented, detected, investigated or sanctioned. 

At each stage, the data needed to tackle corruption networks around land might be land sector data (such as information on land ownership or transactions), or it might be related data, such as company registers, asset disclosures from officials, or details of politically exposed persons. 

As you note that:

"...development work on land issues in general is not sufficiently attentive to the integration of good governance and anti-corruption principles in the design, implementation and effectiveness control of decision making processes in land governance."

This raises the question of how to promote awareness of, collection of, sharing of, and use of, data at each of these stages (policy design, implementation, effectiveness control). Often open data naratives focus on use of data outside government, but they biggest users can be inside government, as open data policies facilitate sharing and linking of data between different institutions. 


Source: Open Up Guide: Using Open Data to Combat Corruption


Dear Tim,

Many thanks for drilling down on those two important points. The Open Up Guide on Using Open Data to Combat Corruption is indeed a great unifier when considering the value of open data from two very different perspectives. As open data is often discussed among experts in both fields separately, sector data and anti-corruption data, the “mainstreaming” of datasets that help track, detect or investigate corruption in the respective sector could take pages from the experience that mainstreaming of anti-corruption efforts in sectors acquired throughout the years. Risk-based approaches found their way as integral part of the overall sector strategic policies and plans.

Starting from looking how people interact in each sector and what risks are inherent to certain processes, we should also pay attention to the benefit of supporting or “related” datasets. As the Guide says: “The higher the number of connections, the better the chance of using the datasets to spot potential corruption red flags.” To that extent, discussions should include how both, an anti-corruption data and sector specific data infrastructures (Land, Water, Health etc.) can support each other and what datasets are needed for what risks. This should go hand-in-hand with further deliberations on a data standard framework. For example, corruption risks in the licensing whether for logging, fishery or largescale land-based investments should be accompanied by data that “can talk” to each other but more importantly “talks” to anti-corruption datasets that can reveal insight on the corruption risk analysis for a sector.

Please let me echo the colleagues above in saying that I am very excited about this discussion and to read many interesting contributions by the land and open data communities. Before we dive in the discussion of the first week, I just wanted to share a few practical details on how we are organizing this discussion.

For those of you familiar with Land Portal online discussions, we have formulated guiding questions to direct the discussion. These guiding questions are divided into three weekly topics, announced with its own weekly statement. Please refer to the concept note attached to this page to see the topics for the upcoming weeks.

This first week (up until Sunday September 15th) the statement of the week is:

Before we can talk about open data, we need to have good data

In the last few decades, a lot of time and money has been invested to digitize land information and to develop land information systems. Though these efforts have been significant, it is still an often-repeated rhetoric that there is a lack of land data. Though these efforts have been significant, it is still an often-repeated rhetoric that there is a lack of land data. Land ownership data is a topic of sovereignty of (national) governments. Of the 94 countries whose land ownership data were studied in the Global Open Data Index, only 17 scored more than 0% open. Assuming this is a representative sample, this means that 6 less than one in five countries in the world has some (not even all) information about land ownership publicly available. For land administration experts, this will hardly come as a surprise. There are valid privacy and security issues that play a role in publishing land data, as well as the enormous challenge that lies before land registries to digitize the available land ownership records, while keeping up with a rapidly changing and ever-moving (informal) land market. Does this mean that we should give up the mission to make land data available as open data? Should we first prioritize availability of land data before we talk about accessibility and usability?

Questions to guide your responses to this statement are:

  1. Which types of land data can play a role in the fight against corruption? Does a solid baseline of available open land data exist? Are there examples on how this data was used in the fight against corruption?

  2. Is government the only source of land data, or should we also be looking at other sources of data in the fight against corruption? Are there examples of how this data was used in the fight against corruption?

  3. What have been the main concerns for policy makers and funders not to prioritize openness of data and information in their programs and priorities? What would it take to increase policy maker and funder interest in open land data? 

We very much look forward to reading your contributions and to a lively discussion!

The online Open Data Handbook defines Open Data as “data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the  requirement to attribute and share alike” . Williamson, Enemark, Wallace, and Rajabifard, (2010) pointed out that land information is a major asset of government for informed policy decisions and service delivery. They further intreat the need know the producers of data and how it is made available for land administration operations and functions. Thus, further emphasised that the information is valuable, even if not sold (Williamson et al., 2010, p.22).

Open access to land data is further highlighted by Zúñiga, (2018) to be crucial for effective and transparent land management, secure and equitable land rights for the attainment of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, there are reported cases of corruption in the land sector, linked to weak land governance, administration institutions and systems in developing countries (Wheatland, 2016; Zúñiga, 2018). Corruption in the land sector can have serious consequences such; reduction of people’s access to land and disruption of livelihood for vulnerable communities. Hence, the need for advocacy to make land data available to all individuals and organisations as it has the power to improve land administration processes and service delivery and act as catalyst to fight corruption.

Even though the use of open data is recognised to provide numerous benefits for economic development, its adoption is not widely accepted especially in the land administration sector. Below are some of the reasons why (land)data is not being made freely available:
• The assumption that it is time consuming and costly to produce, analyse and interpret land data, hence public must pay for cost recovery;
• Fear of invoking public reaction and critical questioning, eg. related to skewed distribution of land also that can lead to disputes and litigation;
• Unaware of the potential positive impacts which can result from the use of open data (unclear trade-offs);

• Absence of policies and guideline to prescribe what data to be made open and what are the standards and conditions e.g. licencing, agreements;
• Political interference;
• Data not well arranged, incomplete, inaccurate and outdated therefore difficult to publicise;
• Secrecy or privacy culture;
• Focus is on organisational interests and service delivery;
• Fragmentation of systems and software application, that make interoperability difficult; (Janssen, Charalabidis, & Zuiderwijk, 2012) and;
• Low levels of advocacy and awareness creation. Only a few people know about the availability of data

Janssen, M., Charalabidis, Y., & Zuiderwijk, A. (2012). Benefits, Adoption Barriers and Myths of Open Data and Open Government. Information Systems Management, 29(4), 258– 268.
Wheatland, B. (2016). Corruption risks and mitigation measures in land administration.
Williamson, I., Enemark, S., Wallace, J., & Rajabifard, A. (2010). Land Administration for Sustainable Development. Sustainable Development. Redlands, California: ESRI Press Academic.
Zúñiga, N. (2018). Land Corruption. Transparency International.

Celina, thanks for sharing these well-referenced constraints to adoption of open data. Which ones do you think, if tackled, might make the biggest difference in changing practices?

Dear Amy,

Thank you for the comment and question. from my personal view, all factors are equally important, however i feel the advocacy and awareness creation plays a crucial part. there is a need to reach out to both the public and government (administartion bodies and policy makers). the public need to be made understood of their right to information, what the law provides for and the benefits of being able to readily access data and information with minimal cost and efforts. government and policy makers have an essential function to formulate policies and regulations in regards to the affairs of the nation and service delivery, hence a need to be cognisant that data and information are part of the many services to be provided to the citizen. also government ned to be aware of the economic benefits of open land data that can be used to fight corruption and attract investments. therefore, public outreach and eduction can be the point of departure for open data advocacy in the land sector and beyond.

Thank you,

Effectively, all land data can be useful in the fight against corruption, but of specific relevance would be data on land tenure and administration, land ownership (who owns what land), natural resources tenure, land use and land use planning, land transactions, land markets and land records. Let me rephase the second element to the first guiding question: Can you imagine a corruption case in which data is not used? This is difficult to imagine.

While government is the main source of land data, as it is the one responsible for land administration and the custodian of public land records, which include titles and transactions in land rights. But it is by no means the only source of land data. Government records are supplemented and even draw on datasets produced by different actors, including NGOs, research institutions, the media, etc.


The third and final question for this week's topic (What have been the main concerns for policy makers and funders not to prioritize openness of data and information in their programs and priorities?), assumes that policy makers and funders have not prioritised openness of data and information in their programs and priorities, but this might be a generalization. While in the past this may have been the case, in recent years the push for open data has been mainstreamed by many actors. This in part explains why this process is taking place. It is also important to appreciate that there has to be data before one can speak of open data. Thus, we have to locate the open data revolution within the context of the wider information and communications technology revolution of the Information Age.

Can you imagine a corruption case in which data is not used? This is difficult to imagine.

This is a really interesting point. I can't imagine a case where documents and evidence are not used, but I can imagine many cases where digital datasets are not used. 

This highlights some of the different ways in which different communities talk and think about 'data'.

Whilst it is legitimate think of any evidence as a piece of data (e.g. the paper or PDF showing a plot boundary and title), open data communities are often thinking in terms of large digital datasets (think a spreadsheet or GIS system with all the land titles for a particular area). 

We could think of the problem in terms of which requirements data needs to help meet to support different anti-corruption efforts. For example:

  • If I am faced with the need to prove title to particular land, then the ability to search for, and access title documents without charge or restriction, may help. 
  • If I am investigating land transactions that might have been used to launder money, then being able to export a list of corporate land transactions and the companies involved, and link these with other records may be important.
  • If I'm looking at how well land policy is functioning, particularly with respect to gender rights, (in order to propose new anti-corruption measures perhaps) then I might need a comprehensive datast on all the land transactions in a given area, along with information about the gender of the title holders. 

You make a very good point that "It is also important to appreciate that there has to be data before one can speak of open data.". The advantage of designing our data collection with open data in mind, is that we can think not only about a narrow set of 'user requirements' for the data that institutions might collect, but we can think more broadly about all the potential uses to which land data could be put, and can consider how the particular models of data collection can serve the widest range of pro-social needs. 


Throughout 2017, Spatial Collective applied new technologies to the data capture element of land registration in order to test whether affordable tools for documentation of land exist, whether these tools can reach the accuracy standards required by the state, and whether communities can replicate the work of a professional surveyorTo do this, our research looked into the land demarcation process, determined whether new technologies were of quality and met national standards, and gauged the most cost-effective tools which are widely accessible to local communities. We documented this process in this publication: "Putting Communities and Rights on the Map in Southern Kenya". After a year-long exercise into new technology and land mapping, we believe there are some valuable lessons there that I would summarize briefly here:

  • There's a certain level of accuracy required for mapping land parcels;
  • The land is a sensitive issue that cannot be dealt with lightly - the governments in our opinion are very much against having the data on land - especially private land - openly available (anywhere, not just in Africa);
  • There's a level of authority that comes with government-sanctioned land data as opposed to community-driven data, even in the eyes of communities;
  • I think more effort should be placed on getting the governments to adopt new technologies and methods so they can collect missing data on properties faster and digitally, as opposed to working against them;
  • While I think there's a space for open data in the land sector, it needs to be dealt with care not to alienate the already suspicious actors.

For more details, I would refer you to our paper highlighted above, that goes into more details on each of these points.

“There are valid privacy and security issues that play a role in publishing land data, as well as the enormous challenge that lies before land registries to digitize the available land ownership records, while keeping up with a rapidly changing and ever-moving (informal) land market. Does this mean that we should give up the mission to make land data available as open data?”

  • I believe that open data is critical to a transparent land market and something we fought hard for during the days of drafting registration legislation  with countries in the FSU and Eastern Europe.
  • My concerns all relate to how a push to digitize land ownership records could affect women. Old records may not include women’s names even if, by law, women have ownership rights to the land. This could happen in many ways, including that the registration process did not require all rights holders’ names to be documented or because the law changed after documentation of rights.
  • In those instances where women have rights to a parcel of land, by law, but are not named on the document, digitization should include updating the record. That process would need to include public information about the law, what is being done, why, etc. Such public information would need to reach women, and they would need to know how to act on it. To simply digitize existing records without updating them would not help to secure land rights—an inaccurate registry is not useful. So the process of digitization /updating could put women at risk. Thus, digitization would need to be undertaken with the necessary support to women and with funding to ensure its accuracy.

Thank you for these insights. I'd not thought in depth before about the ways in which digitisation of old gender-biased records can replicate those gender biases in new systems. 

Are there any cases you have come across where digitisation projects manage this issue well? 

The examples I know of are those where countries have gone from paper certificates to a digitized titling system through systematic registration. In that case, they were not just digitizing, of course, so they basically went house to house, adjudicating household rights, and identified current owners. Kyrgyzstan is a good example of that. Unfortunately, I do not have other type of examples, but I would love to hear from those who know about what is possible.

We found such situation with a project in Bangladesh. We made a debate with that initiative and put our rationale. However the project did just digitization of records without survey and titling within piloted working areas. This process will made huge scope of corruption indeed. Similarlly we worked with digital survey and records which was contradicting with the ditization project. 

Land ownership remains a challenging topic. In all the discussions, we have advanced the individual ownership of land and this could become a problem in the future. Creating a more divided society. While no one will deny the need to challenge corruption and to curtail the act of governments forcefully taking land without the real landowners benefiting, we also need to be careful what land data should do to help us now and generations to come.

In Liberia, during our discussions for the enactment of the Liberia Land Rights Act 2018, we realize that for residency, it makes a whole lot of sense to own land individually. But there are other uses that could jeopardize such individualist ownership such as the need for public buildings and spaces for market, agriculture development, climate change (forest land and bush land to fight desertification and flooding). 

Considering the above, it becomes clear that the ancient communal ownership of land was not bad. What was bad was its management. This is while we need to focus some attention backwards and generate evidence using land data to show that land itself is for generations and it should be used for generations. In this case, the regulations should be mindful of demarcations which in the future could become boundaries exactly what we have now as countries, territories and borders. 

Let us take for instance, people who are owning agriculture land could decide in the future to create their own countries and human rights could be used to permit such a claim. The very constitutions we have now are weak enough to allow this happening. 

In another situation, women who have registered land to them, could sell it to men, wave it to their boys and at the end of the day, most of the land is owned by men. 

The above examples are just a few situations we need to carefully look at, see what land data can do to support not just this generation but also future generations. 

Communal ownership with flexibility and stronger laws to avoid chaos in the future needs to be integrated into land data and processes now.  My argument is that we must allow people to make use of land, benefit from land and protect it for the good of all. This should be supported by land data. 


In the fight against corruption, virtually all land data matters, information regarding individual parcels, public land, community land, land designated for conservation, etc. Need to be made open, available, and updated. In our countries that is what often lacks and contributes greatly to abuses and corruption among public officials. Availability of data and or transparency has always been at the core when it comes to fighting against corruption in the land sector.


Where information is documented and data available, it has been easy for the government to crack down those who are misusing their powers, appropriating property and in some cases instigating land conflicts through awarding, allocating properties to more than one individual, i.e. double allocation, land hoarding, where the information regarding parcels to be distributed/redistributed to those who are in need is not open. The community members, whistleblowers have used data to sound alarmed and effectively managed to combat corruption.


The government in most cases is the only source of land data since custodianship of data in many countries falls under the government and specifically the Ministry of Lands, however, this may not be the only source of land data. Other institutions especially the private sector, civil society organizations working in the land sector have increasingly or are becoming another source of data. Although most of the data is scattered but can be used to fight corruption where needed. Yes, there is a direct link between transparency in the land sector and the fight against corruption.

A wise and sensible government would recognize that the problem of poverty and unjust social conditions derives from the lack of opportunities to work, earn and sensibly reside. It can be solved by the introduction of a tax system which encourages the proper use of land and which stops penalizing almost everyone else who does not own it. Such a tax system was discussed about 140 years ago by Henry George, a (North) American economist. In his 1879 classic book “Progress and Poverty”, George proposed a single tax on land values without any other kinds of taxes (on earnings, purchases, capital gains, developed property not including its sites, gambling, etc.). Land value taxation (LVT) has 17 features that benefit almost everyone in the economy, except for the employment of big tax departments, landlords and bankers, all of which or whom do nothing productive—where the last two exploit the rights for land monopolization, the ill effects which are encouraged and supported by legislation through the government.  

17 Aspects of LVT Affecting Government, Land Owners, Communities and Ethics

Four Aspects for Better Government:

1. LVT, adds to the national income as do other taxation systems, but it should replace them.

2. The cost of collecting the LVT is less than for any other kind of production or capital goods related tax. It is more efficient and tax avoidance becomes impossible. Sites of land are visible to all and their ownership is public knowledge, due to the introduction and use of land-value maps with tables of sites (parcels), with formal numbering and definitions of them.

3. Consumers will pay less for their purchases, due to lower production costs (see below) and no purchase tax. This means there is more satisfaction with the better management of our national and local affairs, which are seen to be on a fairer basis, without favouring the wealthy.

4. The speculation in its selling price and the withholding of unused land is mostly eliminated, see item 7, and the national economy stabilizes. It no longer experiences the 18 year business boom/bust cycle, due to periodic speculation in land values (see below).

Six Aspects Affecting Land Owners:

5. LVT is progressive–owners of the most potentially productive sites pay the most tax. Urban sites provide the most productivity and should be charged the greatest resulting tax. Comparatively, rural sites have less productivity and associated value. As a result they are farmed for production in an appropriate way and at a lower cost.

6. The land owner pays LVT regardless of how the site is used, but according to its potential for use. Nearly all of the existing ground-rent from tenants becomes the LVT. This results in the land eventually having less sales-value but it retains a significant rental-value, even when it is unused.

7. LVT stops speculation in land prices because the withholding of land from proper use will no longer be worthwhile. It costs the land owner the same, regardless of its actual use, or when this opportunity is lost by the withholding of the site from access for production, residence, etc.

8. The introduction of LVT initially reduces the sales price of sites, because more of them become available and the competition for the access rights to them becomes less fierce. Their rental values grow over a longer term due to the increase in the local infrastructure, which is a required aspect during the greater resulting site development.

9. With LVT, land owners are unable to pass the tax on to their tenants as rent hikes, due to the reduced competition for access to the additional sites that become available, from item 7 above.

10. Speculators and monopolists in real-estate will want to foreclose on their mortgages and withdraw their money for reinvestment. Therefore LVT should be introduced gradually, to allow these speculators sufficient time to transfer their money to company-shares, etc., and simultaneously to meet the increased demand for produce (see below, items 12 and 13).

Three Aspects Regarding Improved Communities:

11. With LVT, there is an incentive to better use the land for production, commerce and residence, rather than it being left idle. Communities become more efficient in communications, introduce less sprawl and improve their living standards.

12. With LVT, greater working opportunities exist due to cheaper land and a greater number of available sites. Consumer goods become cheaper too, because entrepreneurs have less difficulty in starting-up their businesses. They initially pay less ground-rent and production costs will fall, goods supply will grow and unemployment will decrease.

