Open Data and Land Governance: Increased accountability and transparency as a means to overcoming poverty? | Land Portal

Reviving Documentation of Property Rights

Cadasta Foundation is dedicated to the support, continued development and growth of the Cadasta Platform – an innovative, open source suite of tools for the collection and management of ownership, occupancy, and spatial data that meets the unique challenges of this process in much of the world.

In land governance, a sector ripe for abuse and corruption, transparency is critical in ensuring land use and allocation is fair and accountable and that tenure rights can be defended and protected. The consequences of a lack of transparency include increased difficulty in unlocking the value of the land as an asset and a lack of awareness of land policies and legal frameworks that can undermine land tenure security, potentially leading to a misallocation of land rights. The opaque nature of land administration systems and decision-making mechanisms exacerbates corruption by land officials, from petty corruption as citizens try to undertake transactions, to major political corruption in land management, such as the illegal sale or lease of state land by public officials - a practice beoming more evident given the current 'land grabbing' phenomenon. Finally, without information on the status and transfer of state-owned lands, intermediaries and communities have no way to advocate for protection of land rights or fight for unrecognized official rights.

Despite the clear need for transparency in land governance, the data needed to connect these links remains closed. The potential for open data, data that is made freely available, in bulk, for anyone to access, use and share, to fill in these gaps is woefully unexplored. For example, government land data, such as cadastral maps and ownership information, is only available to well-resourced actors through paid subscription services - if at all. In some countries, data on land is held so tightly by government agencies that even other departments or levels of government have to pay to access. On an international level, organizations such as the World Bank that in the past closely held their data on land governance, have shifted to completely open data, as with the Land Governance Assessment Framework (LGAF), yet many organizations remain hesitant towards shifting to open data models.

To further complicate the issue, opinions on what land data should be made available and how “open” it should be remain mixed. In some cases, communities may fear open data on land governance, as it may represent a threat to their historical and traditional rights, as with pastoralist peoples, and therefore the type of information shared and with whom must be carefully considered. The hope is that opening up the data in a way that takes these concerns into account can level the playing field and reduce information asymmetry so that everyone -- individuals, communities, NGOs, governments and the private sector -- can benefit from land information.

Consequently, the aim of this discussion is to bring together these stakeholders to address the implications of open data for land governance, including understanding the links between transparency and global challenges, such as overcoming poverty, strengthening property rights for vulnerable populations, enhancing food security and combating corruption. We also hope to broaden consensus on this issue, define what data is important for the community to be open and begin to collect examples of best practices that can be used as an advocacy point going forward.

The objectives of the discussion are:

  • Raise awareness of the relationship between open data and land governance.

  • Consider issues as to potential sources of data about land and accompanying issues about accuracy, completeness

  • Gather feedback and identify gaps or additional best practices on open data and land governance.

  • Explore the role of open data in improving transparency, information exchange and coordination.

  • Identify barriers that prevent the shift towards open data in land governance practices and systems.

  • Solicit contributions regarding country level open data policies and practice.

  • Bring together stakeholders in the land governance community and create possibilities for synergy.


We invite Land Portal users to answer one or more of the following questions:

  • Have you been affected negatively by a lack of transparency in land data? If so, what were the consequences? Please describe.

  • Can you share any examples of the effective use of data (open or otherwise) for land governance? How has this positively contributed to your community / region or country? Have you seen a change in revenue as a result of open data in land information?

  • Do you anticipate more or less land data in your country becoming open in the future? Why/Why not?

  • Land information may be collected and stored at the county, state or national level. Would it be worthwhile to create a global standard for open data on land? Please share your thoughts.

  • What kinds of data are important for improved land governance?

  • What are the barriers to shifting towards open data on land? How do we incentivize governments to open up land data for free? What are some strategies or case studies that illustrate success in this challenge?

  • How do we balance openness and transparency with protecting the privacy or individuals or communities?

  • To what extent do you use or advocate for open data in your work? What are the main challenges you encounter within your work with accessing and using data?


How Can I Participate?

