If you happen to search for Open Data initiatives in Cambodia, Open Development Cambodia is definitely going to appear on the top of the results list. Started in 2011 as a project under the activities of the EWMI and on the way to be registered as a NGO, ODC represents the most active effort in the South-East-Asian country to collect, use and share data for social improvement.
With a strong philosophy of objectivity and independence, the team does not focus on advocacy in particular sectors nor does it pursue any agenda, other than aggregating and offering information to the public in easily accessible forms. Self-defined as an intersection between NGO, media platform, and think-thank, ODC concentrates its resources on aggregating data (which necessarily must be already available somewhere in the public domain) and creating objective briefings, maps, and graphics available for everyone to download, analyse and re-use. Sources are quoted and even the methodology they employed to create these contents is transparent and can be found on their site. That is what can be understood as an open way of working.
Among other contents, we learned about their forest cover page. At the heart of the page are animated forest cover change maps developed based on analysis of satellite imagery released in public domain by NASA. These maps and accompanying graphics provides information about the extent and rate of Cambodia’s forest cover change over the past 40 years. This and other information found on the site has been already used by NGOs, bloggers, journalists, researchers, grassroots groups, rights advocates and even government technocrats and investors to inform their research, reporting, analysis, and planning. As an example, the local rights-focused website SITHI.org uses maps from ODC as base layers on which they add other analysis. An interesting statistic: since its creation, their website has counted visits from users from almost every country and state of the world, although the majority of users are Cambodians.
All this, in a country whose administration is not particularly supportive when it comes to releasing data to the public domain or sharing information with its citizens. It is important to note that there is currently no Freedom of Information laws in Cambodia, even an attempt to pass a draft law was rejected in January 2013. At the time we are writing these lines, there is no Open Data platform initiated or planned by the government.
However, the remarkable work of organisations such as ODC and the presence of a newly created local chapter of the OKFN are examples of the current will to fill the gap and realise a positive development of openness and transparency for Cambodia. Talking about what is to come, ODC team will add interesting new features on their platform, such as and API, to improve user experience and more effective access to their aggregated datasets. The site will also be available in Khmer language within the next few months.