13. Previous investment money is withdrawn from land and instead is placed in the shares of companies and used for purchasing durable capital goods. This means more advances in technology, greater productive efficiency and cheaper goods, too.

Four Aspects About Ethics and Social Justice:

14. The collection of taxes from productive effort and commerce is seen as socially unjust. It reduces the progress of the nation (due to the need for a big tax collection “army”) and certainly redistributes where the money goes. The rent and added sales-values of land due to its monopolization and non-use, are generated without any exertion on the part of the land owner or by the banks. LVT replaces this national extortion by gathering the surplus rental income–LVT being a natural system of national income-gathering.

15. The previous degree of bribery and corruption, for gaining privileged information about proposed land developments, will cease. This previously was due to the leaking of news of municipal plans for housing and industrial development, causing shock-waves in local land prices (and municipal workers’ and lawyers’ bank balances).

16. The improved use of the more central land sites of cities reduces the environmental damage and pollution due to a) unused sites being dumping-grounds and b) the smaller amount of fossil-fuel use when travelling between home and workplace.

17. Because the LVT eliminates the advantage that landlords currently hold over our society, LVT provides a greater equality of opportunity to earn a living. Entrepreneurs can operate in a natural way–to provide more jobs because their production costs are reduced. Then untaxed earnings will correspond more closely to the value that the labour puts into the product or service. Consequently, after LVT has been properly and fully introduced as a single tax, it will eliminate poverty and improve business ethics.

There is only one basic reason for the existance of poverty. It is due to the limitations in opportunities to work and to live on the useful parts of the land. In countries where most of the people are poor, there is a large proportion of the land owned by a relatively small but wealthy community of land monopolists and speculators in its value. The rent that they charge for access rights to the useful sites of land is a high proportion of what the rest of the people can earn when making good use of this natural resource. This situation is due to corruption in the government, either recently or possibly way back in its law-making history, when the land ownership was permitted to be held in only a few favored hands. Surely the opportunities that our natural resources provide should be justly shared? Surely the rights for use of the land should not give anyone an advantage over those who have to be hired and employed? Yet this is the current situation in many "poor" countries. By taxing the owners for their land values (that is to collect the economic rent that the land naturally provides when people live and work on it) instead of taxing incomes, purchases, capital gains, imports, education facilities, etc., it would be possible to right this wrong and give everybody a fair chance to make an honest living and to live in a place where the conditions are fit for good neighbours.

Using open data in the fight against land corruption underscored the name of Transparency and Accountability. The Government of every nation should identify, register, recognise and respect all legitimate land tenure rights holders and safeguard those rights from threats and violatios, including protecting the rights holders from forced eviction. Furthermore, state Government should make sure that access to Justice is underscored, in order to deal with cases of violations of legitimate land tenure rights holders. 

Legitimate land rights is crucial in achieving human rights, food security, poverty eradication, sustainability of livelihoods, social stability, housing, and rural development. 

The Government of every nation should provide access to Justice to deal with infringements of legitimate land tenure rights. Government should provide effective and accessible means to Everyone, through judicial authorities or other approaches, to solve disputes over land tenure rights; and to provide affordable and prompt enforcement of the outcomes.

Thank you Benjamin. This draws attention to another very interesting source of open data relevant to land: data from the justice system

Such data might be useful to individuals engaged in specific cases, or to policy-change work that can look at patterns of cases, and identify cases where justice is not being served. At the same time, there could be risks that transparency that reveals gaps in access to justice helps those seeking to abuse their power to identify the places where they are less likely to be brought to justice.

Sandra Elena has written widely about the extent to which justice systems have engaged with open data, although I'm not aware of any writing specifically on open data, courts and land. Have you come across good cases where governments publish data on things like the time taken to process land justice claims, or the performance of particular judges in relation to land cases?

Sandra divides open data on crime (including crimes of corruption) and justice into three categories:

  1. Case data: information on judgments and court rulings issued by crime and justice institutions (e.g. courts, tribunals, etc.).
  2. Jurisdictional data: performance and activity data from crime and justice agencies, such as statistical data related to cases, reported crimes, arrests, citizen complaints, etc.
  3. Structural data: information on the internal characteristics of crime and justice agencies, such as their organisation, their internal processes, how they allocate their budget, infrastructure, rules of procedure, staff and salaries, procurement, etc.

and notes that "while jurisdictional and structural data may originate with either the judicial or executive branches of government, case data tends to be solely within the province of the judiciary."

When we think about the reasons this kind of land open data may not have been prioritised, it might also be useful for us to think about how funders, technical assistance and other development work engages with the different branches of government, particularly with judicial systems. 

I may not be exact to mentioned cases of such, but for the case of my country, the Government lack the capacity to published data information from the Justice system. Publication of data is a major challenge faced the judiciary system in the country. For example, information critical to fight corruption and promote fair competition, such as company registers, public sector contracts and land titles is even harder to get from the Government. 

Corruption happens at many levels 1) Individual, 2) Family, 3) Tribe, 4) Government systems. What we discuss in this topic is only Corruption within government systems. The other three levels of corruption is social and unless the society decides that it is wrong, it is difficult to deal with. Again trying to tell a society their values are not right raises the issue of being racial, bigoted and egocentric. This is where dealing with corruption at this level is very complicated and confused. 

Dealing with government is easier as we expect that government has the mandate to work for the people. It requires politicians and government servants who believe in the system and leave behind their racial and political biases. In a developing country being honest and implementing activities according to the rules, does not normally lead to promotion and praise in the government. It can however, lead to being demoted, transferred, or maybe even being arrested. NGOs and Donors expect officials to follow international standards however, when the government official is arrested, transferred or demoted the Civil Society Institutions find it difficult to question the government in power. Given this situation government officials who do take risks to uphold the 'rule of law' do it at their own risk. 

This is a very important point.

One of the often used 'theories of change' for work on open data (and open government more broadly) has been that it can provide resources that allow reformers inside institutions to pursue reform. 

For example, an official might know that there are corrupt land deals taking place, but if they raise their concerns internally, they will suffer the kinds of problems you outline. But if they can promote open data (potentially 'sold' to the institutions in terms of efficiency or technical innovation, rather than transparency), then they can make information available that creates pressure from outside the institution for change. 

I realise this theory of change makes quite a lot of assumption (including that there is capacity in civil society to access and use open information, and to then there is a social context in which problems revealed by that information can be used to pressure institutions) - but I would be curious whether you think it can operate in some fom in the developing country and family/tribe contexts you are considering?

In other words: can you imagine cases where people who want to act honestly and according to the rules, could use open data as a tool to help them do that? 

To fight corruption in issues relating to land ,community members,leaders -(political,traditional as well as community leadership) have to be sensitised and educated on the importantance of data capture as far as land is concerned.

Land data has to be properly segregated .For example: land under title,common land ,land meant for forest conservation ,no go area land like the grave yard.

This land segregation will assist leaders,whether traditional or polical in the issuance of land to the intended people.

On the other hand education on land rights and certification has to be promoted .During these sensitisations the issue of gender intergration has to be properly highlited to reduce the gap between men and women as well as girls and boys in land acquisition.

As people are living ,it is very imperative that they know that the land they are occupyng won't be grabbed to some other investors or people due to corruption.

This actually,requires concerted efforts by every citizen because land issues affects every one.

With regards to the first question, about the types of land data that play a role in the fight against corruption, I would say that open data about land transactions play a strong role in increasing transparency and participation therefore can significantly contribute to reducing corruption in the land sector. These types of data include land administration data, contract data, parcel data and ownership information, data and information on land investments. Land policy information is also important. An example from an online publication by Cadasta gave examples of how journalist and anti-corruption activists have been using land data to reveal the role of government in some large-scale land. “In 2015, Private Eye used Her Majesty’s Land Registry  (HMLR) of the United Kingdom (UK) data to produce interactive maps that show foreign-owned properties and explain why real estate prices in the UK are skyrocketing.”

When it comes to sources of land data, we should be looking also to civil society, bilateral agencies and international organizations as they also collect and at times publish land data and information. The data they have if appropriately prepared can be shared as open. 

Finally, it is the responsibility of civil society organisations and the research community to inform government on how open data and information can improve government programmes, e.g. land reform programmes. It is also the responsibility for every citizen to be aware of their constitution and its provisions to access to information. More and more countries have in their constitution’s commitments to open data, however this is unknown to ordinary people, therefore no demands are made on government to provide open land data and information. Furthermore we see that a culture of secrecy is embedded in government and their officials, particularly in developing nations. 

When I think about what the main concerns are why open data hasn't gained more traction in the land sector, I think of the following elements: 

  • Main agencies for data on land in Kenya include amongst others:

(i) Primary - Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning; the National Land Commission and the County Governments
(ii) Secondary - Ministry of Agriculture and livestock; Agencies e.g. KenHA; KURA; KCA (airports etc.); Ministry of Health; Ministry of Internal Security and Kenya Space Agency

  • Questions arise around what to share or not share with other agencies, the public and researchers? Land is seen as a ‘security matter’ hence the data is shrouded in ‘secrecy’ or the politics of it all. We must package this by decade e.g. 1960-1970 (what land data was important)…2000-2010; 2010-2020. Have we seen any changes?
  • Questions arise around who creates, manages and shares this data? Civil servants by training are supposed to adhere to an order of pecking. Hence whoever releases data should be part of those mandated to release information. Getting to this ethical requirement can take time. Hence it’s a mindset issue and the battle between openness and gatekeeping of data. My experience with obtaining the descriptive data on Settlement Schemes took 1 year yet I am in the National Land Commission.


  • Open data in the land sector presumes background checks on transparency; accountability; fostering innovation (e.g. GIS); push for new products and services. How are the errors of 1950-1960 corrected or updates on the land data made? Who will integrate this data into new tools, filters, visualize and analyze?
  • Data integrity and the question of which agency is the legitimate source. In part created by conflicting laws and mandates of organizations. For example how can we know how many women own land? Is it MoLPP, KNBS; National Population Countil; NLC; County Governments?
  • The conflict between customary land rights and the formalization of land rights and interests on land. Many land transactions of land below 1 acre are informal. This informality works in many communities, yet government push is for formalization. The local administration – Chiefs must be incorporated in this chain of land ownership.

We can address those concerns and, ultimately, use existing data responsibly in the fight against corruption, if the concerns listed above are addressed.

Corruption in the land sector is a global challenge, denying citizens and businesses the right to access, use and manage land resources while also denying states the resources from transactions on land. Consequently corruption in the land sector leads to food insecurity, poverty and dithering of livelihoods particularly of the rural poor. It has been established that corruption in the land sector is highly dependent on the extent of breakdown of a country’s overall governance. Confronting corruption in the land sector requires an appreciation of various aspects of corrupt deeds and practices in the sector. There are two broad categories of corruption in the land sector, which include administrative corruption and political corruption.

Administrative corruption includes small bribes and other favours that are offered to facilitate property registrations, processing titles, acquisition of land information and to influence land use plans. Such bribery is facilitated by the lack of transparency in the processes, limited information on land-related services and lack of clarity of applicable fees for various services in land administration. On the other hand political corruption entails the use of political, social, and economic power to influence land reforms, development projects and land transactions in favour of the agents who posses the power. Political corruption is more pervasive and is more challenging to deal with as it is systemic in nature. For instance, in Kenya, the Ndung’u Land Commission report unearthed nearly 40 years of political corruption in the land sector that had been perpetuated by government actors in all the post-independence governments of the country from 1963 - 2003.

Advances in open data initiatives promise to make an effective contribution in the fight against corruption in the land sector. Specifically, making land-related laws, policies, regulations and data openly and freely available to the public can potentially improve the transparency in the sector hence reducing instances of administrative corruption. In addition, linking the open data on land to secure and centralised financial management systems which allow users to pay for services interactively can promote accountability by keeping track of the transactions for each services
and ensuring that the citizens are aware of the cost of the services that they are paying for.

Regarding political corruption, open data regarding land use plans, land tenure systems and related cadastral maps could provide information on all land resources and reduce the temptation for government actors to use their political power to perpetuate corruption in the land sector. In addition, open data could also provide the necessary evidence that is required to prosecute corruption cases within the judiciary. Further to facilitate the use of open data in fighting corruption in the land sector, independent bodies and commissions with proper legal and prosecutorial powers, could be established in various countries to provide oversight and regulation in the land sectors. Similarly, public participation can also augment the use of open
data in the fight against corruption in the land sector.

In conclusion, it is noteworthy that, while open data provides an opportunity for improved transparency and accountability in the land sector, it is not a panacea for all the forms of corruption and malaise in the sector. The proliferation of open data must go in tandem with advocacy and capacity , as away of creating awareness on land related issues and sharpening the technical skills among citizens to access, use and improve the data on land. Finally, the security and confidentiality of sensitive land-related data must also be ensured.

Landuse planning is very cardinal in land data capture.

Landuse planning as we all know adresses social economic issues as well as spatial development framework.

When we talk of landuse planning we encourage participation  by  various stake holders  like; Traditional leaders,Political leaders,community leaders ,community representatives,Non governmental Organisations and Government agencies representatives.

The iterative nature of landuse planning will make it easier to carryout monitoring and evaluation exercises.

During landuse planning it will be easier to create a land data base which can be useful and avert corruption.

States Government should endeavour to prevent corruption in all forms, at all levels, and in all settings. States Government have the responsibility to adopt and apply measures to fight corruption in relation to governance and land tenure rights holders, such as establishing checks and balances, limiting the arbitrary use of power, resolving conflicts of interestand adopt clear rules and regulations. 

It also that states Government should facilitate administratiive or judicial review of decisions of implementing agencies. It bring about transparency and accountability. 

The lands sector is increasingly being cited as a corruption hub. Many countries across the globe are grappling with land-related corruption that dates to the colonial years and which have metamorphosed into historical injustices and continue to be a source of conflict and violation of basic human rights. Cases of land grabbing, compensation-less expropriation, gender-based discrimination in accessing and ownership of land and related resources, illegal mining deals, bribing to access land administration services among others are not new in the lands sector. However, several organizations and initiatives such as the Monitoring and Evaluation of Land in Africa (MELA) project and the Global Land Indicators Initiative (GLII) among others have, in the recent past, been taking centre stage in devising means to generate reliable data that can be leveraged to address such issues. The growing consensus globally is that reliable data and statistics remain a pivotal yet underexplored option on which the much-sought
policy-responsive solutions need to be anchored.

Embracing open data is one recommendation that is being fronted by key stakeholders in the lands sector for reasons inter alia: enabling cross-utilization and learning from data by various consumers for complementary solutions to land issues including corruption and for building public confidence in government decisions based on data that is available on open sources. However, there is need to contextualize what open data actually means, to what extent and what type of data can be ‘open’. It is also imperative to understand that data by itself is not a panacea in the fight against corruption. The availability and openness (etc.) of data should be part of a multipronged approach for addressing
corruption issues in the land sector.

Responding to the first question posed this week, a wide range of land data is required for monitoring and enabling the fight against corruption which, manifests in many forms ranging from land grabbing to bribery for accessing land administration services to gender discrimination in land access, use and ownership to political fueling of land conflicts among others. To name but a few:

-Data in the form of reliable land survey maps and legal documents can be used to depict encroachment on public/state land.

-Data on bribery cases reported/ surveys on bribery in exchange for favourable/quicker land administration services can be used to profile the prevalence of bribery in the lands sector.

-Gender disaggregated data can be used to highlight gender biases in land ownership and land-related decision making

-Root cause analysis on causes/triggers of land conflicts is a crucial source of data that highlights among other causes, political influence in land conflicts.

-Data on land tenure security, both from surveys and administrative sources, is very critical in not only highlighting corruption in the lands sector but also as a basis for evidence-based and policy-appropriate solutions such as affirmative action to fight corruption. As explicitly articulated in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicator 1.4.2 the dataset on land tenure security features two key sub- indicators:

  1.  Possession of legal documentation by citizens in a country, and
  2. Citizen’s perception of their tenure security; possession of legal documentation notwithstanding.

The indicator has provisions to monitor the two sub-indicators over multiple disaggregation levels such as gender and a plurality of tenure regimes including customary, and contemporary formal tenure systems-leasehold, freehold etc. The disaggregation enables comprehensive assessment of biases in land ownership and management as relates to gender and tenure regimes, that amount to corruption, and thus inform development of context specific policies.

-The current unprecedented large-scale land acquisition of by government, non-governmental organizations as well as private investment entities has exponentially increased demand for land and thus allowing corruption deals to find their way in, in bid to beat competition. Data on such acquisitions
such as their financial and social feasibility assessment as well as implications on indigenous communities need to be made publicly available prior to actual acquisitions taking place. This is key to ensure citizen’s participation and understanding of project activities prior to their undertaking as well as a source of informed judgement and consent for any expropriation. Generally, availing comprehensive data on large-scale land acquisitions for public participation and prior information enables sealing of corruption loopholes and building of public confidence and hence seamless integration of such projects into the locality.

-Data on women’s ownership of agricultural land and the level of decision making has enabled drawing of insights where studies show that in sub-Saharan Africa, women may own land and lead agricultural production but do not have much influence on subsequent trade transactions of the produce. As such, SDG indicators 5.a.1 and 5.a.2 provide an opportunity for generation of data that profiles gender biases that have over the years cultured corruption in land acquisition and ownership. Indicator 5.a.2 particularly monitors the number of countries whose legal framework deliberately caters for women’s rights to land and as such, seal corruption loopholes that deny women their rights to land and related

- Data on land conflicts such as triggers of conflict and conflict enablers is continuously proving useful in unearthing the corruption face that underlies and fuels certain land-related conflicts as witnessed in many parts of the world.

Both qualitative and quantitative data are key in dissecting land governance issues and highlighting gaps that need tailored policy solutions. As it stands, there is a significant disparity in land data openness among countries with some having made significant steps in having national-level data open while others, due to various reasons, are yet to open their data to the public. This is succinctly depicted by the Global Open Data Index where in 2016 countries were ranked on the basis of how open their land data was based on the following criteria: Data is openly licensed, in an open and machine-readable format, downloadable at once, up-to-date, publicly available and available for free. The highest-ranking country was Taiwan at 100% yet only 17out of 94 countries were above 15% and the rest at 0%.