You can type your comment below and answer one or more of the suggested questions. If you have any questions feel free to contact us at


Introduction by Iris Krebber, Head of Agriculture & Senior Land Policy Lead | Directorate General for Economic Development | UK Department for International Development (DFID)

The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) launched the “Land: Enhancing Governance for Economic Development” (LEGEND) as a global programme to transform global land and other property rights by focusing on three priorites: (i) improve data, information and evidence on land for change of policy and practice, (ii) strengthen tenure security directly through programmes on the ground, and (ii) help get more shared value from improved private sector investment practices in land .

Through building policy coherence globally and stimulating innovation , LEGEND aims to improve the quality and impact of land investments of all kinds so they contribute sustainably to growth while safeguarding rights and opportunities for poor people, rural and urban — and especially women.

A fundamental part of achieving this aim is enhancing transparency and openness in land governance systems. What we have seen is that transparency supports accountability and ultimately leads to meaningful change. In the context of land governance, moving towards open and transparent data represents a significant opportunity to build systems that engage citizenry and give stakeholders access to the same information, thus leveling the playing field. Open data for land governance holds great potential to reduce corruption and strengthen confidence in systems, leading to increased investment, from smallholder farmers in their own plots to foreign direct investment.

Yet, a lack of clarity exists on how to generate the critical mass to trigger a paradigm shift to open data in land governance systems. Without basic agreement among key stakeholder groups or a clear understanding of what constitutes open data or why it is important among policy makers and institutional leaders, the benefits of open data are unlikely to be realized any time soon, to help poor people in particular to get benefit more out of what is often the most economically valuable asset they possess, their land.

As you know, the UK Government is a big fan of open data. It is our hope that this discussion contributes to defining the path forward to creating more open land governance systems. We encourage all stakeholders and LEGEND partners to lend their voice to this debate.

The latest version of the Open Data Barometer shows a small number of countries with a full 100% score on the topic of Land Ownership. The UK is one of them. However, when I search for land ownership data on, I will only find data sets on county level, containing the property of the county itself, plus the WMS on the parcel index map provided by HMLR. Same situation in New Zealand, also scoring 100%. They are providing more detailed data on land parcels than the UK, but information on owners is restricted. In the Netherlands (score 65%) the parcel map is provided open (download, view and feature service and linked), information on owners is restricted.

Actually, I am not aware of any country providing land ownership data down to the level of individual owners (but I might be wrong for some Scandinavian or Baltic states – open for suggestions).

There are several reasons for this. The most obvious reason is the protection of personal data. In European law, personal data has a broad scope, including any data that can be related to individuals. The recently adopted EU General Data Protection Regulation introduces location data explicitly as a possible identifier for personal data. This means that in principle an address or parcel identifier could be regarded as personal data and therefore be restricted for access. So, when we call for opening land administration data, which data are in scope for opening? The answer to this might vary across countries, as privacy issues vary across cultures.

A second reason of a principal nature is the concern about legal certainty. A land administration’s primary purpose is to provide information that can be used as official proof of ownership or other land rights. A land administration thus preserves a large number of private interests – which is in essence why it should be a public function. Releasing this data as open data would create opportunities for all kinds of different providers to pop up and provide it as if it were the official source. How would the average citizen be able to distinguish between the official data and the re-used open data? And how can we avoid these data being used for nefarious purposes?

A third reason is in many cases the financial aspect. Open data should be free, but providing data comes with a cost. Standards, documentation and a running infrastructure should be maintained. The cost aspect should not be exaggerated – costs of providing open data can be quite modest compared to the costs of providing restricted data, and concerns about an increasing number of users seeking helpdesk assistance have, in our experience, not become true in practice. Yet, financials may be an issue, especially when data provision is a source of income for the land administration holder. It is general practice in developed countries that the land administration is not financed from a government budget but from fees for providing services, including information services. This is based on the principle that who benefits from a service, pays for the service – which works quite well in a well-functioning real property market. It is clear that this principle does not work with open (free) data, and that a different funding mechanism must be in place when adopting an open data policy.

These are three main issues that are of concern for the land administration holders – taking the perspective from a land administration agency in a developed country, with well-established transparency and accountability mechanisms. In other cases there may be other concerns of course – e.g. regarding the quality, completeness and actuality of the data, not to speak of cases where the land administration holder has private interests in keeping access restricted. In the latter case, an institution reform would be more effective than a call for open data. In the case of data issues, opening the data can be considered an opportunity instead of a threat – if combined with proper mechanisms for processing feedback from data users, ensuring that the land administration can fulfil its main function: protecting the rights of the individuals.

