Updates on the Government Data Portal

July 24, 2017

The National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI) has recently updated the official government data portal making it a much more useful resource for members of the public.

NCSI has been quite successful achieving its institutional objectives in collecting information about all aspects of life in Oman and disseminating this information to the members of the public. The digital library section of the website of NCSI hosts a great number of periodic publications that are frequently updated and cover a variety of topics from inflation, the climate, and employment, to higher education, divorce rates, and car accidents. These reports are extremely useful for policymakers, businesses, and researchers as they can help us understand life in Oman and provides us with the knowledge necessary to make more informed decisions.

However, one of the shortcomings of the information disseminated by NCSI is that this information is usually presented inside cumbersomely formatted PDF files, images, or even video files. This makes accessing the information extremely difficult, especially by those who wish to copy the data and use it in spreadsheets or any sort of data manipulation tool.
NCSI has been aware of this limitation and launched many years ago a dedicated data portal (www.data.gov.om) that allows members of the public to browse the raw data that NCSI collects, visualise it using a variety of tools, and even download the raw data in Excel or CSV formats. In theory, this portal can allow anybody who needs Omani data to download it and use it as they please to create, for example, infographics and application that use reliable Omani data from the official government source.

However, this portal had not been successful because the data that was on it used to consistently be out of data. Moreover, the website used to be extremely slow and difficult to use which made the process for finding information a nightmare. Unlike the publications found on NCSI’s main website, the data found on NCSI data portal was years out of data and inaccessible by most people.

Fortunately, NCSI has recently updated the official government portal. The revamped website has a simplified interface, provides visual cues to assist the user in taking advantage of the visualisation tools, and offers a functioning system for displaying and downloading the raw data. Most importantly, the website appears to be up to date to an acceptable degree. For example, the population statistics are up to date to April 2017. This is a major improvement over the previous iteration of the website and makes the official data portal a viable option for those seeking Omani data.

Notwithstanding the new updates, the data portal can still benefit from some additional improvement. For example, the data on the website is still poorly labelled and provides little explanation as to what it means. While the indicators in the ‘population’ statistics category are generally easy to understand, the same cannot be said about the indicators in the area of ‘social security’ or even ‘tourism’. The portal has a ‘glossary’ section, but it is only available in Arabic and provides no easy mechanism to look up individual terms quickly. This difficulty in deciphering what the data means greatly decreases its value.

The legal framework for using the data also remains unclear. The terms of use of the portal simply state that the ‘data is open’ and that ‘no licence is required to use/re-use it’, but does not explain to the users if this includes commercial use or if attribution is required. This problem could be easily solved by drafting a data licence or simply adopting an off the shelf open licence, such as a Creative Commons licence.

Without a doubt, the updates to NCSI’s data portal are a great improvement. Let’s hope that history does not repeat itself and that NCSI continues to regularly update the data on this valuable information resource.