Land data compilation and openness is therefore still a work in progress and will require more deliberate institutional effort in collaboration and capacity support (technical and financial) from various stakeholders to have up and running open data portals with land datasets both in government and non- governmental institutions/agencies.

It is witnessed across the world that where land data or information exists in the public domain, justice has been served in legal proceedings even in cases of community land such as that of the Endorois community in Kenya whose case is yet to conclude but has seen tremendous progress. One best practice is witnessed in Tanzania among the Ngitili Agrosilvipastoral Systems whose farmer-led system (based on traditional rules and village by-laws which the community strictly adheres to) became part of a government initiative called Hifadhi Ardhi Shinyanga (HASHI) and helped restore land that was previously degraded between the 1930s and 1960s in Meatu, driven by increasing population, insecure tenure rights, government-organized woodland clearing to manage tsetse flies and trypanosomiasis, resource exploitation as a result of cash crop expansion, increasing demand for wood, and deforestation for inhabitation. (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. 2019. The Global Land Outlook, East Africa Thematic Report, Bonn, Germany.)


Contribution by Clinton Omusula.
UN Volunteer- Land Data and Knowledge Management,
Global Land Indicators Initiative (GLII),
Land and Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) Unit,
United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).

The work of GODAN Action and other research on open data impact shows that the environment is crucial for engagement with and usage of open data. Many conditions determine if data is likely to be opened up and, if openly available, or whether it will be used. Some of them can hardly or not at all be influenced. These conditions can for instance be related to technical infrastructure, capacity to publish, manage and work with (open) data and the political economy. In the case of land data, and particularly with regard to the aspect of transparency and corruption, political economy seems to be the strongest factor, as well as the most complex one. On the contrary, a lot of (open) data related initiatives tend to set their primary focus on technical infrastructure and capabilities.

  • It is usually governments that decide on opening up land (registry) data. They might, in many cases, be entangled in relationships with “stakeholders” with strong voices that could somehow benefit from non-transparency.
  • In GODAN Action we have seen examples of organisations that work on land related issues and that do not really seem to be very keen to adopt and promote open data in their projects. That seems to be at least partly because they’re also bound to the fact that they have to work together with governments and land registry offices to achieve something (sometimes just setting up or improving governmental systems). They might include transparency and prevention of corruption as part of the internal governance process, but not the required inclusiveness and external transparency and accountability that comes with opening up such data.
  • We have seen that the way of working of statistical offices is an indicator of the overall culture and potential for publishing (reliable) open data. There are lots of issues in general with data/statistics collection in many countries. Obviously, this does not create trust in the data that is / would be published either, which can also be a barrier for use.
  • If we look at international funders and development organisations, they seem to focus on high level (national) indicators for transparency and accountability. Maybe they should have more focus on the raw/disaggregated data and the process of collecting it?
  • Global and regional platforms should adopt an inclusive approach, also integrating local data as part of their products (e.g. in a GODAN Action land data case study, we could see that a multistakeholder approach could help bridge the gap between grassroots communities and the national government. In this case, by an NGO,- NRMC piloted initiatives of community mapping in India, with the aim of obtaining land records at a higher speed and volume through innovative technologies).
  • Networking and connecting communities is important. To empower and strengthen smaller organisations and let them have a stronger voice, and to connect with other stakeholders, even “the enemy”. For that, it is critical that this is facilitated by a party with a neutral position (kind of mediating role).

I agreed with you that environment is crucial for engagement and usage of open data, however, if the government put in to placed the right mechanism for engagement and usage of open data information can have mush impacts on the data usage. 

On the contrary, I disagreed where you said that, it is the government that decide on opening up land registry data. 

I strongly believe that, it is the duties and responsibilities of government to set up land registry data for transparency, accountability and public trust to avoid conflicts (disputes) over land. 

For example, for my country, the government has passed in to law land rights for all citizens in the country through the advocacy of the citizen themselves. It is Tue obligations of the government to demarcate, register and certificate all land holders in the country to avoid land disputes. 

The Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development (MLHUD) under the Land Component of the Competitiveness and Enterprise Development Project (CEDP) project, is implementing as part of its activities the National Land Information System as one of the approach to provide Land Information, Data and Land services to the citizens and all other property owners.

The Uganda Land Information System (UgNLIS) establishment is also developed on the concept of interoperability, supporting Land Administration and Management data sharing through the Web Portals. UgNLIS has integrated with other spatial data in the country like Forestry, Roads, Environment, Physical Planning and the administrative boundaries which are vital in the economic development of the country.

More so, UgNLIS tracks history of all the Land transactions supporting transparency and accountability within the regional Land Offices. The submitted applications can be tracked online by the applicant, sms and email notifications for all ongoing transactions on the property. This has contributed to the securing of the tenure security and also the ease to access of Land records in the regional.

Uganda`s Land is mostly customary tenure and not registered, this has created a gap of securing ownership and contributed to limited access of the Land data through the National Land Information System. However, there are efforts towards registering and securing Land rights in the regional hence this will increase availability of Land data to the public through the Geo portals.

Access freely to Land ownership dataset/ Land data remains a challenge in Uganda based on laws and regulations like the data privacy Act, registration of title Act among others. The Government of Uganda generates revenue from the Land Sector through the access to the Land data/ Land Information, so there is a need for data cleansing or data cleaning. During this process the classification of Land Data will be done to determine the level of access and identity of who has rights view property information (Land data).

Furthermore, Land open data is the future for Land governance and a strong tool for fighting corruption in the Land sector, however more enhancements of the business processes should be encouraged in the region. Adopting the concept of Web applications shall support the access to Land data and further making it easier for development Application programming interfaces for system to system integration.

Corruption has a devastating impact on the lives of people around the world. When money that should be spend on schools, hospitals, and other government services ends up in the hands (pockets) of dishonest officials, and everyone suffers. 

Open Data is information anyone can access, use and share. Publication of government information in this way has the potential to allow government officials, journalists and citizens to follow financial flows, understand who's providing government services among others. 

First of all, peoples don’t have clear and detail information on open land data particularly how it works? How it helpful in land tenure security? How land documentation could be secure? etc. In addition, policy makers and other stakeholders don’t have understanding on how dataset can be helpful for land administration. 

During the land survey and settlement, we found that 80% of land disputes raise due to absence of landowners at parcel. The absent landowners are being more cruricus Conflict include authentication of ownership documents, succession shares, land boundary etc. Landowners asked for further parcel data collection, applied to survey department but hardly get any further boundary data. As a result the conflicts and disputes are continues year after years for two to three generations. The land map is supposed to public as soon as draft publication of land records/settlements completed. We contacted surveyors and pressured them for make it public. Surveyors and their team were annoyed on us. If landowners know about the boundary data, then money transaction would be limited. We showed some land maps to landowners and asked all landowners to come and visit. We found that these villages have less disputes/conflicts as result of map presentation. 

The surveyors trying to hide information and data during survey and settlement for making corruption. Even surveyors and other team members are receiving undue money from poor and vulnerable landowners for land maps. If landowners particularly women, widow, religious minority and single mother can know the length of each boundary line, then they can compare the maps with the parcel boundaries. Then most of the disputes and conflicts would be solved at the ground. The local peoples are coming forward to solve such kind of boundary conflict at the time of map preparation. However it is become very hard if both conflicting parties enter in the litigation cases. We found that corrupt surveyors and other vested brokers provoking the conflicts between two neighbors. The land officials are taking money from both parties and harassing both parties without giving any decision. Even both officials seating in one room and giving gesture for collecting money for several times. The surveyors are taking about 16 types of undue preferences/money during survey and settlement. 

In case of land transaction, each deed should have attached land maps, which is not in practice. If accurate maps and information is produced and attached with the deed during the land transfer, then huge corruption will be reduced. The private deed writer and land officials has collaboration for harassing landowners. Both parties are unaware about the use of open land data. Even we are not in place to aware all parties including landowners on the use and importance of open land data. 

However, the land maps are not updated for 50 years in some areas. Even the updated map is not accessible for 20 years waited for final publication. In the meantime, the size and location of parcels are changed a lot. 

The quality and availability of open land data comparing with traditional data definitely good. However we have to further think how open land data can be available to the developing countries. 

One of the major challenges we have confronted in the planning, implementation and monitoring of land reform in South Africa is the unavailability or inadequacy of land data for the majority of land rights holders. Overall, it is estimated that the property rights of between 60 - 70% of South African citizens remain either unrecorded or off-register. There has been a general failure of government to meet its constitutional obligations in terms of section 25(6) of the constitution which requires that a person or community whose tenure of land is legally insecure as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled, to the extent provided by an act of Parliament, either to tenure which is legally secure or to comparable redress.
There has been a collapse land administration on much of the land formerly designated as reserves, 'homelands' or 'bantustans' where land is held under systems described as 'communal tenure'. In the previous dispensation people's rights to land in these areas were allocated by means of permits, known as permissions to occupy (PTOs) or through quitrent title. These old systems are in disarray. Records have been lost which creates opportunities for land grabs and elite deals which see vulnerable rural households dispossessed of their rights in land favour of mining or agribusiness transactions which benefit the few.  Likewise in the urban areas land rights in informal settlements are unrecorded and the transfer of title to people obtaining access to housing through state subsidy programmes has broken down. Even where title has been awarded ownership on the title deed frequently bears little resemblance to ownership and occupation on the ground. This reflects the unaffordability and inappropriateness of current property rights systems designed to secure the rights of the affluent in a context of deep poverty and inequality.
Between 1994 and March 2018 some 8,4 million ha of land have been acquired by government through the combined restitution and redistribution programmes. However individual rights to much of this land remain unclear. In the earlier phases of the land reform programme much of the land acquired was allocated to communal property institutions which hold land on behalf of their members. However very little state or NGO support has been provided to the communal property associations and trusts which are the owners of this land to assist them to establish and update registers of members and to allocate secure individual and household rights in land on the properties acquired. This has opened the door to corruption and misappropriation of resources where some trustees and/or members of executive committees have sold land or assets held in the name of beneficiaries, or entered into deals which have not resulted in any flow of benefits to the majority of those with rights to the land.
In the recent phases of the land reform programme the state has opted to retain ownership of land acquired for redistribution and is supposed to provide long leases to approved beneficiaries. However, research clearly indicates that in the majority of instances no such leases have been issued. This grey space has again enabled corrupt transactions in land  which thrive in a context lacking data to enable this to be tracked and addressed.

While it is clear that open data has the potential to prevent and expose corrupt practices, this requires institutional capacity and systems of land administration to enable credible data to be captured and updated to identify those with rights to land. The primary problems which have to be confronted are the absence of this data (in any form),  a lack that is exacerbated by the absence of appropriate land rights recordal and land administration systems and the failure to provide support to update and maintain the relevant records.
At present, it could be said that our foundational challenge is a skewed data and property rights system which privileges private title that is both unaffordable for poorer citizens and often inappropriate in contexts where social tenures prevail. The overwhelming majority of South African citizens face a ‘no data’ problem. Their rights in land remain largely invisible and at risk of capture. This has to be rectified in such a way that creates a universal, open and accessible system of land rights recordal underpinned by the requisite spatial data infrastructure and open data land administration systems. It is only once these are in place that the potential of open data to counteract corruption can be properly realised.
The recent report of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Agriculture and Land Reform has advised on “an immediate process of recordal of rights in rural and per- urban areas with legislative amendments to accommodate forms of collective ownership as currently only freehold is accommodated by Registry”.  The report proposed that Land Administration should constitute the fourth pillar of Land Reform - and one premised on an open data system.

Following my previous contribution, I would also like to share my considerations on the other two questions posed for this week's topic. When it comes to sources of land data, government agencies such as National Statistical Offices and Land Registries are key sources and repositories for land data. However, with the increasing cognizance of the criticality of matters land governance and administration, other players such as national, regional and international non- governmental organizations and civil society organizations have joined the data generation space and are providing complementary information and data to what governments hold. Cross-governmental initiatives such as the MELA project, regional authorities such as IGAD and international organizations such as the UN and World Bank are also increasingly providing complementary data on land which, needs to be synthesized and harmonized to provide additional insights that inform anti-corruption policies in the sector.

Data provided by non-governmental organizations and private institutions such as media has provided a basis or spurred conversations by communities, land activists and international organizations to address land issues such as tenure insecurity and land degradation and thus enable fighting corruption which underlies such land issues globally. Examples include: Media highlighted impunity in land grabbing in Nairobi, Kenya and Apaa in Uganda, Philippines etc., the Global Land Tool Network interventions that have enabled community land mapping and generation of legally-recognized certificates of customary ownership in countries like Uganda has provided alternative means of legitimate land registration and data that can be used for planning by governments and communities.


With regards to the third question (What have been the main concerns for policy makers and funders not to prioritize openness of data and information in their programs and priorities? What would it take to increase policy maker and funder interest in open land data?), my thoughts are the following.  Over the years, national legislations have been passed to safeguard the privacy of respondents providing data and security of the data provided and this has necessitated the need to maintain a delicate balance between data openness and data privacy and/ or security. This has especially been the case for official government data. Policy makers often have to maintain this delicate balance, slowing down the pace at which data openness is embraced.

Misinformation of policy makers and funders has caused an ‘over-cautious’ approach to the call for open data in the lands sector. Continued advocacy and sensitization are thus required as a corrective mechanism which sets the stage for engagement to demystify what open data is, its benefits, potential risks and the degree to which data can be made open without compromising privacy and security.

The data community is experiencing unprecedented challenges especially with regard to frameworks like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the New Urban Agenda (NUA), the African Union Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa (AU F&G) etc. which demand for datasets, some of which were previously unavailable. Capacity development initiatives addressing financial and technical capabilities are thus key to ensuring innovativeness in reliable data generation as an enabler of open data.

Institutions operating with a silo mentality towards each other and lack of institutional arrangements for collaboration on data sharing has hindered the much-needed momentum to facilitate cross learning and collaborations which would enable adoption of open data.

Finally, the call for open data is a progressive means in curbing corruption in the lands sector but not an end in itself. There is still a significant need to further demystify what open data is and to what extent/degree land data can be open without compromising the data security and privacy. The value and potential risks of adopting open data policies as well as ‘how to’ guidance for stakeholders to deliberately open their data to the public is also necessary in advancing the open data discourse in the lands sector.

Contribution by Clinton Omusula.
UN Volunteer- Land Data and Knowledge Management,
Global Land Indicators Initiative (GLII),
Land and Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) Unit,
United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).

In the report "Towards Transparency in Land Ownership", Transparency International together with the International Land Coalition, IALTA, Global Witness, Transparency International Sierra Leone, and Community Land Scotland, have highlighted the difficulty the public can face in accessing data and information in land registries, as well as the often unclear procedures and jurisdiction of access in general.

Even if data is published and available, the pathways to locate and access the data can be challenging and therewith contributing to opaqueness, lack of information and participation. Ultimately, these challenges can lead to corruption, the impossibleness of holding officials accountable on the one hand and the impossibleness of officials proving their accountability on the other hand.

Especially women can encounter sexual harrassment when trying to access land data; one currency of corruption, the exchange of sexual favours for a service,  is a phenomenon known as sextortion; moreover, power imbalances can make it difficult for women to use technology that might be needed to access data

Therefore, while it is of utmost importance to open data, the availability of data and information does not automatically mean that it is easily accessible for everyone and that everyone is included. This adds another layer to the discussion around open data as a tool to counteract land corruption.

There are a lot of types of land data – property rights, lot descriptions, auction information, contracts and their values, tax payments and land evaluations, adherence to designated use of lots etc. Corruption can occur in regards to any of these. Currently, land data in Ukraine is available from around 10 cadasters (land, urban planning, water resources, timber resources etc.), few registries and industry databases (taxes, statistics etc.), and is collected by various governing bodies. Scattered land information is one of the causes for corruption. This leads us to a conclusion that one way to deal with this is to
centralize land data in a single database, which must be public and frequently updated.

Open data already exists, but partly: National Land Cadastre (from 2013, first case of publishing paper data relating to land lots), the Real Estate Registry and some others. Civil organizations were the first to use the Land Cadaster for monitoring of illegal construction sites.

In 2015, World Bank supported the creation of a first unified and comparatively comprehensive land database. It included all of the parameters (65) recommended by international experts from 6 governing bodies: State Service of Ukraine for Geodesy Cartography and Cadastre, Ministry of Justice, State Fiscal Service of Ukraine, State Statistics Service of Ukraine, State Agency of Water Resources of Ukraine. It was envisioned that that this database (“monitoring of land relations”) would be public, compulsory for all governing bodies to maintain in online mode with the help of a dedicated
web portal. However, the government hit the brakes in the initiative, Cabinet of Ministers decree that covers this still has not been voted on.

There are two main issues on the way to total land data transparency:
a) Unification of all land data
b) Unification of all geographic data

With regards to the question on whether or not government is the only source of land data or not, I believe that in general, government is not sufficient, in relation to data and to tackling the land reform as a whole.

a) There is no unified source of data, it must be created

b) Corruption is also “enabled” because of inadequate laws: 

  1. Atavistic norms that provoke corruption (free privatization) 

  2. Conflict of rights between different authorities who are in charge of monitoring the way land is distributed and used 

  3. Complex procedures (services) – that’s why you need information on implementation of these rules and rights, as well as their improvement (elimination/simplification) 

  4. Another source of corruption – low level of modern technology implementation (paper procedures, land inspections “by hand” instead of remote earth sensing). Procedures must be digitalized. 

  5. Existing sources of data must be updated and kept up to date simultaneously with the process of unification


The main problem is the corruption interest from the government, local authorities and self-governing bodies, as well as their lobbyists in the parliament, in keeping the maximum amount of land data closed, incomplete and inaccurate. Between 2004-2013 there was resistance to the creation of the Land Cadastre - the first mass publishing of data.

Demonstration of the practical use of open data is needed to increase the interest of policymakers with the goal of reducing the “corruption expenses” and increasing budget replenishment.

To increase donor interest, government interest must be increased. 

 Which types of land data can play a role in the fight against corruption? Does a solid baseline of available open land data exist? Are there examples on how this data was used in the fight against corruption?

State land data can be used to fight corruption if it is open to the public. As state lands specifically water bodies and forest lands which are more prone to get acquired illegally if these data is open to the public, people would be able to know which areas are the public property and which are not. So they can hold concerned person accountable if these lands are taken. It is seen in Bangladesh that the wetlands are more prone to get acquired in such a way that in city areas most of the wetlands are taken already. So it would make the data transparent and open to all which will in return make the govt. and other sources accountable for making those lands safe. 

