Kyrgyzstan: Information Sharing as a Way to Boost Business Communities. Open Data Approaches to Development Strategy in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Emily C. Youatt, M.A., University of Chicago, Co-Founder KG Labs Researcher in startup activity in Central Asia 

Samagan Aytimbetov, Fulbright Scholar, Researcher in Open Data Initiatives in Central Asia

The introduction of open data into emerging economies and infrastructures is a dynamic and challenging process, and presents an opportunity for iterative learning for policy makers, business leaders and technical experts. In the Kyrgyz Republic, the government, with support from the World Bank, UNDP and several local partners has recently launched the Open Data Initiative to promote the increased demand and use of open data and to implement activities to expand general knowledge of open data, its uses and its potential to shape the future of businesses in Central Asia. Open data advocates in Central Asia now believe that through a series of dynamic, forward-thinking events, the use of open data has the potential to have a significant positive impacts on business outcomes and policy initiatives in Kyrgyzstan (GIZ 2015, World Bank 2015). Through a cross-sectoral approach, linking the country’s ICT sector with agriculture, textiles, tourism, and others, open data leaders are taking a new approach to the introduction to the sharing of information via open data in Central Asia.

Open data is a technological approach to information sharing that delivers information to public and IT developers in accessible, reusable, and alterable format. With such a broad definition, taking an open data approach to development strategies presents a number of challenges for individuals, government entities and development organizations working to promote transparency and the sharing of information and knowledge.

However, over the past several years, using technical support from outside governmental and non-governmental organizations, several of Kyrgyzstan’s ministries, have taken an interest in promoting the conversion of existing data into open data as well as making all new data accessible and open to the public (GIZ 2015). This interest in the promotion of open data, with ministry support, will be adopted to Kyrgyzstan’s private sector over time and will aid in the creation of new jobs and both public and private sector transparency. In addition, sharing of raw data in Kyrgyzstan will level skewed economic playing fields and will create new economic demands and knowledge based in quantitative, reliable information. What makes these developments unique is the context in which they are being executed; in Kyrgyzstan the free sharing of information, best practices and data is a foreign concept.

Amidst an ecosystem of corruption, red tape, and complicated bureaucratic procedures, implementing a free information and data sharing system presents many challenges. If these challenges are successfully met, the country will begin to see the growth of new jobs, higher private sector quality standards, and more transparent ministerial and governmental activities. Over the next several years, open data approaches will be tested

Challenges and Context

The Kyrgyz Republic has a unique environment where organizations actively implement open data approaches to promote business growth and increase economic activity in Kyrgyzstan’s rural regions. However, lack of financial resources, insufficient information and poor communication technology infrastructure (ICT) seriously limits Kyrgyzstan in the adoption of digital technologies and the growth of the country’s IT sector. Both the government and the local business community realize that a competent ICT infrastructure is crucial for Kyrgyzstan’s economic development and for national job creation (GIZ 2015). What makes the implementation of this Open Data initiative more appealing is that it does not require substantial resources for its implementation compared to the classic approaches taken in ICT development, such as large amounts of funding, new hardware, and new software.

Due to Kyrgyzstan’s existing bureaucratic regulations surrounding the dissemination of information, paired with the sociocultural context of mistrust, the implementation of an open data ecosystem will have significant measurable effects on local communities affected by such a novel approach to information sharing.

Worldwide, the open data movement is still being tailored to specific contexts by specific programs and its impacts are still not well known, and in Kyrgyzstan organizations like Siris Academics, GIZ, and others are working to launch open data initiatives in targeted sectors including pasture and land management, global warming, forestry, and others, as a testing ground for the eventual increase in data sharing and dissemination. How these targeted sectors react and change to the opening of targeted data remains to be seen, but experts agree that the opening of such data will force businesses, individuals, and entire economic sectors to shift to account for increasing transparency, more reliable and trustworthy information (rather than heresay), and a removal of a certain level of bureaucracy involved in current data sharing processes. The potential impacts of these changes will have undeniable effects on Kyrgyzstan and its economic sectors, just as worldwide open data initiatives are predicted to have undeniable impacts on the global economic sector.