In the past, land data, especially those from land administration government agencies, has been deemed either unreliable, closed completely or only available through paying a subscription service. However, throughout Cadasta’s research over the last several months, we’ve found several examples of countries that have been making strides forward in creating more transparency around land records — especially in the publishing of property boundaries. For example, the EU's INSPIRE Directive requires member states to release GIS data that shows property boundaries. This is already being implemented in places like the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden. Additionally, the government of Uruguay opened up its cadastral data as part of the implementation of the country’s Open Government Partnership National Action Plan. 

While these examples demonstrate successful open data initiatives driven by political will, there have also been grassroots-driven demand for open land data. The city of Sao Paulo opened data on annual property tax paid, largely due to a call from researchers and civil society who wanted to investigate wealth inequality. Some communities in Indonesia and Guatemala are taking matters into their own hands by conducting participatory mapping exercises to create reliable data when official sources on property boundaries and ownership fall short. While these examples are still few and far between, they represent a movement toward more openness. 

Throughout our work to explore open data in property rights, a few of the major themes that has come up in interviews with civil society organizations, government officials and the private sector has been a lack of understanding around what open data is generally, and why open data in land is important. This ends up being a huge barrier to creating a general shift toward open data. This is due in part to the fact that there aren't many positive case studies to point to yet. But another reason is because the many uses of land information data are not widely known. In addition to outlining what open data is, we've also put together resources on the different users of open data to show that land data is important beyond the property rights sector -- it affects corruption and government accountability, natural resource management, real estate development and global food security. Our hope is to help bring greater understanding and consensus on what open data is.

Lindsay the Land Registry's INPIRE layer (which covers England and Wales) is only semi open. Property boundaries for those properties that have registered are available (the majority of land has been registered, but substantial holdings have not, in Scotland the proportion is as low as 26%). However the ID for each parcel is an 'INSPIRE id'. This cannot be linked to a title without payment of a fee. 

How about subsidies for agricultural land. As a tax payer funded subsidy you'd think this would be open, closed:

The two main address databases - Postcode Address File and Addressbase are also proprietary despite the later being a government dataset. The former was government owned but it was sold when the Post Office was privatised. 

Characteristics and attributes of properties for commercial and residential taxation purposes – closed data.

I'm writing this because in all three previous comments the UK is being held up as being an Open Data exemplar, the truth is more nuanced. 

There is a strong Open Data movement within the UK government, but government is a many headed beast, and there is also a strong - perhaps stronger - movement towards privatisation. Here profitable fee earning departments are sold so that their data assets, not the tax payer, fund operations. See repeated attempts by the current administration to privatise the Land Registry.

For a positive example of the power of Open Data land data see the investigation by Private Eye magazine into UK property owned by Offshore Companies. (Although Private Eye had to use Freedom of Information legislation to get the data).

This was an expose of the murky world of tax evasion, a pertinent subject that has global ramifications. Opening this data up and publishing it shined a light on the UK's role as a haven for foreign money - some of it inevitably dirty. 8 months later the UK holds an anti-corruption summit in London. David Cameron announces foreign firms that own property in the UK will have to declare their assets publicly in a bid to stamp out money-laundering.

Well done Private Eye:

Large scale public and private investments are coming on targeting few numbers of areas where communication by port is easy. It is obvious that public and private investment giving compensation to the farmers for transaction of lands. It is revealed that huge number of land owners who are owning land generation after generation without keeping proper documentation. In fact cadastral survey has been conducted after 40-50 years without any ongoing process. The ownership registration, deed of transaction, tax receipt and updated mutation of registration are not in hand. In some cases, owner may have one document such as deed of transaction what s/he received from father or grandfather. S/he never went to the land offices for tax payment or mutation of registration.

In order to receive the compensation or price of land, s/he has to manage the documents of ownership that become challenging for owners. They are running to one office to another offices for collecting documents providing the speed money. Again owners (who do not have document) tried to convince land acquisition officers with money so that they can get the compensation. On the other hand, public agencies/private companies are purchasing lands with proper documents throughout the areas and hindering the way to communicate with land. Such vulnerable landowners nothing to do the land.