There should be other sources available for land data as the ruling political parties are at the forefront of corruption towards land and to make them accountable 

Example. In early 2016, the New York Times published a series of pieces that trace shell companies buying high-value real estate across the U.S. to the people behind them. In 2015, Private Eye used Her Majesty’s Land Registry (HMLR) of the United Kingdom (UK) data to produce interactive maps that show foreign-owned properties and explain why real estate prices in the UK are skyrocketing (Cadasta). 

Is government the only source of land data, or should we also be looking at other sources of data in the fight against corruption? Are there examples of how this data was used in the fight against corruption?

There are several organizations working for land rights (like for conserving water bodies, forest land, agriculture land, housing organizations, consultancy firms, indigenous people’s land). All these organizations have some data regarding their respective fields which can be a source of valuable land data. Also there are researches conducted in universities which is also a source of land data. For example, organization like “Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD”) has specific program on land that call for organizations working in South Asia and empowers and strengthens local women to securing land rights of their community. They work with them to create local sensitivity on land rights and build movement to fight against corruption. So here local data is used directly in order to fight corruption related to land and making the authority accountable.

What have been the main concerns for policy makers and funders not to prioritize openness of data and information in their programs and priorities? What would it take to increase policy maker and funder interest in open land data?

The policy makers don’t want to make the powerful ones unhappy. Also sometimes it is not about change or an update, when foreign policy makers come to make policies they tend to stick to safe options and elongate their stay making their salary life longer. The policy makers do not attempt to cover all areas of policy-relevant research, where the tools of rigorous analysis and evaluation are sometimes brought to bear on controversial or innovative policy development. 

Putting the right man on the job can be a solution to many land problems which is very difficult in a stagnant condition like Bangladesh. Also more fresh blood needs to be incorporated with this process so that they are updated about the current world and can implement things like open data in the policy making process. Another thing can be to preaching to the policy makers, as the biggest institutions aka the religious institutions were built through preaching, so use of open land data would be easier to be incorporated. Like calling them to various workshops, awareness programs, putting them to the university short courses. 

I am grateful and delighted that many statements from the last week were already rich in information and realistic expectations on the role of and opening up data in current contexts. Many statements concluded by highlighting that next to open data, the access and sensible use of data is just as important (c.f. Ms. Jaitner from 13 September). I am happy that this week we have the opportunity to devote time exactly on this important remark.

Looking at the third principle of the Open Data Charter, we find that accessibility and usability is part of the six main principles. This way every Open Data initiative should ensure equitable access to the widest range of users and the fair reasoning for non-access. Assessing the necessary capacities or tools needed to increase the access and use of data are therefore important components for this guiding principle to come to fruition.

To that extent, I would like to refer to the freely available World Bank’s Open Data Readiness Assessment (ODRA). This tool that can be used to conduct an action-oriented assessment of the readiness of a government or individual agency to evaluate, design and implement an Open Data initiative.

Speaking from my background, it will be essential for governments and technical assistance to focus not only on providing support for open government data, e.g. in terms of training, technical advice and financing - given that there is political will -, but also for building capabilities for non-state actors and stakeholder engagement. Many donors already explore how these building blocks can be used to lead to better development outcomes (see for example GIZ publication: Data for development: What’s next?).

Our debate in Week 1 began with the provocation: “The Land Sector is Not There Yet: Before we can talk about open data, we need to have good data.” 


Our discussions have illustrated many of the limitations of current data in the land sector, including:


  • Lack of coverage and poor digitisation. Few countries appear to have all property titles in digital systems, and in many, such as South Africa, coverage is low (>). Certain types of tenure may be under-represented in digital systems, either because of how digitisation has taken place, or because certain types of land have not historically been registered. Many long-term digitisation programmes, such as Uganda’s UgNLIS, are ongoing (>).

  • Gender bias in digital data. When digital data is created, attention must be paid to whether the gender bias of old records is being reproduced (>).

  • Difficulty integrating different systems - as in the example of 10 different cadastars in Ukraine (>), or in pilot projects that have found conflicts between land ownership information discovered through on the ground surveying, and digitisation of historic records. 

  • Managing privacy concerns - recognising that, from context to context, there are different privacy concerns about land data, and that advocacy around open data is not about a simple black and white binary (>).

Although, taken together, this suggests there are substantial data gaps when it comes to understanding land registration in most countries, discussions have also illustrated that there are other datasets that can be used as part of addressing land corruption. The lack of comprehensive national cadastres and land registries, whilst inhibiting some kinds of anti-corruption effort, does not mean there are no opportunities to use open data against corruption. Other relevant sources of data can include:


  • Land use data

  • Licensing data from specific ministries

  • Data from the justice system (>), and data on bribery

  • Data on ‘Politically Exposed Persons’, asset and interest declarations;

  • Data on publicly owned land, and land transactions

  • Corporate ownership data and corporate disclosures


Much of this data does come from government, but there are also an increasing number of cases where citizens and NGOs are making use of low-cost tools to collect their own data. There is a recognition that this needs to be managed carefully to get information that is accurate enough to help groups defend their land claims. One comment noted that “there's a level of authority that comes with government-sanctioned land data as opposed to community-driven data, even in the eyes of communities” (>) and raised the question of whether work should seek to replace government data collection, or to support governments to adopt better tools and systems to improve their data collection and management. 


When it comes to examples of how open data has been used in the fight against corruption, the discussion did not surface many detailed case studies. This will be an important area to explore in our next week of discussion about how open data could be used as an anti-corruption tool. However, submissions do suggest that if individuals are made aware of their rights to access data, then some of the data sources discussed above might help anti-corruption work in particular cases, whereas other datasets may be more useful in shaping policy: helping to understand the patterns of corruption risk, and addressing problems through policy formation, execution and monitoring. 


Our final prompt question for this week was “What have been the main concerns for policy makers and funders not to prioritize openness of data and information in their programs and priorities? What would it take to increase policy maker and funder interest in open land data?”. The answers to this pointed in three distinct directions:


  • A technical capacity gap - focussing on the low capacity of many governments when it comes to managing land data systems, and thus the challenges they may have in opening up.

  • The political-economy of opening land data - highlighting that governments may lack the incentives to improve transparency of land records, particularly in cases where data is managed in different institutional silos, and there may be competing interests inside government. In cases where agencies currently generate revenue through selling access to data, this also presents a barrier to opening up.

  • An advocacy gap - noting that there hasn’t been a concerted and focussed campaign on open land data, that it is not always clear what advocacy should be asking for, and that organisations working on land reform often have to work with government and so are reluctant to push on openness (>). As one comment noted: “Misinformation of policy makers and funders has caused an ‘over-cautious’ approach to the call for open data in the lands sector. Continued advocacy and sensitization are thus required as a corrective mechanism which sets the stage for engagement to demystify what open data is, its benefits, potential risks and the degree to which data can be made open without compromising privacy and security.” (>).

Suggested approaches to address these challenges included better indicators of openness in the land sector, better networking of the advocacy community, and more work on the enabling environment for openness of land data (>). A number of comments also suggest that donor attention on open land data needs to be led by government interest in reform. To get there we may need governments to better understand the benefit case for greater openness around land ownership and transactions, including both anti-corruption benefits, and wider benefits for their policy agendas. 

Returning to this week’s provocation: are we there yet? If talk about open data in the land sector is just about open publication of land registers - then we are a long way off. But if we dig deeper into the ways open data can be a tool to shape land policy, and support specific kinds of anti-corruption effort, and we think of all the different data sources relevant for land - then we don’t need to wait to start exploring it’s potential. However, as our next week of discussion will explore: we certainly can’t assume that opening data on it’s own is enough. 

Thank you Tim for this excellent summary of a great first week with many really interesting contributions. Thanks everybody who has contributed so far and looking forward to more contributions in the weeks ahead!

I am very excited to share with you the topic of this second week of the discussion, as I believe it's a pivotal question, guided by this week's "provocation":

It takes more than Open Data to fight corruption.


While the excitement over the potential of open data as a tool to combat corruption is widely shared across the world, evidence of this impact is difficult to find. The Open movement has done well in other sectors to open up datasets and make more available, but the focus is now shifting towards the realization that more needs to be done than ‘simply’ disclosing more data. Further action, by researchers, journalists and civil society, is needed to leverage Open Data as indeed a resourceful tool in the fight against corruption.

Why is this currently not happening and what are the reasons for this? How can we make sure that increasing access to data also translates to data use? 

Questions to guide this week's provocation are:

  1. What are the needs of the different stakeholders to use Open Data? Why is it not happening? Which capacities or tools are needed to increase data use?

  2. How to avoid that increasing accessibility to open land data increases the digital divide?

  3. How can we ensure that use of Open Data is used as a means to combat corruption without invoking harmful side effects, such as putting land rights defenders at risk? What safeguards are needed to ensure data is used responsibly?

We look forward to hearing your thoughts on this week's topic!

Yes. No doubt. As a land practitioner I can confidently answer in the affirmative THE LAND SECTOR IS NOT THERE YET. I  am in charge of a land registry mandated with the custody of all statutory titles and instruments as well as their (legal) registration. I agree with you that Land ownership data is almost zero for most of the developing world. For the three questions, I revert with the following response:

Land ownership data can play a significant role in the fight against corruption. It will enable us to know who owns what and at what location. In Nigeria there are several examples on how these data (where available) were used in the fight against corruption. An anti graft institution in the country known as Economic and Financial Crime Commission uses that to confiscate some landed properties of corrupt public officials.

Is government the only source of land data? I can say yes, because data is not information, for it to be ascertained as a data it most get a formal and most importantly a legal recognition. So far the machinery for that is exclusive preserve of the government.

What have been the main concerns for policy makers and funders not to prioritize openness of data and information in their programs and priorities? Because the policy makers are the main beneficiaries of this scenario.


Open land data definitely hold much promise and value as it radically alters access to publicly produced land data thus creating better transparency and accountability. This is in addition to its role in fostering participation and evidence-based governance. However on the other hand it is important to pay critical attention to how such data is developed and used in a current complex socio-technical systems where diverse stakeholders have different agendas (some of which may not be for the good of all).


  •  Land administration continues to remain a sector where openness and transparency is lacking in many parts of the world since the land registry and cadastral records are often deemed too sensitive to share for example due to the politics of the data themselves and what the data reveals or how they are used and for whose interests
  • There may also be cases of the data itself being unreliable or in formats that are not easily accessible and in countries where the rule of law may not be strong, this presents opportunities for government and those in power to ensure lack of transparency due to abuse or corruption.
  • When looking at open data in the land sector, it is important to keep in mind legal or cultural restrictions on the level of personal data that can be released
  • When looking at open land data, there is need to look at the differential access to the hardware and software required to download and process open data sets, as well as varying levels of skills required to analyze, contextualize and interpret the data. For example if only some groups have the ability to make compelling sense of the data, they do not necessarily have the contacts needed to gain a public voice and influence a debate, or the political skill to take on a well-resourced and savvy opponent.  This results in the democratic potential of open data being overly optimistic such that most users of this data are those with high degrees of technical knowledge and an established political profile
  • In some cases open data can work to further empower the empowered or disenfranchise the poor by enabling those with financial resources and skills to access previously restricted data and to re-appropriate their lands.

What are the needs of the different stakeholders to use Open Data? Why is it not happening?

  • Civil society, bilateral agencies, governments and international organizations need awareness and understanding of common principles, processes and standards for making such land data open. 

  • In situations where there are complicated land ownership schemes or where there are few reliable official data sources, creating a unified system for land information is difficult. This is the case in Africa where approximately 70% of land is still governed under customary tenure regime, with limited or no data, including cadastral maps. This may be resolved by creating open data systems for land management. By establishing proper mechanisms for processing feedback from data users, opening data will help land administration agencies to improve data quality, while protecting the rights of individuals, including the most vulnerable.

  1. Which capacities or tools are needed to increase data use?

  • Very little attention is given to the interoperability of the different existing platforms and systems on land data and information. Investing in their harmonisation and use, would allow greater visibility and reduce duplication. 

  • Therefore training in data management sharing principles is crucial. These include understanding the FAIR data principles which set out the criteria to ensure land data is Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable.  

  • Linked Open Data principles make use of standards, so that if all content is structured in a standardized way (i.e. the same format or file type and having a URL for each type of information), the content is "machine readable" and therefore, for example, is more likely to show up in search engines.

  • Resources like LandVoc standardize the classification of content and resources, to improve the discoverability of and access to land-related information, from both global and grassroots sources, from all over the world.

  1. How to avoid that increasing accessibility to open land data increases the digital divide?

  • To ensure no one is left behind by open land data initiatives, it is important that we design projects that include components of digital literacy for local citizens. Awareness creation is important to ensure they understand the methods being used to collect their data and what protections they will receive. Training  also will aid in lifting of cultural constraints to land data sharing. 

  • We also need to ensuring approaches are engendered to promote participation and  inclusion of women. 

  1. How can we ensure that use of Open Data is used as a means to combat corruption without invoking harmful side effects, such as putting land rights defenders at risk? What safeguards are needed to ensure data is used responsibly?

  • Any new transparency or open data intervention should be assessed to review the implications for all stakeholders, and particularly for those who are in the most vulnerable or precarious situations. The sensitivity of certain datasets is dependent on context as well as cultural views of privacy, which sometimes makes it difficult to determine which datasets should be deemed open.

  • In addition, we need to ensure that we establish proper mechanisms for processing feedback from data users, opening data will help land administration agencies to improve data quality, while protecting the rights of individuals, including the most vulnerable.

The needs of different stakeholders to used Open Data are as follows: 

The development of policies and laws that underlines the need to respect and protects the civil and political rights of land rights defenders and provide access to Justice of all individuals.

The establishment of national dialogue platform by stakeholders in the used of Open Data. Etc..

Increasingly, both governments and citizens are using information technology to improve governance, shape government-citizen relations, and reduce corruption in the land sector.  According to a recent blog post shared on the Land Portal, a variety of new and affordable technologies are now available to us, meaning that land administration and the act of improving tenure security is no longer only the domain of the government and of professional classes like surveyors.  These technologies allow communities to represent themselves and with more affordable and accessible technologies such as mobile devices, allows them to take matters into their own hands.  The tools can help them map their own land and property, document it and defend it and allows them to be part of the data collection process!

One example, given by Shreya Deb of the Omidyar Network India, is that the state government had passed a law through which they intended to give land titles to close to 200,000 informal settlement dwellers across the state.  One of the important precursors to this was mapping these households.  Drones were therefore used to map communities across the state.  The advantage of using drones was that the entire community was able to be involved. The accuracy of the imagery allowed community members to recognize their own homes and better delineate community boundaries.  This allowed consensus to be reached more quickly and efficiently.  



While technology can certainly give more of us access to the information and data we need, it does remain important that decision-makers are well prepared to understand complex technologies that are in question, like blockchain for example, in order to be able to fight corruption in this sector.  

Once again, you can read more by clicking here:

Many thanks Shreya for this tangible example. Did you recall or know of instance where cases of corruption where revelead due to said mapping of household or titulation process for infromal settlements? Or could you visualise how this could have helped to reveal corrupt behaviour? Many thanks in advance!

Hi Marcus,

Within this specific example in Odisha, we did not come across cases of "corruption". However, it did document irregular development of these settlements e.g. a large number of households were on land that belonged to private actors and not necessarily the state government. This is understood only after the mapping was reconciled with existing government maps. We also know from our other work in Bangalore where satellite imagery was used to study informal settlements, that these settlements grow and expand rapidly over time, often without the knowledge of the city officials. The official number of slum settlement count in Bangalore was 597, while the study by the Duke University team showed image analysis estimated 2000 settlments. The truth is somewhere in the middle, but this visualisation helps highlight the information assymetry.

Open data is one component of broader efforts to advance meaningful transparency, which itself is often regarded as a means to more critical ends, such as the fulfillment and protection of human rights and the reduction of corruption. Yet there is often a disconnect between open data tools and the ability of rights holders and other actors in the global south to access, understand, and use that information to advance such important objectives. Open data initiatives must therefore continue to explore how dazzling technology achievements can be paired with long-term investment in the development of sustainably-resourced, local information users.

For this reason, the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment is currently researching a demand-driven approach to transparency, within the prescribed
context of land investments, focusing on the transparency needs of affected communities (and their civil society allies) and host governments. While this includes considerations around information disclosure and open data, for transparency to be transformative for these stakeholders, I am keen to see if our research uncovers strong calls for: increased technical support and skill development; host government allowance of space for the exercise of civil and political freedoms that can facilitate grass-roots focused organization and mobilization; and/or ideas for new governance processes and initiatives that can create more—and better—opportunities for local actors to access and use disclosed relevant information to participate in and
influence decision-making, protect human rights, and address corruption.

Which brings me to the question posed by this online debate: how can we leverage the Open Data revolution to ensure that data related to land ownership becomes open in ways that can be used to tackle land corruption? Our current research leads me to pose additional critical questions rather than offer a definitive answer. (My thinking here also extends beyond data related to land ownership to cover other data relevant to land investments.) Technology and international initiatives can have immense potential for transformative change, but it is important to keep the perspectives and needs of in-country actors foremost in mind. Specific questions warranting additional investigation and discussion include:

  • What information, and what opportunities to understand and mobilize such information, do local actors need in order to battle corruption and/or protect human rights?
  • How can open data initiatives be attuned to the fact that many project-affected communities, civil society organizations, and local government agencies may not have regular internet access, advanced document literacy, or experience navigating formal and political processes to achieve meaningful change? (Through our platform, we have strived to make the site’s operation and content as accessible as possible. We also pair the site with guidance, training modules and even mini-grants for global south-based CSOs who work with project-affected communities to unlock and operationalize the information they find in relevant investment contracts, which often involves printing and translating online resources.)
  • How can community-driven efforts at data generation, including the growing data sovereignty movement, be legitimized and incorporated into open data initiatives and, more importantly, official decision-making processes?
  • And what risks might open data initiatives actually introduce, when data becomes more accessible to actors disposed to exploiting this openness to their advantage, while continuing to stifle efforts at advancing meaningful transparency for local actors?