For example, according to consulting firm McKinsey, harnessing the global potential of open data could unlock $3 trillion to $5 trillion in economic value across education, transportation, consumer products, electricity, oil and gas, healthcare, and consumer finance[i]. These numbers indicate that the unlocked benefits of creating an infrastructure for open data and sharing data among individuals and communities has huge potential at not only the global scale, but also the national scale in countries like Kyrgyzstan, which are plagued by lack of transparency, reliable statistical data and a lack of formalized data sharing networks. By providing easy ways to share data, which does not impact daily professional routines, innovative methods of the collection of open data have the potential to expand markets within Kyrgyzstan and promote the growth of new businesses, consumer demand and product development.

Kyrgyzstan is only in the beginning of the journey to a data-driven economy. The current ICT infrastructure may not be fully adequate yet, but the requirement to produce and publish open data should be seen as part of ongoing e-government reforms. Some data already exists in digital form or is being published online at websites, so it should be easy to extract the data for publication in reusable form. However, many ministries still file their data in paper form, and converting this paper-based information into open digitized data will be an integral part of future efforts.

By adopting an open data approach, businesses in Kyrgyzstan can expect to receive the following benefits and growth:

  • Extending the audience: if an organization has a goal of raising awareness on a particular issue, opening data is one of the ways to achieve it, particularly as third-party developers might provide access to the information through different channels (such as mobile apps)
  • Smooth demand curves: if providing a service, sharing information about how busy one is at different times of day can enable third-party developers to create tools that help customers contact the business when it is are less busy, smoothing out demand for the service
  • Become more “findable”: if a business has branches around the country or the city where it delivers its service, sharing information about its location, opening times, and offers can enable third-party developers to incorporate this information into maps, helping customers to find the business
  • Outsource R&D: opening up data can be a cost-effective mechanism for outsourcing research and development of new products and services, which a business can then take advantage of or purchase
  • Groups within organizations can collaboratively maintain open datasets, benefiting from each others’ contributions and improving the quality of data that isn’t complete or outdated.

In particular, releasing maps or weather measurements as open data has the potential to help to grow transport and agriculture markets, in which approximately around half of Kyrgyzstan’s population is employed. New apps and solutions can ultimately help organisations and individuals to take advantage of better decision-making and upgraded services and products.

Next steps

The majority of ministries and public agencies in Kyrgyzstan in principle have positive expectations and attitudes toward open data and are willing to adopt it within their activities if given the appropriate technical assistance and guidance to do so. Experts believe that for a successful national open data strategy in the country several conditions are required before the benefits of open data can be fully felt.

  • The improvement of data literacy and raised awareness throughout public and governmental sectors on the potential of open data in order to ensure collective political commitment of leadership;
  • The clarification and adaptation of laws concerning access to information as many officials are requesting guidance on the interpretation of the existing norms. There are unclear instructions concerning existing charging practices in the government (such as for maps).
  • Strong cooperation and collaboration between government, civil society and business on the principles of public-private partnerships.

These points may, in fact, be the most difficult to implement as they represent a challenge for existing sociocultural, economic, and governmental practices and norms that continue to undergo slow reforms brought about by globalization, active citizen participation, and educational and technical trainings and programs implemented by international organizations, foundations and private companies.

To address the challenges inherent in this system of information sharing, GIZ and Siris Academics have come forth with K-Link, a B2B information-sharing search engine that facilitates the exchange of information and sharing of knowledge among stakeholders working in the field of natural resource management and climate change. It helps organizations to create and manage their data in a more integrated manner[ii].

K-Link fulfils the needs of participating local stakeholders and helps to improve internal management processes for which many of the stakeholders already reimburse external providers. Local training and management consultancies are involved in the development of support services in order to develop a better product adapted to local market needs. Long-term sustainability is reached through involvement and capacity building of local software companies. Companies using K-Link are able to develop new skills linked within their core business that are in high demand at the international level.

Special services for local communities (e.g. farmers) and stakeholders working at local level can be distributed through the system. One way to achieve this is through dissemination of adequately presented videos that address concrete and relevant problems, available through a mobile application. According to the Open Data Institute, “organisations often underestimate what information they hold and the potential of that data[iii].”

The topic of open data in Kyrgyzstan is one surrounded by many challenges, but which also presents potential for growth across a variety of the country’s sectors. Programs like Siris Academic’s K-Link represent the beginning of open data reforms that have the potential to spur Kyrgyzstan’s economy forward through the growth of private businesses, the sharing of information for the betterment of the national private sector, and governmental transparency.

How these changes will take place remains to be seen. As open data programs and projects continue to roll out, the ways in which they will be accepted and adapted will shape the growth of Kyrgyzstan’s growing business community and government programs and infrastructure in an inclusive way.