The open data on such land ownership is really useful in order to help the vulnerable land owners. Though the land owners not even claim the compensation now, but open data would give him minimum recognization and time to collect ownership documents and claim the land later on.    

Because of a lack of transparency in land data, there are a lot of situations where information about land governance and land rights is difficult to obtain, especially for common people. One of the classic country cases is Brazil, where there are multiple different places where land information and land records are kept. Getting to a definitive, transparent, certain record of who owns what where can be very difficult. The private registries that register the rights are not necessarily tied to a geographic description of the land. There are national and municipal cadastres which are supposed to link up to the private registries, but in many places this correspondence hasn't been made. There are also other land records, from places such as the tax or environmental department, that also may not link up with any other records. These discrepancies in Brazil lead to issues like those we currently see in the Amazon. There’s a lot of land fraud around public lands, as well as violence and intimidation which thrives on weak land governance. Due to a lack of transparency, these public lands have been fraudulently appropriated into private hands. A lack of coherence in the data in these situations has led to conflict and mismanagement that has real costs for smallholder farmers, indigenous peoples and public forests.

Another example is Cambodia, where public land is often not clearly identified and registered and can frequently be subject to overlapping claims between multiple public agencies as well as local communities on the same piece of land. Without real data and the cooperation of all those public agencies to adjudicate those lands through a transparent process and work to recognize local inhabitants rights, it is difficult to sort out the different claims and reach stable and fair situations. In these cases, local, vulnerable communities are often the ones who may be displaced in the process.  But open data is still just a part of the equation which also requires accountable institutions and rule of law. If there’s a corruption problem or a problem elite capture in the judiciary, open land data can also backfire, especially for social groups that may not have the economic means, communication tools or political connections to defend their claims. In these cases, both the transparency of data and the quality of governance institutions have to be a points of scrutiny.


Will land data become more open in the future?

The big trend is ultimately toward more data becoming more available. First of all, everything is moving toward digital platforms which makes it easier to share and access information. Second, governments, civil society and the private sector see the need for it. One example that I've been working on that exemplifies this trend is coming, perhaps surprisingly, from Kyrgyzstan, where the government is pressuring its agencies to begin to share their land data with each other and on-line to the public. The government recognizes the inefficiencies and deficiencies that could be solved by sharing data which ends up being the first step to this information being brought into the public arena. One of the drivers in Kyrgyzstan was elections. The government wanted to register everyone in the elections and needed addresses in order to do that, so they looked toward the land agencies to provide this information. This is a case where the intersection of the technology making it easier and cheaper to share data aligned with political incentives.


What are the barriers for government agencies in shifting towards open data on land?

One barrier is the desire for government agencies to hold onto information very tightly and control access to data. There is a belief that data is power and controlling this data gives agencies the power to sustain themselves. A lot of times, agencies are afraid that if they make their data open or accessible, they will lose their monopoly on bureaucratic processes, such as an approvals or access, that translates into revenue for that agency or those working in that agency. This is a major barrier that requires the whole of government reform to create the rules of how data is going to be opened up to break down these agencies' monopolies, so that all the agencies move together and income streams are rationalized for the whole of government, rather than relying on agency-level incentives.

Another barrier is related to a lack of understanding and policy attention on how important these issues are on broader economic, social development and environmental management initiatives. Property rights are too often viewed as an arcane, technical sector, but it actually affects everyone at every level. Land and buildings are literally the foundations of society.

Finally, there’s so much real vested interest in perpetuating the status quo, because land and buildings are so valuable. If we come back to the example of rural Brazil, there are huge tracts of rural land that are significantly underused, and the owners are paying almost nothing in property taxes. There are ties between local elites and municipal governments to keep the property tax low that allow private interests to benefit at a direct cost to public benefits. The lack of transparency and open data about valuations and collections supports these vested interests to continue to benefit from this status quo with all kinds of social costs. Maybe there is opportunity in crisis, however, as Brazil's economic situation  is resulting in some new signals from the national tax authority about challenging this status quo in rural property tax. Let's wait and see what happens.

