5. August 2015

Moldova: Small Country, Big Data?

Most people don’t know a lot about Moldova, not much beyond its dubious mantel as the “poorest country in Europe.”

Thus, few might realize that the small country between Romania and Ukraine is at the forefront of the data revolution – having moved towards open data at a much faster pace than any of its neighbours.

It’s been only five years since Moldova began to take steps towards reforming its public service.

As part of this reform, the government committed to opening up its data and launching its first open data portal in 2011.

Four years later, date.gov.md is already on version 3.0, and home to over 800 datasets. Moldova has passed legal reforms committing to making government data open by default. In the process, it has gathered a small but ardent community of open data enthusiasts, many of whom I had the opportunity to meet on a recent trip to Chisinau.

“Yes, but”

Here were my questions:

  • Did open data really make governance in Moldova more transparent?
  • Did the government become more accountable to its people?
  • Are Moldovans actually using the data provided by the government?

The answer was more or less the same across the board: a resounding and solid “yes, but.”

  • Yes, open data has made the Moldovan government more transparent, but some of the most crucial data is still not available.
  • Yes, Moldova has the laws and provisions to lead to a successful open data initiative, but laws for the protection of private information are still obstructing the publication of data.
  • Yes, journalists and civil society activists are using open government data to uncover corruption and misuse of office, but often the right data is hard to find and in many cases the data is “chaotic.”

Open data in Moldova have helped activists to uncover corruption and led to new initiatives, such as RISE Moldova, who are promoting data driven journalism. These kinds of initiatives ensure that open government data really does lead to more transparency.

It’s also impressive that Moldova’s e-Governance Centre emphasizes that its open data initiative is part of a wider campaign to reform the public service – not an easy task in a country still struggling with its Soviet legacy.

Still, it seems to me that developing capacity across different ministries and government agencies  remains one of the major challenges. To build a consistent open data initiative in Moldova, efforts to reach out to civil society and incorporate their needs must also be strengthened.

The government needs to overcome resistance in parts of its civil service; Moldovan civil society has to become more aware of the potential of open data and continue to push to get open access to the most crucial government data, such as Moldova’s company register, and government ministries and agencies have to become effective data managers.

For now, though, in the move towards open data it’s heartening to see Moldova heading in the right direction.