DPM: 'Open data culture' critical to better governance

The deputy prime minister yesterday said the creation of "a culture of open data in government" is critical for national development and better decision-making.

K Peter Turnquest, addressing a forum held by the Ministry of Finance in conjunction with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), warned that a cultural "transformation" both inside and outside government is necessary if The Bahamas is to maximise the benefits of the digital reforms being driven by the Minnis administration.

"A culture of open data in government is a major departure from the way we currently operate, where data is often treated like a personal possession, shielded and guarded in ways that are counter-productive to effective governance," Mr Turnquest said.

"Information and data should be treated as public goods, where it is for the benefit of all. When treated this way, we are able to extract information from the data to support decision-making for national development.

"To really achieve success at data-driven policy development there is an absolute need to break down these walls and treat data and information as public goods."

Mr Turnquest said a similar change was required among wider Bahamian society, adding that the "scepticism that exists with sharing information" inhibits the ability of the Department of Statistics to collect timely and accurate data on multiple economic indicators.

"For The Bahamas, I am pleased to say, data driven growth is a strategic priority for the government, and we are implementing a change process that will systematically allow us to transform our capacity to produce, transform and analyse data with high-quality standards, protecting privacy and confidentiality for policy making, monitoring and accountability," he added.

"It is not enough to simply collect more data. The task at hand is to produce accurate, timely and disaggregated data that are relevant for achieving our development goals."

Mr Turnquest said the prime minister's Delivery Unit (PMDU) was set up as a vehicle to give life to the government's data for development plan.

He added that by tracking data around the time associated with delivering business license renewals and new business registrations, the government is able to set specific targets to reduce the delivery time and adopt new policies to achieve those targets.

"Earlier this year, the Department of Inland Revenue (DIR) reduced the time to deliver business license renewals from over 30 days to fewer than 48 hours. To improve the speed of starting a new business, DIR also created a new category of licensing for low-risk businesses to register," Mr Turnquest said.

He explained that data drove this process, allowing the Ministry of Finance to objectively and transparently assess performance, track progress, and ultimately improve its service delivery to the public's benefit.

The deputy prime minister added that another example of the priority the government places on data is the reform of the Department of Information Technology, which is now the Department of Transformation and Digitisation (DTD).

"The change here is not just in the name," Mr Turnquest said. "The mandate of the Department has expanded, encapsulating the government's strategic shift to focus on data for development.

"The transformed department now orients its information services around the goal of improving the government's service delivery (through public officers), and improving the accessibility of government services (through ease of doing business)."

He added: "This is significant because DTD is not only providing technology to digitise old processes and change out legacy platforms, it is also driving the process of revamping and streamlining old systems.

"It makes no sense to simply digitise a ten-step process when that process could - and should - be three steps in the first place. It is a subtle but important shift in focus that is needed to deliver digital transformation in government."