This topic has long tails.  Malcolm Childress and Romeo Sherko did an interesting paper on this topic a while back:

David Stanfield



Response by Peter Wells and William Gerry, from the Open Data Institute

Data about land is a vital asset. Knowing who owns what is important to governments, businesses, and individuals. For individuals, it is important to have their ownership of a piece of land or home registered in a way that proves they own it. Businesses, especially those with large estates, need to know how much land they own, and its value to the company. Governments need to know who owns what so they can levy taxes and plan physical infrastructure projects.


We think of data as infrastructure. Just like roads. Roads help us navigate to a location. Data helps us make a decision. We need to learn how to manage and maintain data infrastructure just as how we have learnt to manage and maintain roads.

We think it is important to understand who owns our data infrastructure. The data assets in a data infrastructure may be maintained by organisations in the private, public or third sector. They may be maintained by new types of organisations and alliances such as OpenStreetMap. They may be maintained by individuals. A number of maintenance models exist. New forms of technology such as blockchains are emerging that might support new ways to store or maintain parts of our data infrastructure.


To give a practical example in recent months, there has been much debate in the UK about the potential privatisation of the Land Registry, and how the data it holds is an asset. Should this information be in public or private ownership? You can find our thinking here, it might be useful in other countries and contexts.

The Open Data Institute is committed to working with governments, NGOs, businesses and individuals to improve data infrastructure. Part of its work on this will be through the GODAN Action project, which was launched in August 2016. The programme of work concentrates on enabling farmers, policymakers, and infomediaries to harness the potential of open data. Whilst this doesn’t specifically touch on data infrastructure about land ownership; having that data available as openly as possible will make it easier for us to do the other work. To draw another analogy we can build services and find insights on top of reliable and open data infrastructure (like land data or maps), just as we build physical farms and plant crops on top of land.

Response by Jamie Kalliongis & Jenna DiPaolo Colley for the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI)

Secure, legally-recognized land and forest rights for Indigenous Peoples and local communities are vital to mitigating climate change, securing sustainable development, preventing conflict, and reducing poverty. It is also a core human right for up to 2.5 billion people who customarily hold and use land around the world.  


Data on the customary lands of local communities is crucial to advocacy efforts, securing legal recognition of communities’ land and resource rights, and measuring global progress on this critical issue. Accordingly, RRI has been tracking forest tenure rights – the amount of forestland legally owned by or designated for Indigenous Peoples and local communities – since 2002, and recently expanded our dataset to examine all lands.


Our tenure tracking relies heavily on government data, yet such data is often unavailable or published infrequently due to lack of resources or low transparency. Even in countries where the distribution of urban and agricultural lands is well-documented, there may be little information pertaining to forests and even less on the extent of local communities’ rights to manage and own the forests they have lived in for generations.


RRI’s tenure tracking analyses also examine the content and strength of specific kinds of forest tenure rights that are recognized as belonging to local communities under national legislation; the rights analyzed are often referred to as communities’ “bundle of rights”. Even if laws relevant to communities’ forest tenure are posted online or made accessible in-country, they may not be available in the languages spoken by impacted communities, or in the languages of other national and international actors who work on land issues. Obtaining land laws in a particular country is far easier today than it was ten or fifteen years ago, but much could be done to increase the availability of up-to-date legislation, and to facilitate development actors’ abilities to track the evolution of land tenure regimes around the world.

Non-government stakeholders have recognized these obstacles. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization provides the most comprehensive global assessment of forest ownership through the Global Forest Resources Assessment, and includes information on lands formally held by Indigenous Peoples. However, the Assessment is updated only every 5 years, and its scope is confined to the data submitted by countries.

Civil society organizations are helping to fill this gap by compiling data on indigenous and community forests. RRI is one of a number of institutions supporting LandMark, the world’s first interactive global platform displaying maps of lands collectively held by Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Landmark seeks to bring together the best available data on community land rights from governments, communities, and CSOs into one globally-comparable map.  The open-source publication of community-land maps can serve as a tool to prevent governments from claiming that community lands are uninhabited, or from signing community land away to foreign investors.

