Visualising the Structure and Linkages in the Jamaican Economy Using National Statistics
The underlining theme in research around open data is that data should be made publicly available, freely or at a low cost, be reusable and redistributed without the restrictions of copyright or any such mechanisms (www.opendatahandbook.org). Open data has four distinct benefits, some direct and others latent. These are economic development, increased effectiveness and efficiency, and greater transparency and accountability (see www.theodi.org/research-economic-value-open-paid-data).
Open National Statistics is an important and growing area of emphasis in the open data movement. As producers and holders of a vast amount of data, national statistical offices, and by extension governments are in prime place to unleash the benefits of open national statistics. There is also much potential for improving transparency, accountability and efficiency with additional benefits to the national economy through more efficient and effective business planning. Sonia Jackson also notes opportunities for import substitution, performance management and benchmarking, as well as the identification and development of niche markets (2015). These implications are profound for Caribbean Small States, such as Jamaica where there is an ongoing search for routes to economic growth and renewal.
Like other governments, the Government of Jamaica produces a wealth of data, however much of this remain hidden with sketchy or unknown data sources. The result is that the real economic potential of such data is not realised, while potential users are unaware of the actual data held by government. Jamaica now suffers from underutilization and other problems related to completeness and accessibility of national statistics. For example, the 2015 Open Data Inventory (ODIN) Report ranked Jamaica 91 of 125 countries with an overall score of 22/100 for coverage and openness (www.odin.opendatawatch.com). The low ranking suggests much needs to be done towards improving Jamaica’s regional and international standing in order for the country to be positioned to reap the benefits of open data.
Key to this is increasing awareness around what now exists and creating the demand for such data. As observed by the World Bank’s (http://data.gov.jm/sites/default/files/Jamaica-Open-Data-Open-Budget-Readiness-Assessment.pdf) much of the data could easily be translated into a format that would make it ready to be published, thus meeting some of the criteria set out for openness. However, there remain issues of currency and timeliness (www.data.gov.jm) as well as the challenges in engaging key data users. These issues impact demand for Open National Statistics given the need for the “meeting of the minds” between data gatherers and users.
An important set of users and producers are businesses. However, the extent to which businesses engage with national statistics remains largely unknown. Additionally, business views on the current provision of data, what data they collect and how they can engage with the national statistics office in addressing some of the gaps in the current statistical data needs to be assessed if the real economic value of national statistics is to be unlocked. Relatedly, is the need to raise awareness around the economic value of national statistics. Here we maintain that the provision of openly available visual tools which seek to map the statistical profile of national economies can increase awareness, access and use of national statistics.
To address some of these challenges, the Visualising the Structure and Linkages in the Jamaican Economy Using National Statistics research project aims to identify and visualise the key data sources that comprise the statistical profile of Jamaica. Working with the national statistical office - Statistical Institute of Jamaica, as well as the private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs and academics, the project will increase the accessibility and re-usability of national statistics through integrated visualizations that present a statistical representation of the national economy. It is proposed that the development of open APIs will encourage businesses, other researchers and innovators to make more effective use of statistical data. The implications for the rest of the Caribbean are important with the open national statistics visualisation tool being designed for adaptation across the Caribbean and World-wide. The initiative also aims to encourage greater use of statistical data in decision-making among businesses.
A major focus will also be determining the key data sources, as well as present usage, accessibility and availability of national statistics among businesses. The study will assess the extent to which, the private sector including entrepreneurs, will collaborate in identifying gaps in national statistics and identify possible entrepreneurial innovations that can emerge from open national statistics. At the end of this project it is envisaged that Jamaica will be on the path to the development of a vibrant open national statistics ecosystem with increased recognition of their potential economic value.
 This forms Part 1 of a three-part series highlighting the context, implementation and early outcomes of the Visualising the Structure and Linkages in the Jamaican Economy Using National Statistics research project. Blogs 2 & 3 will focus more directly on project implementation and early outcomes.
Authors: Project Lead: Dr Indianna D. Minto-Coy, Senior Research Fellow, Mona School of Business & Management & Ms Marjorie Segree, Project Assistant.