On this last question, my colleague, Kaitlin Cordes, helpfully noted the following in a previous Land Portal debate:

While I firmly believe that increased transparency of land contracts will be widely beneficial, I also urge caution for transparency and open data
enthusiasts. In my view, any new transparency or open data intervention should be assessed ex ante to review the possible implications for all stakeholders, and particularly for those who are in the most vulnerable or precarious situations. As Malcolm Childress noted earlier, open data can backfire when governance institutions are weak. One cautionary story comes from southwest India, where the digitization of land records may have created more opportunities to exploit already marginalized people (although this program has also been described as a success). As Michael Gurstein has explained in arguing for an “effective use” approach, “in the absence of efforts to equalize the playing field with respect to enabling opportunities for the use of newly available data, the end result may be increased social divides rather than reduced ones particularly with respect to the already poor and

This is why I cringe when I hear the argument that transparency efforts are “neutral.” While the opening of data can be considered neutral in a very narrow sense, any effort always happens in a specific and non-neutral setting. Understanding the socio-political context is thus important for ensuring that an effort does more good than bad. Opening up data in many cases can be beneficial, but it must be done with sufficient safeguards to protect the most
vulnerable from the potential downsides of transparency. For those of us concerned about land rights, I would argue that this means that the most vulnerable of legitimate land rights holders should be at the front of our analyses and at the heart of our decisions.

Thanks Sam - this is a really insightful contribution. 

I'm struck by your description of the "disconnect between open data tools and the ability of rights holders and other actors in the global south to access, understand, and use that information" and the hints at a "demand-driven approach to transparency": I would love to learn more about that and how you are thinking about the demand-driven approach.

Your comments call to mind the way in which many open data initiatives started working on the supply side, and then, when use was limited by the technical complexity of using raw data, have often put investment into 'intermediaries'. Intermediaries of course can help lower the barriers to data use, but too often I think I've seen intermediary projects seek to act as 'neutral' platforms simply making data more accessible, rather than 'action oriented' platforms that take an opinionated and action-oriented approach to making data accessible for very specific uses. I wonder how a demand-driven approach might fit with supporting the more critical design of intermediary tools (and resources, training, programmes etc.) that can overcome technical barriers to data use. 

That sounds incredibly relevant, thanks Tim. Is there any literature you could share on this point? We'd love to investigate it further and see what community members and host government representatives think.

too often I think I've seen intermediary projects seek to act as 'neutral' platforms simply making data more accessible, rather than 'action oriented' platforms that take an opinionated and action-oriented approach to making data accessible for very specific uses. 

There is some good work on Open Data Intermediaries in this paper: which speaks to some of this. Will think about other potential places this has been discussed in the literature. 

1. What are the needs of the different stakeholders to use Open Data?

  • Different stakeholders need access to data for different reasons, but in the context of the fight against corruption in the land sector, citizens and citizen groups that are fighting corruption, anti-corruption agencies and courts need data to establish the truth about claims and counter-claims regarding rights to land. This data is also important for preventing corruption to the extent that access to information enables proper decision making and avoidance of conflict

2. Which capacities or tools are needed to increase data use?

  • There are both hardware and software needs for increasing data use. The data has to exist, and be of the right quality for it to be of any use. The data has to be presented in a form/format and language that will be accessible to the users. The means of retrieving the data should be available, accessible, affordable and useable by those who need to access the data. Skills are needed to access and analyse the data for effective use. Policy, legal and institutional arrangements are an integral part of the framework.

3. How to avoid that increasing accessibility to open land data increases the digital divide?

  • By investing in capacity building, skills development and provision of the hardware and software that citizens need to access and make effective use of open land data.

4. How can we ensure that use of Open Data is used as a means to combat corruption without invoking harmful side effects, such as putting land rights defenders at risk? What safeguards are needed to ensure data is used responsibly?

  • Putting in place the appropriate policy, legal and institutional frameworks is an important starting point. The extent to which open land data can be made use of to combat corruption depends on other contextual factors related to governance and the rule of law that are a function of the constitutional order in place in the country. Respect for human rights, backed preferably by an enforceable Bill of Rights that entrenches among others, the right of access to information, the right of access to justice, and an independent Judiciary are some of the foundational factors that will ensure land rights defenders are not put at risk.
  • Open Data Policy and right to information law can integrate codes of conduct that ensure that data is used responsibly, and that the correct balance is kept between ensuring access to information and respecting and protecting rights to privacy.

“Let Me Google That For You” - Why Data Can’t Just Be Available. It must be Accessible.

It was the mid-1990s, and the fledgling World Wide Web was quickly being populated with information. In order to help a growing body of users make sense of the internet, dozens of search engines began to appear: Lycos, Yahoo and Altavista, to name a few. These primitive search engines ranked web pages based on their content and keywords.

Around the same time, two Stanford PhD students began to tinker in a friend’s garage with a new type of search engine, one that would incorporate “back-links” (the number of times other web pages referred to a particular page) to determine a site’s importance. The students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, decided to name their search engine “Google”.

Fast forward twenty years, and the Google search engine is ubiquitous around the world, while most of its initial competitors have packed it up. In fact, “to google” has been added as a verb to English language dictionaries. 

Why? Because Google search found a way to not only make information available, but to make it accessible. Its innovative algorithm allowed people to quickly find the information they needed, and to trust the results, instead of making them wade through a sea of online detritus in search of buried insights.

The land community should keep this history lesson in mind, as it grapples with the question of open data.

For the purpose of this online discussion, Land Portal defines open data as data that can be “freely used, shared and built on by anyone, anywhere, for any purpose”. On one hand, that sounds nice. On the other hand, it sounds like chaos. 

There are 7.7 billion people on this earth. We’d like to know where they live, how much their homes are worth, the coordinates of their farm plots and whether those farms are in use. We want to know how recently families bought their homes, or if they aren’t owners, when they started to rent and how much they pay. We want to know whose land was condemned and when they were forced off the land, and whether they were paid compensation. We want to know whether the names of all family members are on the housing document, or only of the male head of household.

That is a lot of data, much of  which must be updated daily to keep current. In an open data environment, how will users find the information they need? Will they be able to query only for individual data points, or will they be able to derive insights, for example about housing trends or land insecurity hot spots?

Not only that - the definition of open data suggests that “anyone, anywhere” can share and contribute to the data set. How do we know the veracity of the data being contributed? And how do we know if the information shared is current? 

Are we envisioning a “Wikipedia” of land, a database whose content is freely developed and moderated by the entire community, with those who require a higher degree of fidelity (banks or courts, for example) relying less on the open data set and more on a closed and verified “official” data set?

These are not questions meant to shut down the discussion of open data, but rather to encourage us to think about how we structure this data set, with an eye not only towards openness, but towards accessibility. 

How do we build the equivalent of a Google search engine for the land community? I don’t mean a literal search engine (though perhaps that is the right answer here). What I mean is a system that makes land data accessible and intuitive, not just to professionals but to the layperson. 

After all, if the purpose of open land data is to democratize land governance and reduce corruption, then we must find a way to make it easy for everyone to use, not just the savvy, rich and powerful.

Thanks Yuliya: these are fantastic points. 

It raises a very key question about the kind of technical infrastuctures we are seeking to build, and the relationship between public, commercial and non-profit infrastructures. Of course, Google's other key innovation was AdWords - enabling them to profit from providing a massive centralised search index of the Web, and thus sustain the investment it takes to provide that service.

At a simple level, one answer to the question "How do we build the equivalent of a Google search engine for the land community?" is through common standards. The adoption of standards for how data is structured lowers the costs of making data interoperable, and can allow emergence of meta-data driven search platforms and knowledge graphs. In many different domains, markups like are being deployed to enable more structured data search. Whilst these do exist in an 'anyone can say anything about anything (AAA)' world, the use of domains (e.g. trust content from and other trust layers could help at least distinguish official from unofficial claims. 

However, such approaches also rely on deeper technical standards and capacities of governments to maintain land registries with consistent URLs for land information. Experience suggests that in many countries, such capacities are still lacking. 

At the wider level, I think your comment goes a really long way in helping to define what standards will need to cover: highlighting that what good and accessible data looks like depends on the use-case to which you want to put it.

  • For example, someone looking for information to deal with a particular land conflict may benefit from a well-designed global search tool that can highlight all the data (from both government and non-government sources) related to a particular parcel or location - but they may not need bulk access to all the land register data, and may be ok if a land register provides, say, five free title downloads a month.
  •  By contrast, someone doing in-depth gender analysis, will need much better meta-data to be provided, and will want bulk access to data (but may not need exact parcel boundaries); 

Having these kinds of conversations to link user needs to technical requirements is really important in setting out the future we want to see. 

Reflecting on this does bring to mind that much early open data advocacy (at least in experience of the UK and US) was rooted in a frustration with the inability of governments to build websites that actually met user needs. Making a call for 'raw data now' was seen as a way for technologists to get hold of data, and build websites that were more accessible than those governments were building in house (the UK Govt ran a competition back in 2008 called 'ShowUsABetteWay' premised on disrupting how government tech was made - enabling government insiders to sidestep the frustrating of trying to procure the kinds of user-focussed websites they wanted). Whether such an approach remains relevant today is a question worth asking. 

When development projects are announced in rural Africa, the elites and politically influential rush to acquire land in the space earmarked for development at cheaper rates. They later use them to claim huge compensations from the government or to sell to investors at exorbitant figures. Investors in turn promise jobs, economic growth and prosperity in exchange for local lands, yet struggle to keep their word.

In July 2019, the government of Madagascar started consulting rural stakeholders on community land rights. At the backdrop of this action rests the idea to protect citizens from cheating international and domestic investors, while ensuring fair and equitable development. The problem of corruption in the land sector is one that Transparency International reckon affects all citizens of Africa.  

Land corruption is a concern that stakeholders have been rallying efforts over the years to combat. At ILC, members use open data to fight land grabbing and corruption. Between 2016 and 2018, in collaboration with Land Matrix, the International Land Coalition (ILC) launched the national land observatories in Cameroon, Senegal and Uganda. These platforms plug on already existing multiple stakeholder networks led by members and non-members of ILC in the country to report corruption in land by sharing information about known land deals in an open platform, which can be accessed by the public.  

One big strength of such platforms is journalists and activists, who dig into development deals to find instances of corruption. But journalists and activists sometimes are not well tooled to lead proper investigations on land. To enable them to develop better skills to fight land corruption, ILC launched an initiative in 2018 that trained journalists and frontline land activists on how to lead investigative reporting on land. The training driven by African Centre of Media Excellence (ACME), an ILC member, made use of tools and toolkits developed by ILC members on fighting land corruption to tool activists on how to go about investigations.  

It also drilled stakeholders how to use openly available sources to get information on land corruption and how to interpret land deals. The outcome of this has been the breaking of stories that has held leaders accountable in Nigeria and Liberia, increased engagement between local media and civil society activists in Senegal and South Africa and improved participation of citizens in debates on land.  

ILC members also use tools like participatory mapping and land use planning in villagesto end corruption in the land sector. It has been particularly successful in bringing peace in conflict ridden villages of Kenya and Tanzania. Under the leadership of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), ILC members have used these approaches to promote land governance in rangelands and to improve the livelihoods of cattle keepers. 

One lesson to draw from all these examples is that it is people centred and have a high-level of community buy-in. Data driven approaches work better when they are participatory, and community led.

* Please note that this contribution was written by Juliet Tsuma and Israel Bionyi of the ILC Africa Communications Department


This is fascinating. Do you happen to have links to any of the stories that were broken through this work? 

Israel from Land Coalition has been in touch to share some links and cases:







Nigeria :


In Liberia there was a new land code. Nigeria, a corrupt official was forced not to stand for office. In DRC, there was citizen debates and in Malawi, the same.

Corruption is a term that can be quite confusing. As long as it is not fully clear about the content we might use synonyms like bribery, fraud and related terms like illegal transactions, manipulation of database content. Solution to combat corruption depends very much on the specific situation. 

Open access to the land registers can be of great help to trace suspected transactions or to uncover (not declared or hidden) properties from politicians, high ranking (governmental) officers and so forth. Suspicious transaction in real estate could also be traced for instance when the owner of a given property changes 2 or 3 times on the same day or when sales prices of the same property are very different over a short period of time. 

Open access to these kinds of data is a political issue in itself. Many countries do not allow to inspect the registers freely: only authorized persons are able to check (online) the data. Some countries are indeed very strict like Germany or rather strict (Spain, France, Belgium)  and other countries are very open (Netherlands, Sweden, UK, Austria, etc). Some countries have no central portal, in which case it can be a hassle to get relevant information. In some countries information is available only at the counter of the Land Registry office.

Most registers have the option to block access to information for certain persons, in most cases when disclosure of information (eg on the value of property or the address) could harm the person.

In most countries the public attorney or police officials have free access upon request when information is need for a case where corruption or fraud is suspected.     

A special form of corruption is the illegal or unauthorized change of the data in the registers by staff of the Land Register or by external hackers. A good track and tracing system can help to fight this type of corruption but is by far not enough. To prevent manipulation of data Blockchain technology can be a great support. See for instance an article on blockchain published in the LAND JOURNAL magazine of RICS. By nature BC-technology is a very strong concept to safeguard the exclusivity of the data. The weaker to general rule of law and the protection of IT-systems, the higher the risk. Especially high risk countries in Africa and Asia, Land Registers could benefit from BC to combat this specific type of corruption.

Thanks for signposting this. You mention that "A special form of corruption is the illegal or unauthorized change of the data in the registers by staff of the Land Register or by external hackers." Do you know if there are any statistics or reports on the prevalence of this problem? 

I believe use of land data has to be simplified:

a) Unification of maximum number of databases
b) Friendly interface (UX)
c) Promotional campaign (training, educational seminars)

When it comes to risks of misuse, I think (1) we need to weigh the risks that may lead to greater danger: data secrecy or openness? For whom - for the average owner of 2 hectares, or for the owner of 10 illegally obtained plots? And (2) The list of data that is proposed to be kept private should be discussed separately - in accordance with international practice.

Hi Rami, thank you for your very interesting insight. When reading your contribution, two specific questions came to my mind:

1) When you talk about simplifiying the use of land data, who do you think has a role here? Are you thinking about governments, or other stakeholders as well? Do you think that there is sufficient capacity within those institutions to address these aspects of simplification of data use?

2)  Your statement about dangers of data secrecy as opposed to the openness are really interesting. I would tend to agree that in Western countries for example, with systems in place where citizens are protected and can defend their rights to land whenever it would be contested -- in those countries indeed there is a greater danger in secrecy than in openness. However, in the context of this discussion, we are talking about countries beyond Europe and North America as well and are talking about corruption specifically. We hear stories of communities that prefer data 'secrecy' because opening up data on their settlements or productivity of their land for example, can result in displacement: loss of land, livelihood and even identity. 

With that context in mind, I am curious to hear more from you about the list of data that should be kept private in accordance with international practice. As the contribution by Rik Wouters (link) shows, there is great variety between countries in how open they are about their land registers. What international practice are you referring to and what list of data should, in your opinion, be kept private?

Technology, in particular cost-effective technologies that help to close the digital divide, have the undeniable ability to provide the enabling conditionsfor increased tenure security.  

Due to the limited number of land surveyors in most countries and the use of outdated regulated surveying and registration procedures, registering land can be a long and cumbersome process.  Despite this, how can land be registered at scale?  The answer, it seems, lies in technology and can be exemplified by the following.  

One such example can be found in several villages in Tanzania where the government and USAID have been piloting the use of the Mobile Applications to Secure Tenure (MAST),one of several (open-source) applications available on the market.  MAST is a suite of innovative technology tools and inclusive methods that uses mobile devices and a participatory approach to efficiently, transparently, and affordably map and document land and resource rights.

Using mobile solutions is not only participatory, but it is also cheap and fast.  Analysis shows that MAST has brought down the costs for issuing a Customary Certificate of Right of Occupancy (CCROs), the legal certificate of securing tenure for customary land in rural Tanzania, to less than $10.  It has been proven that simple, cost effective technologies have increased transparency in land governance systems, reduced the costs of producing CCROs and have streamlined the process of issuance of CCROs at scale.

Of course, technology is not the silver bullet for securing land tenure. What technology that is made available to all can do, is increase transparency and raise awareness.  





There may be some value in considering information on a spectrum between open and closed. Various participants in land tenure can have information that others don't (yet) have.

For example, consider rental markets: a landlord and tenant make a contract together that is not public. Later--if payment is not made, or the premises are unlivable in some way--in an ideally functioning system, the landlord or tenant may publicize the agreement to a court and have the matter rectified.

The key to making this work against corruption is to provide a way for a less-advantaged person to campaign against a more-advantaged person. If the tenant in the example above does not have a written contract, they are at a huge disadvantage when the landlord evicts them without notice.

Technology can also help here, especially in conjunction with math (cryptography). It's possible, for example, to publicly register a piece of information that means nothing until the person who registered reveals what it means to a court.

To clarify with another example: suppose the above tenant takes a digital picture of their rental contract at the time she began renting. Using cryptography, the mobile app that takes the picture could calculate something called a "hash" that is a large, unique number that can only be matched to that picture (no other picture will generate the same number when "hashed"). She then submits the hash to a public register (it could be a database, or a blockchain*). This way, if the landlord were to try to assert that the contract started later than it did, the tenant could show proof that her contract matches the hash of a document that was publicly registered previously, and the true date of entry for the contract can be established with evidence.

There are a number of ways that systems can be developed to use asymmetric information so that (legally or financially) disadvantaged people can assert their rights. This can be done while preserving other protections, like privacy, which fully open systems fail to do.

* Duane Johnson is a software engineer at Medici Land Governance, a for-benefit company bringing blockchain technology to land titling and administration systems


I'd like to offer some expereinces from the Mekong – but let me add a bit more context to this. Corruption within the land sector can’t be addressed with traditional, top-down models of land management and cadastral systems -particularly in the context of the Mekong (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar). Despite the context of each of these countries being different, when it comes to land there are a great many similarities. 

Corruption and indeed, the blatant abuse of State bodies and power in divesting citizens - particularly the most vulnerable and poor - of land is rampant. Particularly affected are ethnic and indigenous people who are not able to self-determine as indigenous under state regulations that are limited, because if you don’t exist as a people under the law, you don’t have access to land.

