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News & Events Beginner's Guide to Open Land-Related Data
Beginner's Guide to Open Land-Related Data
Beginner's Guide to Open Land-Related Data

The Land Portal works to embed land governance in open data discussions and vice versa. This primer is extracted from the recently published Open Up Guide for Land Governance.


First, What is Open Data?

Open data is “data that is made available with the technical and legal characteristics necessary for it to be freely used, re-used, and redistributed by anyone, anytime, anywhere.”  It is structured data that can be downloaded for legal use, analysis, and re-use. 

Is Land Data Open? 

There is very little global evidence of open land governance data. International indices show that it is currently restricted to land tenure data in a small number of developed countries such as Canada, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, which have sophisticated land information systems. They release cadastral data (boundaries of land parcels) and land registries (property rights and interests and some details of ownership of particular parcels of land) as open data. They routinely publish geospatial (referenced to a location on the surface of the earth) data as open data.

Governments rarely publish data collected for administering the land administration functions of land use, value, and development as open data. The 2019 research undertaken for the State of Open Data report (p187) “could not locate any sources indicating the extent to which different countries provide structured data on government land holdings, their purchases and disposals.” It noted individual instances of some open data, for example, the UK government’s open datasheet of overseas companies that own property in England and Wales but no corresponding datasheet showing the land that has been sold off, or off-shore deals.

Benefits of Opening up Land Governance Data

Open land governance data, published in accordance with a government’s law and regulations, can assist in the provision of efficient and transparent government services. It can enable individuals, communities, and businesses to run their lives ethically and with integrity.

More concretely, open land governance data can be used to support land claims and provide public evidence of land rights, thereby reducing corruption opportunities and offering a route to greater public empowerment. It helps communities monitor whether environmental protections are being upheld, and supports rights claims over geographical areas inhabited for generations. It helps civil society organizations understand patterns of land deals and support environmental and social advocacy.

Open data systems may also help to bridge the management of data collected by community groups/private individuals, when existing national systems are incomplete or minimal. Open data systems are also able to  take advantage of new methods for collecting land data, such as GPS, satellite, and mobile phone technologies to help bridge information gaps.

Why Common Standards are Needed to Open Up Land Data

Publishing open data requires countries and international organizations to apply common standards and policies so that personal and restricted data is protected, data formats are consistent, and the data can be used legally locally and globally. These common standards and policies enable better decision making and offer efficiencies in national and local organizations and communities that collect and manage data.

Codes of conduct are also emerging to cover the sharing of sensitive data to protect all involved from the risks of data sharing. The codes of conduct provide principles that parties considering data sharing agreements  may apply in such contracts. An example is GODAN’s codes of conduct, voluntary guidelines and sets of principles around how to transparently govern farm data. This online tool provides the conceptual basis for general, scalable guidelines for everyone dealing with the production, ownership, sharing, and use of data in agriculture. 

What is Indigenous Data Sovereignty?

A key open data issue is the rights of indigenous people to control information and data about themselves and their lands, individually and collectively. Indigenous Data Sovereignty, which focuses not only on data issues, but also on asking fundamental questions about power relations and land governance  (colonial and postcolonial), forces the open data community to respond to and consider these dynamics.

Moving Forward

Publishing land data in open formats can place a burden on countries if the process is not built into existing systems and understood by those creating and managing the data. Ideally it requires digital information systems designed with an open-by-default capability which also protects personal and restricted records. It is crucial for countries to set policy which protects the privacy and security of individuals in order to gain their confidence. For example, New Zealand requires all users of its open land ownership data to agree to a separate licence before they can use, reuse, and share the property and ownership layers that contain personal information. 

The developing countries which are undertaking projects to upgrade their legacy paper-based information systems, with the support of development banks, do not appear to be including an open data component. The Open Up Guide for Land Governance identifies data types to help countries upgrade their information systems, plan and implement their open data projects, or consider options for doing so. The Guide sets out the key land governance data types, lists the required data standards, and gives examples of countries and organizations that release open data or are on the journey to do so.

Download the revised Open Up Guide for Land Governance to read more.

Photo by Isaque Pereira from Pexels