Providing accessible mechanisms for local communities to map and register their own lands is a key first step. However, community mapping processes must be approached with caution, as land mapping can be a politically contentious process in and of itself. Some communities themselves worry about the implications of their spatial data being shared publicly. Community-mapping may exacerbate local tensions between communities related to land disputes or widen existing frictions between the land claims of communities and governments. While some governments have banned communities from engaging in this process, we believe that communities should have the rights to demarcate their territory if they so choose.

Landmark has grappled with how to ensure community privacy and protection in publishing spatial data on the boundaries of Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ lands. They therefore only share information that is already publicly available, or that is voluntarily provided by communities, organizations, researchers, and other individuals; data provided by communities is protected under a data-sharing agreement.

In an increasingly globalized world, the ability of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to receive legally recognized rights to their land and resources would be significantly furthered by a climate of available, verifiable data that can be accessed by a variety of local, national, and international stakeholders.

Local, national, and global-level initiatives to document and share information on community lands will be crucial to gaining an accurate understanding of forest and land ownership that can inform policymakers, private sector actors, and local communities alike.  

Transparency isn’t an end goal, but greater transparency over certain types of land-related information can lead to better outcomes: for example, more informed decision-making and improved accountability. A number of guidelines and principles exhort greater transparency in land-based investment, and at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI), we have been focusing on improving transparency around such investments. In particular, we’ve been looking at the investor-state contracts that govern large land deals. In most countries, these types of contracts are not publicly available. Yet greater transparency of such contracts, and more open data around the deals, could benefit all stakeholders.

For instance, when land contracts are publicly available, host governments gain a better understanding of commitments used in comparable contexts. This can help improve their future negotiations. At one of our launch events for (the world’s first searchable repository of publicly available investor-state contracts for agriculture and forestry), one of the first people to approach us after the event told us excitedly that he and his colleagues would start using this repository immediately as part of their work supporting a government that seeks to negotiate better deals. Before the repository existed, examples from other countries were extremely hard for governments to come by.

Communities also can benefit from more open land contracts. For example, we recently awarded a mini-grant to the Centre pour l’Environnement et le Développement (CED) in Cameroon to support its work on empowering communities to use information gained through contract disclosure to monitor land-based investments and to hold parties accountable to their investment-related commitments. 

Open data and disclosed information is only valuable when stakeholders know how to use it, and both of the above examples highlight the role that intermediary organizations often play in translating open information into useful outcomes. also takes steps to make sure that information is more accessible. Not only do we place contracts in a central, searchable repository (with search facilitated by extracting text from PDF images), but we also provide plain-language summaries of key contract provisions, to help non-lawyers better understand complex legal documents.

While I firmly believe that increased transparency of land contracts will be widely beneficial, I also urge caution for transparency and open data enthusiasts. In my view, any new transparency or open data intervention should be assessed ex ante to review the possible implications for all stakeholders, and particularly for those who are in the most vulnerable or precarious situations. As Malcolm Childress noted earlier, open data can backfire when governance institutions are weak. One cautionary story comes from southwest India, where the digitization of land records may have created more opportunities to exploit already marginalized people (although this program has also been described as a success). As Michael Gurstein has explained in arguing for an “effective use” approach, “in the absence of efforts to equalize the playing field with respect to enabling opportunities for the use of newly available data, the end result may be increased social divides rather than reduced ones particularly with respect to the already poor and marginalized.”

This is why I cringe when I hear the argument that transparency efforts are “neutral.” While the opening of data can be considered neutral in a very narrow sense, any effort always happens in a specific and non-neutral setting. Understanding the socio-political context is thus important for ensuring that an effort does more good than bad. Opening up data in many cases can be beneficial, but it must be done with sufficient safeguards to protect the most vulnerable from the potential downsides of transparency. For those of us concerned about land rights, I would argue that this means that the most vulnerable of legitimate land rights holders should be at the front of our analyses and at the heart of our decisions.