It is for this reason that indigenous sovereign data is crucial when discussing the role of open data in fighting corruption. Thanks, Sam, for bringing up this topic. At the Open Development Initiative we are aware of the importance of indigenous rights in data governance – an area that increasingly has greater and greater impact on indigenous people, often without their knowledge and understanding, due to the proliferation of telecommunications, the push to keep up with Industry 4.0 and the trend of “big data”. ODI has been supporting and working with indigenous groups throughout the Mekong on how to integrate the ideals and principles of Indigenous Data Sovereignty (IDS) into open data principles - not only for the purpose of broader data governance (design, collection, analysis, storage and use) but to shift the narrative on indigenous peoples that is being presented to be more reflective of indigenous worldviews.

The global movements of IDS are advanced in many older nations such as the First Nations of Canada and the United States, the Māori in New Zealand and Aboriginals of Australia. Indigenous peoples in these contexts have fought for and won their right to self-determine and as such, can exercise their customary rights over land. This is not the case in the Mekong Region.

Open Data principles alone cannot cater to the needs of Indigenous people, and in fact are sometimes at odds. Indigenous people should have the right to be sovereign over their data in ways that is reflective of their collectivism, customary beliefs and traditional knowledge to progress their own development. Examples of integrations of Open Data principles and IDS can be found here:

For further reading on IDS please see:

Open Development is using these examples to better inform our own policies on how we can be more inclusive and responsible when it comes to sharing data on ethnic and indigenous communities. You can read more about our experiences from the Mekong here and also on how we are advocating to drive the mainstreaming of IDS within dominant Open Data communities here

This work has led us to conduct extensive research into the security risks of open data sharing in the Mekong. We are also developing a responsible data policy that will incorporate some of these findings while being inclusive of IDS principles.

Additionally, we are supporting efforts to research the application of decentralized networks in a peer to peer setting to allow disconnected communities to gather and collect data that is appropriate to their local context, accessible in low-literacy communities and allows for control over which data to share openly or not. In this way we hope to generate a grassroots, bottom-up approach to not only demonstrate that communities can manage their own data but also offer an alternative model to what it means to open land data in a context where State institutions are not vested in a rights-based approach.

Open data is not a magic bullet. However, as Yuliya Panfil highlights, if we allow for the breakdown of rigid definitions then perhaps we can be more inclusive.


Thanks Pyrou for this insighful post. I've been reading up on some of the attached papers, and was particularly struck by your descriptions of Indigenous Data Sovereignty pilots in "Indigenous data sovereignty in the Mekong Region" where you say:

"Continued progress in this arena would perhaps be seeing the use of data collected on self-identified traditional land boundaries being used in this government process and related reviews."

I found this really challenges some of the assumptions I had made in responding to Yuliya's exploration of what an open land information ecosystem could look like, where I had thought it might be possible to draw a relatively binary distinction between 'official' (government) data, and other data. Yet - it seems any worldwide system to support discovery and access (not neccessarily open data access) to data on land that are sensitive to IDS (whilst also managing against risks of data being polluted with adversarial/malicious/spam data) - would need to rely on some sort of infrastructures to identify 'authoriative' IDS sources. Is this a coherent thing to ask for? 

Simply - yes and no - I'm going to put a disclaimer on this response because in truth my research to date hasn't uncovered either a social/communal or technical solution to solving these problems but continues to raise questions on how could this alternative model be implemented. 

I think that you are correct in pointing out that you need an 'authoritative' vetting system, so no it’s not unreasonable to ask for this, however as yet we have not determined a system or case study which truly allows for control at both individual and collective levels. ODI is hoping to conduct some research into this.

Civil Society has been a driving force in advancing Open Data agandas l, including through standard setting, and taking Open Data ideas in to new fields. 

The conceptual ambiguity of Open Government Data presents strategic dilemmas for Civil Society, and can leads to competition between Civil Society and start - up for resources. 

Smaller Civil Society Organizations still lack the resources needed to invest in the hard technical capacities they need to take advantage of Open Data. 

Future work should move beyond engagement with usual suspects at international events to focus on the Open Data capacity and needs of established national - level Civil Society Organizations. 

I see this is taken from the key points of Christopher Wilson's chapter in State of Open Data on civil society role supporting engagement with open data. The full chapter is here: 

Needs of using open land data are as follows 

1. Increase prosperity 

Ten years ago, transferring property in Rwanda took more than a year. Today, with a web-based land administration system, this process takes about a month. (Noel Taylor) 

2. Reduce corruption 

Transparency International found that 1 in 5 people across the globe have paid a bribe for land services. That can put land administration services out of reach for poor people who may not be able to afford illegal payments. (Noel Taylor) 

3. Increase tax revenue 

In Jamaica, the government’s own records on land are so outdated that the government is estimated to be collecting only about 10 percent of the total potential property tax revenue. (Noel Taylor) 

4. Promote conservation 

An initiative in the Democratic Republic of Congo uses datasets to create layered maps that show natural resource claims, existing forests, roads and the boundaries of indigenous lands to identify potential conflicts and proactively protect natural resources and communities. (Noel Taylor) 

Even after having so many needs to use open data, there are some risks as well which include increased conflict, increased local tensions, violation of privacy, putting undocumented communities and households at risk. Moreover, open land data will definitely cause some suffering to the defaulters who as a result don’t want this to come under action. 

How to avoid that increasing accessibility to open land data increases the digital divide? 

This problem can be vital in developing countries like Bangladesh. Though a lot of people are using smart phones and internet, still a huge number is lagging behind because of poor economic condition. Even if the land data is open, some people will still not be able to access them and as a result some middlemen will intervene who will charge some amount to enclose the information to the deprived people. The solution can be to provide information via designated service providers in every locality free of cost. Also schools can be used to teach children and their parents how to search for land data and get desired information. 

- Provide people with free customized internet services that can only be used for searching land information portal. 

How can we ensure that use of Open Data is used as a means to combat corruption without invoking harmful side effects, such as putting land rights defenders at risk? What safeguards are needed to ensure data is used responsibly? 

By creating a community where all the land rights activists/defenders would come together to provide support to each other, these side effects can be avoided. Unveiling corruption will make some people unhappy and it’s obvious the people forefront of a campaign or activity will be targeted. But by being together, the land community can be stronger and face any kind of risks. Also partnering with other organizations which works for safeguarding the activists would influence more people to come forward to ensure transparency and accountability in land sector. 

At first, the data of the state lands (as these are the lands more prone to illegal acquisition) can be shown public to show the govt. sector and policy makers that it works to ensure transparency. Then, upon it’s successful conduction, all land related data can be made available to public. Unfortunately, open land data are gathered without considering the need of the people like what kind of data is actually required by the general people. But this should always be kept in mind that any bottom up intervention is more useful than to use a top down approach. 

My concern is; yes we strive harder into fighting corruption by providing Open Land Data for everyone yet we don't field professionals to help interpret, implement and utilize these open data provided for the optimum best use of land while enforcing sustainability agenda. All i mean is as a team concerned with Global Land Use and Management, we should also start offering job opportunities to our brothers and sisters who are professionals who can help drive away this corruption menace powerfully driven by land cartels in our economies.

There are few, if any, magic bullets to address complex challenges of corruption in the land sector. In our discussions we have identified how the use of open data, in particular, relies upon:

  • having usable and reliable data (>)

  • hardware and software to access the specialist file formats it is encoded in (>), or having access to platforms built by intermediaries (>). 

  • an understanding of land governance, and the cultural context of data about particular land;

  • And having “the contacts needed to gain a public voice and influence a debate, or the political skill to take on a well-resourced and savvy opponent” (>).

As Baba Hope notes, this is often not just a question of capacity, but also of employment (>): are enough people in roles that afford them the time and resources to do the hard work of turning land data into advocacy and impact?

Getting all these ‘inputs’, ‘processes’ and ‘outputs’ of an open data theory of change to work together to produce outcomes and impacts is undoubtedly tricky, but we have seen at least one example in our conversation of where, through interventions to provide training and build community, open data is being put to use. Juliet Tsuma described training for journalists and activists to dig into large land deals data, resulting in “breaking of stories that has held leaders accountable in Nigeria and Liberia” (>). The importance of training and capacity building, and creating cultural awareness, comes up across a range of contributions. 

However, we may also want to ask why don’t we see more examples come up in our discussion of open data use? Is the reason that case study sites like lack anything about land because the cases don’t exist? Or is it because they have not been written up? Personally, I think at least some of the gap relates to research. An over-restrictive research lens, that looks only for cases of use of datasets licensed under the open definition may have a small sample of cases to draw upon, but if we step back and look for ways in which open approaches are supporting discovery of data, stakeholder collaboration, and advocacy work - we can learn more about what open data approaches bring. 

Yuliya Panfil also calls for us to step back and consider not open datasets, but the creation of a global system of data that is “accessible and intuitive, not just to professionals but to the layperson” (>). This raises questions of interoperability and standardisation, but also of governance, and how to combine state-created data, with data created by communities, and in particular, by indigenous groups (>). It also ties into conversational threads this week on what should be fully open, and how privacy and human rights should be protected. If we starting from defining specific ‘user needs’ for data, in some cases discovering where records exist without needing to disclose full title records may be enough (or all that can be safely carried out given lacking political, legal or institutional frameworks (>)). Duane Johnson also points to ways in which cryptographic tools can provide a space between open and closed, where claims can be verified without their content being fully revealed (>). 

A number of other approaches to manage the tension between openness and privacy were also explored this week. These all recognise the importance of context, with Rami putting the succinct question: “What is the greater danger: data secrecy or openness?” (>) - a question that will have different answers by country, context and stakeholder group. Pyrou Chung reported on ongoing work to develop a responsible data policy that also takes account of Indigenous Data Sovereignty (>), and Soen Nonen suggests one way to take steps towards transparency is to start with data on state lands (>), only later thinking about individual property titles. 

If one overarching message comes out though across this weeks contributions, it is that future work on open data in anti-corruption needs to have a clear bottom-up, user-need and demand-driven approach to complement work on building standards and systems for interoperable data exchange. This has to recognise that the creation and use of land data is rarely politically neutral (>), and whilst in some other sectors (agriculture, aid etc.), different stakeholders may have been able to find consensus about what to open up and how, in land, there is likely to be ongoing contestation. 

As we look to the next week of discussions, we may want to keep in mind the kinds of guidance that can help governments and other stakeholders to take more systemic and demand-driven approaches to their work on land governance.

Thanks everybody again for your great contributions to the debate. We look forward to getting to some concrete solutions and see how we can provide guidance to various stakeholders, including government, on how to open up & use land data responsibly in this third and final week.

To guide our discussions this week, this is our 'provocation of the week':

Governments are not getting the necessary guidance to take action to open land data responsibly.


Within this complicated framework of open land data and land corruption, the question is now how we can move from individual actions that have created minor ripples in the fight against corruption, to more large-scale and sector-wide impacts. Considering the mantra “open by default” embraced by open data advocates tends to scare many other actors away, clearly, there is a need for more nuanced guidance. Not only should the land sector be triggered to be more open, in turn, the Open Data sector should be more guided on risks in opening up data.

What are concrete steps we can take to move towards this more nuanced guidance? It is possible to provide general guidelines that allow for sufficient nuance, safety for all stakeholders and adaptable to many different and greatly varying contexts in which land corruption plays a role?

Questions to guide your responses to this statement are:

  1. How can we build stronger, sustainable and more effective connections among those working on land, corruption and/or open data? 

  2. How can we leverage a nuanced Open Data message that convinces land data stakeholders across the globe to open up land data responsibly?

  3. How can we facilitate and strengthen the work of various stakeholders to generate and use data evidence to demand accountability and to lead in the fight against land corruption?

We look forward to hearing your thoughts on these issues!

Strong Collaboration among various Stakeholders can facilitate and strengthen the use of Open Land Data by national Government. Open Data on Land should be accessible to all Stakeholders to facilitate transparency and accountability in the fight against land Corruption at all levels. It is the duty and responsibility of Government to make data accessible on all its services being provided to gain the trust of its citizens. The use of Open Data by national government at all levels will serve as the means of Government being accountable to its citizens. 

advocacy and education must be at the epicentre of land data debate to fight corruption at all levels.By educating the stakeholders it will help them to view the issue in an enlightened way.More resources availability will also help in allowing education and advocacy to be enable.

Can we search for more collaboration between research institutions and industry, therefore governments and policy makers? This would allow and encourage industry/gov to learn from research data and the open practices. Resources such as in R4L initiative can leverage such collaborations in developing countries.

  • Can smallholders and farmer organisations be educated/informed to unlock and demand the transparency issues in land registry? Farmer profiling and digital agriculture services could be the ways to tackle land corruptions.  (this point refers to farmers’ data management course content)
  • Do policy makers benefit from increasing their capacity in policy development, responsible use of data, data protection, and obtaining strategic data skills (e.g. data sharing frameworks/principles)? Existing efforts such as GODAN Action capacity development experience can be used for that purpose.   
  • What is the proportion of lack of infrastructure in opening up the land data? How can existing platforms such as AGRIS, GARDIAN, CERN Portal support governments to unlock their data? 
  • Important to understand legal pluralism (when one or more legal systems are used in the same community, town, region, or country.
  • Legal scholarship is crucial for researching the law where you have an intersection between customary law and inherited legal systems from colonialism.
  • Scholarship becomes hugely important when we are talking about a society with multiple legal frameworks in place because it can help us better understand how these systems operate together.
  • Legal scholarship can help identify a) Relevant customary law and its evolution  b) Impact of application of a western approach to a legal subject where custom existed previously c) Marginalized populations and how the different legal systems impact their access to the law  e) Approaches that neighbouring countries have taken to address legal issues  f) Potential human rights concerns. These all tie into land ownership and the fight against corruption.

Yes, the public education is important for increase demand of good land administration. Public education also boost the participation of landowners at different level of methods. However we followed two types of public education methods for general landowners and vulnerable landowners. 

We understood that open data could be used as tool. Most importanly we have to think about the methods to implement tool. Methods can vary based on the context and culture. Landowners behavior is also important to develop methods. We found that vulnerable landowners particularly women, widow, religious minorities, persons with disabilities, single mothers, never married and divorces are happy to go through the methods. By the way of my experience, I found that landowners willing to present at plot/parcel on the day of parcel's spatial data collection, describe the ownership documentation to surveyors, correction of errors, understanding the exiting land disputes, collection of initial registration documents, finalize the title etc. We added few more events in order to combat corruption i.e. a) public display of draft maps and landowners data, b) sending mobile phone based SMS to absent landowners, c) identification of women landowners and help to describe ownerhsip documents, d) identification of state, public and private land during public display. We found that only tool would'nt helpful without support of methods. Vulnerable landowners are scared to share that they are received threathen from big landowners/negibors. Especially women landowners are more affaird to share their insecurity. So we organised community events where we show all data. Our volunteers built the relationship with women first. Then women shared their stories of vulnerabilities. Then volunteers assist women to come to public display, check the information and file complain if necessary. It is also important to educate women on land literacy. So that they can find-out own parcel in the Mouza map. Then they can find-out deed, registration, tax reciept, mutation documents etc.  Method also includes coordinated with ocal elected bodies  of local government and surveyed women landowners in order to combat fake sucession certification. This is another area of corruption. We found that one Mouza map publication taking 10-12 years. Within this time, changes are coming on land size, ownership and classification. Huge corruption taking place due to delay publication of Mouza map.  We tested all of the methods at field level and found it is working for combating corruption. 

How can we build stronger, sustainable and more effective connections among those working on land, corruption and/or open data? 

  • National working groups to be established with members of Ministries of Information and Communication Technology ICT, Ministries of Lands, Inspectorates of Government, governmental Anti-Corruption Units, Open Data experts, Data Protection experts, actors of the private sector providing technology solutions, CSOs advocating for Open Data, Land Rights, Women’s Land Rights, Youth Land Rights and Data Privacy as well as CSOs advocating against corruption in order to exchange information and up to date knowledge.
  • Working groups to develop and finalise context and country specific guidelines for the gradual publication of land related data taking into consideration privacy and security risks associated to making such data available to the public. 

How can we leverage a nuanced Open Data message that convinces land data stakeholders across the globe to open up land data responsibly? 

  • As a first step, land related laws, regulations and policies to be made accessible to the public online.
  • Secondly, land related laws, regulations and policies published online to be presented in a simplified and comprehensible way, in multiple (official and vernacular) languages and including pictograms – thereby, issues surrounding language barriers, low levels or lack of education and illiteracy can be addressed. This would particularly assist (rural) women as they face gender related barriers to information based on fewer years of schooling and societal obstacles to accessing justice. 
  • The publishing of such content does not pose any privacy or security risk to stakeholders as it does not contain any private information. On the contrary, it would address the issue of the lack of access to comprehensible legal, institutional and policy framework as one of the driving forces behind land corruption.
  • The publication of more sensitive land related data should only occur according to previously established context and country specific guidelines and post public awareness campaigns efforts informing civil society, lawmakers and government officials how concerns surrounding privacy and security issues are taken into consideration and are addressed.

How can we facilitate and strengthen the work of various stakeholders to generate and use data evidence to demand accountability and to lead in the fight against land corruption?

  • Regional Multi-Stakeholder Platforms on Open Data and Land Corruption to be held to showcase best practice examples how the generation and use of land related Open Data assists in demanding accountability and fighting land corruption, and to promote South-South learning and cooperation.
  • These platforms to further facilitate dialogue and cooperation among participating countries for the enhancement of their capacities for better management of land related Open Data in the fight against land corruption, and to strengthen the work of various stakeholders through information collection and dissemination. 
  • At country level, public awareness campaigns to be implemented to highlight the benefits of land related Open Data for the fight of land corruption, but also to demonstrate how concerns surrounding privacy and security issues are taken into consideration by various stakeholders.
  • Webinars and online courses on Open Data Management and Land Governance to be provided for the professional development of stakeholders who generate, use and manage Open Data. The development and advertisement of these webinars and online courses to target youth and women to increase the participation and inclusion of young people and female professionals in the fight against land corruption. 

