For our last meeting in Southeast Asia, we headed to the Lao PDR capital to document the Data Portal developed and maintained by the Mekong River Commission Secretariat (MRCS). The agency represents an inter-governmental initiative between four (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam) of the six countries located in the Mekong Basin which, quoting from its website; acts as a joint management of shared water resources and sustainable development of the Mekong River.
The focus of our meeting, held with two members of the IT Team, was to discover more about its Data and Information Services Portal launched in 2005. The MRCS Portal is the access point for data, information and services provided by MRCS via the Internet. It provides access to quality assured datasets, atlases, model setup, model results, Google Earth overview, map services etc. On this platform, built using Open Source technologies, real time water level and quality data among other Mekong Basin related information are available as interactive maps, reports and multimedia contents. As we could experience, the data is being aggregated from different governmental agencies, MRCS Programmes, but also automatically transferred from a network of 47 hydro-meteorological stations within the region, which continuously feed â€œnearâ€ real-time information to the system.
Users can register for free to access the data. Daily, about 40 to 90 visitors from national agencies, research institutes, academia, students and companies accessed the Portal since 2011 when the redesigned Portal was launched. Only registered users who had signed a license agreement can download or purchase data sets. Compared to Open Data platforms, there are restrictions when it comes to downloading and using the information. Depending on the categorisation of the contents, some fees may apply. All users, except internal ones who are national agencies, are required to pay for handling services. The data are owned by the countries, and they are happy to share them among the member countries, but not all the data are meant to be readily available on the website.
Along this line, we could discuss with MRCS’s IT-Team about the benefits of releasing the data in an open manner. As the intention of the portal is to make the data available in a usable way, choosing open licenses for the content would contribute to the goals behind it and might be implemented in the near future. Although, this decision requires a common agreement between MRC’s member countries.
Talking about the future, the team revealed us some interesting new features the platform will offer with an upcoming update. Raw text will be replaced by XML as the chosen format to release the data, users will be able to combine multiple layers on the interactive maps and the last research results about climate change will be soon available increasing the number of datasets.
Back to the context in Laos, there is, as we already experienced in Cambodia and Thailand, no official Open Data platform. Neither we could find any other data portal or similar projects during our research in this country.