During a recent discussion with a well-known lawyer specialized in environment related litigations in the state of Kerala in India, with regard to the conservation of Mangroves, he mentioned about the frequent questions from the Judges of Honorable Courts about authenticity of the data which are submitted as evidences in Public Interest (PILs) and other litigations to conserve natural resources. Litigations are the foremost means of fighting corruption in India where the protests on or off the streets are less effective especially during the recent time. Authenticity of the data for courts, means the ‘statutory credentials’ of the entity which generates the data which eventually means the data should come from the government agencies who are entrusted by the state for generating such data on behalf of their technical capacities. Corruption as its dictionary meaning says, is dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power. In India, only in a few cases, corruption is just limited to abuse of power in which the data manipulation is not involved. Rather in most of the cases, either wrong datasets are generated or data are manipulated by the very authority who is part of the corruption. Ultimately, the very same state institutions or their associates which manipulates the data for corruption comes as the authentic bodies to provide data as evidences. Then rather than to an evidence based judgement, it leads to prudence based decision of the human being who functions as the justice in the overall process. Fulfilling a general requirement that the data generated using public resources needs to be open data will never solve this issue - when the data itself is corrupt. We may need to go beyond this.

This is an important point to bring into the debate. 

However, I did want to note that there are some scenarios in which open data can address data manipulation, and ways in which it changes the available ‘moves’ in a contestation over evidence. When manipulation is taking place at the point records are requested, then moving en-masse to a situation in which the full cadastre / land registration dataset is public, can make future cases of tampering more difficult (as the public have a copy of the register they can compare to the tampered with copy, and where they can watch for changes that would signal corruption). Even if the public authority does not use blockchain or other cryptographic solutions to ‘prove’ the integrity of the data, third parties can take a regular snapshot of a published dataset, and (a) track any changes; and (b) use blockchain or other assurance services to establish proof that their snapshot has not been tampered with. 

This does not get around the need to then get the courts to understand, and have confidence in, the integrity of these public copies, nor does it remove the ability of actors to, for example, falsify the paperwork or records for a change in the register if the change process is not digitised and secured. And there remain other issues that might mitigate against opening land registries. However, we should note that moving a process from closed to open changes the dynamics and spaces where manipulation and corruption can take place. 

Put another way: a corrupt official who currently takes bribes ad-hoc to manipulate records would, if the full register was going to be put online as open data tomorrow, have to work out in advance which records to manipulate, or would have a more complex task at hand in creating fake records. 

Some actors in the land space are jumping on new technologies and treating them as a panacea, hoping and assuming that a new technology will solve a range of problems that that technology is not necessarily equipped to solve.  We have seen this in the blockchain example, early on after blockchain was introduced we saw many government policy makers jump on the technology and try to implement it to solve things like digitizing records, which is not a problem that blockchain can help with.  After that boom, we saw a bust and a wave of cynicism of policy makers discarding the technology, saying that it was useless.  In fact, the issue was that the technology was being applied to problems that it couldn’t solve.  On the flipside, blockchain can solve things like increasing the tamper proof nature of a land registry, for example.  

It is important to keep in mind that governments, and other actors alike, need the necessary guidance to use technology, including open data, responsibly and make sure that these technologies fit the situation in question.



How can we build stronger, sustainable and more effective connections among those working on land, corruption and/or open data? 

To bring these practitioners together, a long term exposure is required engaging them through various conferences, workshops, online discussions. This would make them open up and come forward with new ideas to solve problems which will automatically create a bonding and make a sustainable connection among the practitioners. I am really not sure if this will work with abureaucrat or an NGO head who are very rigid towards change but this will definitely work with the new generation of practitioners and activists. 

How can we leverage a nuanced Open Data message that convinces land data stakeholders across the globe to open up land data responsibly? 

By showing them good examples of other countries, we can leverage a nuanced Open Data message that convinces land data stakeholders across the globe to open up land data responsibly. In Bangladesh, almost 80% of disputes creating backlog in the sub-ordinate judiciary is related to land (Daily Star, 2018). So land practitioners need to come forward to try something new which is being implemented in some countries and proven to be successful. 

How can we facilitate and strengthen the work of various stakeholders to generate and use data evidence to demand accountability and to lead in the fight against land corruption? 

By empowering them, creating international community and so on. 

So land practitioners need to come forward to try something new which is being implemented in some countries and proven to be successful. 

In many sectors - a drive towards innovation has supported and encouraged work on open data, or forms of opening up. For example, the introduction of Open Banking standards in a number of countries is seen as a way to support innovation in services for consumers. However, I wonder how far this driver can work in land governance - which, by its nature, is perhaps less open to innovation and where 'consumer transactions' with land are few and large, rather than small and many. 


How can we build stronger, sustainable and more effective connections among those working on land, corruption and/or open data?We need to start by building on existing connections, as these do exist given the close correlation between land rights, corruption and data. Those who work on land rights will at some point or other be confronted with and have to deal with corruption, especially in developing countries, and data is the basis on which land rights advocacy is done. We should then endeavour to bring together the three groups, as happened in the regional workshop organised by the Land Portal and others in Nairobi in May 2019, and use such interactions to strategize on how to interact positively going forward. Lastly, we should take advantage of forums organised by any of the three groups to organize side events on open data and the fight against corruption. A community of practice involving actors from the three sectors should ultimately emerge from these interactions.

Collaboration for continuous Improvement to build stronger l, sustainable and more effective connections among those working on land, corruption and / or open data. States actors should improve mechanism for monitoring and analysis of land data in order to develop evidence- based programmes and secure on- going improvements. States actors should strive to ensure responsible land data because land, minimisation of corruption and open data are central for the realization of human rights, food security, poverty eradication, sustainable livelihoods, social stability, housing security, rural development, and social and economic growth. (UN- VGGT from FAO) 

To help develop guidance, I see a need for some additional targetted research that can generate one or two solid case studies of open data in use in land anti-corruption, and the creation of models and metrics to show the kinds of approaches appropriate at different levels of institutional development. 

On case studies - it is interesting to note how influential a single case study on digitisation of land information (The Bhoomi case, popularised in the open data field by Michael Gurstein) has been on open data debates. It's widely referenced to explain and explore privacy concepts. Yet, we have few (if any) detailed academic study-driven and written up case studies of open data used in land anti-corruption work in common currency, and that we can turn to in engaging governments and civil society, and using to ground guidance. Investment in such cases may prove very useful to support the development and uptake of guidance. 

On models and metrics - it is clear we need to go beyond a simple Open Data Barometer measure of land registers are open or not, to be able to see the different state of countries legal openness, institutional strengths, and civil society capacity, in identifying the appropriate datasets to target for opening up, and the appropriate interventions that will support use of that data. Simone Zurschmitten points towards such maturity model thinking in her comment above. Improving metrics and models will support independent and self-assessment so that countries and regions can access the right guidance at the right time. I know I have made the mistake in the past of delivering technical training when what was needed was discussion of cultural and legal context - and of focussing on detailed data analysis, when it would have been better to focus on the mechanics of using data in advocacy and legal action. 

With groundwork on cases and models, I suspect it will be easier to develop the kinds of guidance that the sector may find useful, and to be able to customise it better to individual contexts. 

How can we build stronger, sustainable and more effective connections among those working on land, corruption and/or open data?

Open data can play a crucial role in breaking through silos and bridging stakeholders to each other in the cases where they were simply unaware of each other. In instances of distrust, access to data and information can enable evidence-based discussions and empower local communities, generally the more vulnerable group in the above-mentioned list of stakeholders, to provide an “alternate” narrative to the one(s) they disagree with, and open the discussion in a more equal discussion.

Open data can help to surface all perspectives and enable an open debate with all stakeholders at the table. The momentum around the SDGs, where land tenure security plays an important role and data and land are topics of discussion and funding on local, regional and local levels, provides a unique opportunity to show how open data - even when open land ownership data is hardly existent in the global South - can make a difference and positive impact for smallholder farmers and their rights to their land.

How can we facilitate and strengthen the work of various stakeholders to generate and use data evidence to demand accountability and to lead in the fight against land corruption?

At the global level: 

  • Maintain platforms to increase access to existing data and information and, within that complete picture, identify real data gaps;

  • Capacity building in data management practices.

At the regional level:

  • Create new or build on existing platforms to improve access to data and to widen the networks in the region;

  • Provide insight in the meaning of data for laymen without endorsing a particular agenda (e.g. government, activists, or otherwise);

  • Standardize meaning of data across the region in different languages to harmonize interpretation of data;

  • Provide more visibility for alternative stories in national debate with governments or other actors.

At local grassroots level:

  • Advocacy and lobbying for which they need alternative narratives and data to equip them to governments as well as debates on regional and global levels;

  • Capacity building with tools and technologies to concretely map land rights with local communities;

  • Documenting and collecting data.

  • Enhance visibility of land conflicts at a rural level.

How can we facilitate and strengthen the work of various stakeholders to generate and use data evidence to demand accountability and to lead in the fight against land corruption?

Connected basic land data with information about sales will lead to increased transparency of the market. Adding requirements for proper open data management in regulations will ensure that the level of corruption will go down.

(1) Create systems(s) that will integrate the maximum amount of land data, and will be open and accessible (interface)

(2) Provide “feedback channels” to these stakeholders (their groups) for comments and suggestions 


How can we build stronger, sustainable and more effective connections among those working on land, corruption, and/or open data?

Multi-stakeholder platforms are essential to bridge the gap between those conducting and contributing to research on land and corruption, including researchers, civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, and community leaders, among others, to those that will use data to inform policy, such as governments. Bringing these different actors around the table for a common objective is a good way to build these connections. The Land Matrix’s National Land Observatories (NLOs), for example, are an important tool which provide an opportunity for information-sharing and dialogue within existing

Multi-stakeholder platforms and facilitate policy influence at national level (where most land governance decisions are made). NLOs initiate decentralised activities at country level and strive for more inclusive participation of local partners in collecting, managing, and reviewing land data, thereby promoting transparency and accountability in decision-making processes over land and investments in their countries. 

How can we leverage a nuanced Open Data message that convinces land data stakeholders across the globe to open up land data responsibly?

Overall, this requires showing land data stakeholders that the data is viewed objectively and in an unbiased way. In terms of data provided by investors in particular, for example, it is important this is not used to generate negative publicity about them, but rather to focus on how to strengthen any weaknesses. They are far more likely to be transparent if they do not feel threatened about being exposed to bad press. 

How can we facilitate and strengthen the work of various stakeholders to generate and use data evidence to demand accountability and to lead in the fight against land corruption?

According to the Land Matrix Analytical Report II, one problem that was cited by policy-makers, researchers, and the public alike is the scarcity of robust data. However, the opaque nature of land acquisitions imposes certain limits on the data gathering process, particularly as their controversial context and potential for creating conflict means they tend to take place behind closed doors. Although private and governmental investors are beginning to share more information on land deals, transparency is still not the norm, and we continue to face a major challenge in complementing global data with local data. Some of the ways we can overcome this include:

  • Building stronger, more sustainable, and more effective connections among the various stakeholders; 
  • Using open land data to better understand the impact of land acquisition and inform intervention management; 
  • Involving existing local landholders in negotiations over land deals based on the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) standard; 
  • Leveraging open land data on land deals to advance community-based tenure through lobbying, national legislation, administrative and institutional capacity building, and implementation of inclusive and sustainable land tenure and policy; 
  • Maximising existing reference points such as the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT), Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems (CFS-RAI), 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa (F&G); and 
  • With regard to the processes and dynamics of land acquisitions on the ground, monitoring land deals, scrutinising government contracting practices, and fostering public participation in land contract negotiations through advocacy, which are some of the core activities of the Land Matrix’s NLOs. 

U4, in conjunction with the Open Data for Development Network, reviewed pilot initiatives to open health data in Peru, Mexico and Uruguay. The lessons from these pilots would apply to the land sector as well.  They are relevant for the discussion on open data not being a magic bullet. In summary, the lessons from the pilots were that: 

The main enabling factor for open data to work well is the government’s willingness to make data more accessible, and to embrace and act on issues disclosed by the data.

Feedback loops in open data projects are important in order to create virtuous circles of data collection, publication and use that can improve the data and its infrastructure over time.

The capacity of traditional public service organisations to use data needs to be developed. They should be able to continuously update, publish and use the data to improve public services. The theories of change for open data projects need to have clear causal mechanisms and feasible objectives.

Lastly, we need further exploration and research on how to ensure the sustainability of open data infrastructure.

You can read more about the review here:

I would like to take up one of the points that I think is relevant to the week 2 statement, particularly the question- “why is it not happening?” The point that I would like to take up is that the main enabling factor for open data to work well is the government’s willingness to make data accessible and to embrace and act on issues disclosed by the data. In the discussion so far, many participants have mentioned the role of politics and the unwillingness of elites to open-up land data; for self-serving reasons. We have observed that land is valuable all over the world, that the most valuable and powerful have access and ownership, and that those who lack power and influence are most likely to be the victims of corruption in the land sector.

It is however, important not to generalize the issue of political will and the centrality of politics to the open data for land cause. We have to unpack the various components of power and influence and analyse the implications of these for open land data initiatives. We hear a lot about “political will” in the anti-corruption community. It’s not just about shrugging our shoulders and thinking that there’s only so much or so little that can be done without the necessary political backing. Increasingly, anti-corruption practitioners understand that we have to unpack the concept of political will by “thinking and working politically (TWP).” This approach is used by development agencies and practitioners seeking to incorporate a closer understanding of and engagement with politics in the design and implementation of their programmes. TWP is based on three main principles: (i) strong political analysis, insight and understanding; (ii) a detailed appreciation of, and response to, the local context; and (iii) flexibility and adaptability in programme design and implementation. 

TWP recognizes the centrality of politics in development, and indeed for open data initiatives. It is not simply about “recognition” but about identifying the leverage points for change. As one review said: “Working politically is sometimes misunderstood as being about direct engagement with political actors and organisations, perhaps even interfering with a sovereign state’s politics, but it is more nuanced than that. It means supporting, brokering, facilitating and aiding the emergence of practices of reform leaderships, organisations, networks and coalitions” (Developmental Leadership Programme (DLP), 2018). 

Open Data Initiatives represent a substantial change in the modus operandi of governments. There are winners and losers from any change process, and those who are likely to lose will block reforms while those who stand to gain will welcome change. This is especially true for initiatives aimed at opening up land data. They stand little chance of leading to meaningful change if they are implemented on a wave of “fashionable” development practice backed by large amounts of donor money. Donors should therefore ensure that they are locally owned, locally-led and locally-negotiated if they are to be sustainable and successful. They should be owned and driven by a broad coalition of local reform-minded politicians, reform-minded bureaucrats, savvy entrepreneurs, skilled technocrats, open-minded traditional /cultural leaders, committed individual activists and engaged civil society organisations – if they are to achieve the promise of reducing corruption.


Laws, E & Marquette, H. (2018) Thinking and Working Politically: Reviewing the evidence on the integration of politics into development practice over the past decade. TWP Community of Practice. 

Curbing (2019), Political economy analysis of the land sector.

Monica, thank you. I find your contribution on the ownership of change processes extremely important. Would you be aware of any positive or negative example of an "open land data change process?"

Sorry, I don’t have any examples from the Land Sector, but I can share some from the Open Data for Latin America Health Data Initiative.

First of all, the three pilot initiatives from Mexico, Peru and Uruguay all involved collaboration and cooperation between at least two of these actors: civil society, the private sector and the government. Nonetheless, there were some hitches.

In Peru, initiating an open data initiative in a sector in the absence of an overall Open Government Policy led to fragmentation and poor implementation due to limited opportunities for dialogue at the national level.

Obtaining the data to digitize was difficult as records were being kept manually and the initiative was led by civil society (an NGO). Obtaining the data required 52 Freedom of Information Requests to multiple authorities, which were fulfilled with the information on paper. Across the board in Peru, Mexico and Uruguay, the process of transforming data from manual to electronic proved to be a bigger challenge than anticipated.

In Uruguay, the data was released on proprietary software that people needed to buy to access and analyse the data.

One of the challenges of opening up data is what to do with it once it is open. This is why it is important to have a clear theory of change. In Mexico,  health data had already been digitized, but a lot of it still existed in manual form. One NGO Sonora Ciudadana, allowed people to submit complaints about the health system on their website. They cross-referenced the complaints with the data, filed FOI request for additional information and decided to pursue strategic litigation to improve the performance of the system.

Despite the limitations, open data change processes can have positive aspects. One of these is building governments’ capacity in this area, as governments in developing countries often lag behind the private sector in going digital. Another benefit is government and civil society working together for a common cause and working towards the same policy objectives, a change from the often-adversarial nature of government-CSO interactions.

New Zealand scores higly on the Open Data Barometer for the openness of land data, and has often been a reference point in the open data community for clear technical and legal approaches to open geospatial data. I got in touch with the land team at Land Information New Zealand to ask about some of their learning on a number of themes in this land debate. Below are some of the insights shared by Robbie Muir, Deputy Chief Executive in the Strategy and Stewardship Group.

What open data on land ownership is available in New Zealand? Are there differences in how open different types of land data are?

The Full Landonline Dataset (Weekly updates of NZ’s complete land ownership system), Simplified Layers for Title (including owner name attribution), Parcels, Addressing, Roads and Buildings are all published as open data by LINZ.

All LINZ data is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Licence, except for 1 dataset containing owner name attribution. This dataset uses a similar licence (detailed here) but explicitly restricts mass marketing use.

What were the drivers for opening up land information in New Zealand? Were there any major barriers that had to be overcome?

The main drivers were transparency, and using data to drive innovation. Publishing these large datasets on a regular basis can be a expensive exercise and requires a well-designed robust system. However, we believe that the downstream benefit is worth the effort. 

Are there ways in which the land data that is available has been used in anti-corruption efforts? 

The land register is a public record which provides transparency as to who holds registered ownership of land in NZ (includes land held by individuals, corporate entities, charitable institutions and publicly owned land). This information is available to and used by government departments, law enforcement agencies, journalists and others.     

Are there links between the land ownership data and other government datasets? 

The land register is not currently linked to other government datasets in terms of system to system interfaces or APIs. LINZ is actively exploring how property information might be more effectively joined-up and linked across central and local government. Our STEP programme for rebuilding the technology platform for Landonline includes a focus on developing APIs to enable system to system connections.      

Who are the main users of land ownership data in New Zealand? 

There are a wide range of users, including other parts of central government, local government, valuers, real estate agents, property lawyers, and people form the banking, insurance, survey, engineering and geospatial sectors.

LINZ has put considerable effort into ensuring our data is accessible, understood well, and widely used. We have a team dedicated to supporting the use of our data, and another focused of growing the use of Geospatial technology within Government.

What needs to happen to improve guidance on open data, and use of open data in anti-corruption efforts?

Some good work is underway within LINZ and other agencies to address the 'guidance gap' around use of open land data. Relevant capabilities that need to be built  include policy, legal, regulatory, data specialisms, as well as information technology expertise.     

There’s an opportunity to build deeper and more extensive connections across central and local government and with stakeholder groups and user communities in this area. Developing a strategic agenda for the property system which includes a focus on better integration of property information would assist. In New Zealand, LINZ has embarked on the development of a strategy for the property system and has begun engaging with other in the system on this.       

According to the UN-Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of land Tenure, calls on states to endeavour to prevent Corruption in all forms, at all levels, and in all setting. My attention is drew to the pubilcation of data by Government. I believe that there are barriers and this is the reason why most countries does not published data due to some barriers that might exposed the integrity of Government. 

Are there barriers that hinders the publication of data in the fight against corruption. 



I am joining the conversation slightly late unfortunately, but I have to say the discussion above expresses some very important ideas, opinions and aspirations. Took me sometime to go through it, but well worth the time!

As open data activists, it is clear to us that the larger movement for increasing open data, especially in governance, is built on top of broad goals such as accountability, transparency, innovation, research and so on. As soon as we go to any of its applications, such as the one we are discussing 'open data and the land sector' (with a clear goal to reduce corruption) nuance becomes necessary and highly relevant to develop any sort of strategy, objective or policy. This has been observed in other sectors as well, such open water data or open humanitarian data, where individuals and organizations, be it government or non-government, have come together to develop specific policies and standards that apply to their context.

Land data is one of the most important areas where privacy becomes a major concern when we talk about open data. Tim Davies mentioned the Bhoomi case above that highlights this concern really well. Taking a cue from that, questions such as who is collecting the data, who is the data point, and who gets to the use the data are significant - they force us to acknowledge the power balance or imbalance within which we are working. These are complex political questions, as they should be. It is clear that while open data is a powerful tool, it is but limited to how and where it is used.

In India, the open government data project has lost steam in the last few years, and land data never gained importance within it anyway. The most common insight that researchers, journalists and data enthusiasts have gained from all the government data that has been shared under the open license is: recognizing the low quality of data and information technology practices that our government departments and offices are following. There is a lot of open government data in India, but a lot of it is poor and unreliable. At the same time, Indian citizens are facing sophisticated invasive technologies that are very explicitly collecting and commodifying personal and private data. It's an uphill battle: the data that governments demands from the citizens is abundant, of higher quality, well maitained, but closed; at the same time, the data that the citizenry demands of the government is rather unreliable, inaccurate and far from being up to date. It is also obvious that the most vulnerable communities have the least say on who collects their data, what is recorded, how often and how. I may not work in the land sector but I am sadly confident that land rights activists, and development organizations are dealing with such an uphill batlle as well.

I will attempt to answer the questions of this weeks topics directly, but with the context of the region I belong to:

In India, we must first demand that land data related to government's land acquisition and private corporations' land deals be open, while the land data of individuals is not published with personal identifiable information included, at least we maintain status quo until we have a socially and politically just data privacy law in place. "Open by default" should apply to the powerful not the powerless, especially when it comes to data such as land. Secondly, we need more standardization on data recording to enable more datasets to talk to each other. Linked open data is the next logical step. Finally, data practices of government organizations need to be under enhanced regulations to make sure data is collected, managed and shared responsibly.

Such common and contextual goals should build sustainable and effective connections among those working on land, corruption and open data. And the recognition of prevelant power dynamics, among other socioeconomic and political factors, can bring in the necessary nuance on how open data is used and where.

And as far as faciliation and strengthening of the work of different organizations, groups and individuals that generate or use data for demanding accountability is concerned - the role of online and offline communities, platforms and networks is hugely important. Especially those that are informal in nature, and consist of like minded entities from many different backgrounds. Maybe I am biased here since I have been part of such a community for a while.

Looking forward to reading more on this thread.

Corruption is a serious problem in the land sector, contributing to conflicts and inefficiency. In Latin America, for instance, natural resources are largely exploited by international and local companies, which often gain access to land and/or resources through corruption. These resources are often found in indigenous territories. However, many indigenous peoples do not yet have land titles or other legally accepted documentation of their right to the land they live on, and governments do not give them the necessary priority. Without legal documentation of their land, it is difficult for rural and indigenous people to claim their right to the land and this makes them vulnerable to forced displacement.

German development cooperation, implemented by GIZ, supports the formalization of land and resource rights of rural families and indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups through several projects. The demarcation and registration of these lands or territories is a necessary though not sufficient condition for conflict prevention and sustainable management. In our Global Project Responsible Land Policy we work in seven partner countries, supporting ministries, implementing agencies and local partners to improve the framework for land policy, including strategies to prevent corruption.

In Peru, the projects´ objective is to contribute to improvements in the land titling system for indigenous communities in the Amazon, which requires collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, regional agricultural departments and indigenous organizations at different levels. One major problem identified at the beginning of the project was the lack of reliable and updated information, both on already titled communities and those still in the different stages of the often very lengthy titling process – this “invisibility” made it easy for others to claim their land. The solution, officially announced by the ministry in September 2018, was the transition from Excel sheets to two GIS based interrelated information systems on community land rights and land titles of individual owners or companies. Both also make use of information from other government departments e.g. on oil, gas and mining concessions, protected areas or production forests and timber concessions. The so called SICAR (individual titles) has been made public and permits the visualization of the outlines of already titled communities, which helps prevent future overlaps and conflicts. The community data base (SIC Comunidades) is still incomplete and only accessible for authorized users, but it is an important step towards monitoring the titling processes. The contributions of these systems to the fight against corruption in the Peruvian land sector (which in late 2018 led to the arrest of the head of the counterpart agency in one of the project regions) are not immediate, but increased transparency about land rights and (potential) land conflicts is an important first step.

In Brazil, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Developmen (BMZ), we implement the bilateral project “Land tenure regularization in the Amazon”, in cooperation with the National Institute for Colonization and Land Reform (INCRA). Rural smallholders in the Brazilian Amazon region are constantly threatened by land conflicts. They thus need secure land titles in order to maintain their livelihoods, sustainably manage their land plots and protect themselves from illegal deforestation. The land tenure system of the Amazon region, on the other hand, is highly complex due to its size, settlement history and various overlapping interests. The Brazilian government has acknowledged this issue and prioritized it within its national strategies to combat illegal deforestation. The aim of the German-Brazilian cooperation is to shape the procedures of tenure regularization and land title allocation in a more efficient and transparent manner and to contribute to strengthening governance of land tenure in the Brazilian Amazon. Through the clarification of land claims and improved legal security, the enabling conditions for the protection and sustainable usage of land are created.

With the project’s support, the “Câmara Técnica de Destinação (Technical Chamber for Land Allocation) was established; in which representatives of federal authorities decide over the allocation of federal public land in a transparent and consensual manner, amongst others for establishing conservation areas, reserves for indigenous or traditional populations or urban use. So far, the chamber has taken in over 60.000.000 hectare for consultation and, for example, assigned 3.509.270 hectare for nature protection areas managed by the Brazilian Ministry of Environment. Additionally, the project has supported the development and deployment of the Land Management System SIGEF-Titulação, which shall be the basis for the issuance of titles under INCRA. Through the automatization of a large part of the titling process, the system can consult several governmental databases which are crucial for the issuance of the titles, thus increasing transparency, efficiency and accountability of the titling process as a whole.

Overall, increased transparency about land rights and land conflicts through titling systems is an important step in the fight against land corruption. Therefore, land data is an important component in the security of tenure amongst rural and indigenous people. Especially, increasing availability of Open Land Data will contribute to the transparency of land titles and thus empower rural and indigenous people in fighting for the land.

I appreciate comments shared by colleagues and do find them very informative. My contribution comes in late in this discussion, though I had the best opportunity to interact with most of the comments shared so far. There is no doubt that open data on land is an important tool for influencing transparency and foster accountability in land governance; including securing tenure rights for women and indigenous people (IP). Access to open land data can greatly contribute to reduced land grabbing (with cases reported involving grabbing IP; and public land meant for public institutions like schools, sports/play grounds, water catchments, forests and cultural sites). Open data on land can also reduce corruption in provision of land administration services including land transaction; promote efficient land market and transparency in tax collection and use. Open data can greatly enhance citizen participation in land governance/decision making, providing them with needed information and data as a tool for engagement and advocacy on their tenure rights including access to services.  

Access and use of open data, in my view, need not to be delinked from official data generated by governments/national data agencies. This is to ensure that data community and infrastructure is coordinated, and harmonized to ensure data is authenticated and standardized at country/local, regional and global level, including open data. Unfortunately, most countries in Africa have limited data on land and where data is available, may not be fully disaggregated or its national coverage is also limited. In some cases, land data being generated by various ministries including that of Lands, Environment, Planning and Public Works, among others, making it complex to provide a single reliable open data on land. Largely, access to cadaster maps and land ownership information is restricted and mostly attracts higher access cost for local communities mainly women and the poor who would like to register or transfer their land; or use in judicial redress for violation of their land rights. 

This discussion comes at an opportune time, when we already have regional mechanisms e.g. Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa; AU Agenda 2063; and the Africa Data Consensus, 2015; and global Indicator framework for Agenda 2030 that recognize the importance of land data in planning and decision making; measuring outcomes at country, regional and global levels. Africa Data Consensus does envision ‘a partnership of all data communities that upholds the principles of official statistics as well as openness across the data value chain, which creates a vibrant data ecosystem providing timely, user-driven and disaggregated data for public good and inclusive development’. There is no doubt that this initiative by governments in Africa presents greater opportunity to further examine and promote the application and use of open data on land. It’s worth noting that approximately 70% of land in Africa is still governed under customary tenure regime, with limited or no data including cadaster maps unlike examples shared in this discussion from other continents including Europe.  

As already noted by other contributors, the inclusion of land indicators in the SDGs 1, 2, 5 and 11; and in the New Urban Agenda which recognizes the importance of land in urban growth, development and fostering resilience, presents us the best opportunity to leverage commitments made by UN members states on the implementation of  goals within a timeframe of 15 years, endorsing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 70/1. UN Agencies and Member states, donors and private sector; civil society organizations and I/NGOs, networks of grassroots organizations and IP movements are more challenged than ever to ensure data collection, analysis and dissemination promote transparency and accountability. We however, are not yet there and need more coordinated efforts and mechanisms to address this gap; and which the establishment of Global Land Indicator Initiative (GLII) in 2012 by World Bank, MCC and UN Habitat and hosted by GLTN; and now with over 50 partners - continues to provide the needed platform for coordination of land community engaging in land governance monitoring for which land data is core, fostering learning and exchanges of best practices in land governance monitoring and measurement, and capacity strengthening in land data collection, analysis and reporting. This discussion is therefore, very important to the work of GLII and its partners, and supporters of these initiatives. I find this discussion very timely to the overall development process surrounding the global indicator framework and expected management of data to be collected and reported at county level; as well as country capacity development initiatives for land data collection, analysis and reporting in line with SDGs; and the role of CSOs and other data agencies; for which GLII is keen to support and accompany directly or indirectly in various dimensions.  

To increase governments and data agencies commitment to open data particularly on land; we need to consider addressing a number of key issues with some already alluded to by colleagues in the discussion: 

  • Increase awareness on the importance of access and use of open data on land; with clear linkages to official data; to be made available in easily accessible and understandable format by respective users including those with limited literacy skills.  
  • Address structural and systemic challenges to access and use of open data, taking into account the balancing act between openness and confidentiality, security and protection aspects related to land data including boundaries, minerals and other natural resources etc.
  • Make clear national/regional policy provisions that stipulate legal parameters for generation/production of open land data including financing, access and use; legal restriction and penalties for misuse of such information by governments, private sector, individuals or other entities. 
  • Sustain the conversation on access and use of open land data to develop a common narrative for which policy issues including gender could be discussed and addressed at various levels especially at the community level, answering the question on what open land data and who has rights to access? 
  • Examine the application of open data from a continuum of land rights, taking into account the varying tenure regimes for which total data coverage/ inclusion is paramount. 
  •  Encourage use of technological innovation for data capture, analysis and presentation by grassroots organizations and communities; ensuring their inclusion in government led processes on land data collection and dissemination for information, ownership and use. 
  • Access and use of open data requires political good will, hence the need to sustain this conversation while making reference to SDGs, VGGTs, Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa, the regional and global data consensus among other initiatives for which major political commitments have already been secured and could leverage success.

I commend the launch of the new Land Portal Country Portfolios as a means to promote local content on land data and information. This will definitely support and profile best practices in the use of open data; monitor to inform trends in the use of open data on land in those countries for our learning, advocacy and strategic intervention by different players. 

Please note that, this contribution is borrowed from a similar dialogue that was run by Land Portal, and not a new write up.  


My final remark is to thank our co-organizers and colleagues from Cadasta and GIZ, as well as our great facilitators Tim Davies, Lisette Mey and Amy Coughenour, for making this possible and for facilitating such an incredibly rich and stimulating discussion.

Over the past three weeks, we have received over one hundred contributions by colleagues from the private sector, the government, civil society and grassroots organizations sharing different perspectives and ideas on how open data can become a tool to increase transparency, support innovation and increase civic engagement, and hopefully all this can help to fight land corruption.

We realize that this is a debate and a topic which is very nuanced and we hope that the conversation can continue through various avenues and different channels in the months to come. On this note, I wish to thank each of you for your valuable contributions. We will soon be sharing a report with you, where we will summarize the main discussion points which will hopefully feed into further discussions at the upcoming Conference on land policy in Africa, which will focus on "Winning the fight against land corruption: sustainable path for the transformation of Africa ".

As we draw the dialogue to a close, I would like to thank all the participants for their excellent contributions. To say that it has been an interesting and fruitful conversation would be an understatement.

The dialogue certainly made it clear that when it comes to land data we are indeed confronted by a “transparency gap and a messy reality of patchy and overlapping recordkeeping and data systems”. However, the conversation also brought to light the various benefits and potential for open land data—whether formal and informal data— to tackle land corruption. 

Our experience at Cadasta can relate to many of the insights and challenges raised in this dialogue. For one, technology is not a panacea or magic bullet for opening up essential data and fighting corruption. While technology can help close the land data gap that so many countries struggle with, technology is only one part of the “anti-corruption toolbox” as Laura Meggiolaro put it. 

Secondly, we as a community need to continue to focus on outreach and advocacy. Citizens need to be made aware of their right to information, while governments still need a better understanding of the benefits that open land data can provide, which include—as pointed out in this discussion—anti-corruption benefits, urban planning benefits, as well as wider benefits for their policy agendas. 

Furthermore, this dialogue has made it even more clear that open access does not necessarily imply accessibility. Much work remains to improve vulnerable communities’ access to data as well as supporting their participation and productive use of data. 

These are just a few highlights among the many valuable insights that were provided throughout the dialogue. As a facilitator, I want to thank you again for all for making this such a productive discussion. Personally, I have learned a lot and would like to underscore Cadasta’s commitment to supporting the broader community’s efforts to fill the land data gap and tackle corruption. 

I hope that these conversations continue and result in constructive and collaborative solutions moving forward. 


Amy Coughenour 

In The State of Open Data: Histories and Horizons, we charted shifts over the last decade from a generalist open data movement focussed on ‘open by default’, to a multi-layered movement made up of regional networks and sectoral open data initiatives. In our debate here over the last three weeks we have started to outline the potential contours of what it would look like to take a worldwide sectoral focus on open data in land-governance, and to use that to advance anti-corruption goals. Comments have pointed to the many different cultural and contextual considerations that mean this focus cannot be one-size-fits-all, but that it needs to respond to the particular state of land registration and governance in each territory, and the the relative balance of power between different actors.


Looking at this week’s contributions, I would suggest we should focus less on the guidance gap, and more on the ‘missing model’: that is, the need to develop clear frameworks that help identify the particular policies to be pursued, and the relevant guidance to deploy with particular groups. For example, as  Mamunpolitica describes, the needs of vulnerable populations may be quite different from those of others [>], but a model can provide common principles, such as that noted by Guneet Narula of focussing openness on the powerful, whilst protecting the powerless [>]. A clear shared model for practice to open and deploy land data could also address a hierarchy of datasets to publish, the pre-requisites (legal, institutional etc.) for publication, and the wider reforms these can form part of. 


As we consider how a model for improving the openness and use of land data for anti-corruption might by put into practice in different settings around the world, we can draw on Monica Kirya’s points about the importance of ‘Thinking and Working Politically (TWP)’ [>]. With this comes the need to analyse context, design flexible interventions and to engage in “supporting, brokering, facilitating and aiding the emergence of […], organisations, networks and coalitions”. The importance cross-stakeholder networks comes up again and again in comments this week, with Kristen drawing on learning from initiatives on open data and agriculture to highlight the importance of involving research institutions, industry partners and legal scholars [>], and Simone Zurschmitten suggesting countries should establish National Working Groups combining government, private sector, technical experts and civil society groups working on land, anti-corruption and open data [>]. We can also see in the Land Matrix’s description of a National Land Observatory [>] approach to bringing stakeholders together, and fostering greater participation in collection and use of data, a political strategy to seek to provide a platform of ‘objective, unbiased data’ that can be used to engage positive with investors. 


To build an overall shared model, however, will require not only national action, but also work through global networks. Michael Odhiambo suggests that there are strong foundations  to build upon here, and recommends organising fringe events at conferences of the distinct anti-corruption, land and open data communities we are seeking to bring together [>].  Soen Nonen also points to the ned for this to be sustained, calling for “long term exposure” of practitioners to open data concepts, “engaging them through various conferences, workshops, online discussions.” [>]. Clearly donors and governments are a significant part of this. As inputs from New Zealand this week [>] hint even though national contexts vary, on some aspects of technical implementation and policy, greater shared learning from countries that have established systems and standards for open land data may have an important role to play in future. And GIZ highlight the important role donors play in providing technical assistance in the creation of such systems. Any model for open data in land should be able to show when, where and how open data fits into ‘Responsible Land Policy’ [>].


I’m looking forward to working with the Land Portal team in the coming weeks to further digest and draw out messages from this dialogue. Thank you to everyone who has contributed for your deeply thoughtful and insightful comments.

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