Decision-making in this context isn’t easy. One issue that we have been grappling with at is whether to extract and proactively convert into maps any geospatial data included in the publicly available contracts that we place on our website. Some proponents of the idea argue that this is a logical step to making information more accessible. It’s true—a potentially affected community member is more likely to understand whether a concession impinges on her land if she is able to review a map than if she is given a lengthy list of geocoordinates. Yet precisely because many of these contracts relate to land that is claimed by other land users, we are also wary of inadvertently lending greater legitimacy to the land claims of investors over those of local land users whose claims would not be accorded the same attention on our site. For now, we’ve decided to not undertake this type of effort, although we do annotate locational information found in contracts. In the future, there may be particular situations in which an effort to extract and map geospatial data contained in contracts makes sense for the project: presumably this would be in specific locales, where context-specific factors could be better explored, understood, and weighed, and where appropriate safeguards could be introduced as necessary. As we continue to explore the issue, Jenna’s comment about LandMark’s approach to publishing spatial data in a way that protects communities resonates.

Open land data can be a positive force, as highlighted by others in this debate. At CCSI, we hope to be in the vanguard of forging greater transparency around land-based investments. Let’s make sure, though, that the push for more open data is tempered with caution, and that open data initiatives are designed to support and not undermine the legitimate land rights of all—including those who might be the least equipped to use the data. 

1.  If all the organization's collecting household survey data including related to land rights  would make this data open, similar to what the MCC is doing with its impact evaluation data, the data could enrich program design, inform risk management and inform monitoring of progress.

2. Moreover, with the inclusion of a land rights indicator in the global 2030 monitoring indicator set, and other efforts to harmonize measures of land tenure security, open data could provoke a conversation about standardizing questions about land rights. This includes data on perceptions as well as data on documentation of rights.

3. Finally, public administrative data on land rights and transactions needs to become much more transparent, shared information about transactions is typically not available. Opening this data can be useful in the same ways as survey data. Safeguards for business proprietary information and personal identification are important as they are in opening survey data. Both transparency and safeguards seem feasible. 

Jolyne Sanjak, Chief Program Officer at Landesa

Two points to add to this great discussion.

Free, Prior, Informed and Empowered Consent to Share Community Data

Namati (and our partner organizations engaged in participatory community mapping) are generally supportive of efforts to open and share land data; however, we also experience a strong pressure to share data that belong to communities.

From what I've seen in community mapping efforts generally, the pressure to share and promote what communities are mapping too often results in insufficient Free, Prior, and Informed Consent for data sharing, as well as a lack of clarity over who owns the data and has the authority to decide how to share it. This is a classic power imbalance issue, aggravated by the fact that mapping often uses technology, techniques, and data that are unfamiliar and intimidating to communities. 

Namati and our partners are experimenting with ways to empower communities as the data owners and to ensure that a) the authority over data sharing is clearly negotiated and agreed upon between communities and organizations working with them, in advance of any mapping activities and b) the organization has clear, formal permission from the community before sharing, hosting, or promoting any data or content that might expose the community's data (such as photographs of final sketch maps, final maps etc.). From our experiences so far, this is not easy - it adds significant time and complexity to community meetings, it may need to be revisited at several points through the mapping process, communities may be very uncomfortable about requests to sign written agreements, and it can raise some very tough questions that are challenging to navigate and explain (for example, long-term access to the data in case the community needs to update or use it, is the organization obliged to provide this support?). 

Too often, these questions are left until the end of the mapping process (if addressed at all) and by that point the power dynamic is worsened because the organization is often holding the data and the access to the final map products, which the community so badly wants. Another issue is that many organizations feel they need to treat mapping data as belonging at least in part to them due to the fact that they helped to create it, or if they feel they are obliged to share results with donors. I think any organization doing community mapping needs to be very explicit about question of data privacy and ownership in both their relationship with communities and in the terms they agree to with donors or other partners (for example, being obligated to report on activities and learning, but not necessarily share any data produced if the communities' do not give their permission). 

There also should be options, technically and in agreements, for communities to consent to share some information (e.g. boundary lines) but not others (e.g. spiritual sites or resource sites).

It would be very helpful if those of us working in this space could share more about effective strategies, tools, and techniques for having these conversations and keeping communities in a position where they can make empowered choices about their mapping data.

Reciprocity from other Data Owners

Many of the communities we have talked with about data ownership and privacy are open to sharing their information - afterall, one of the main reasons they are interested in mapping is to assert their territorial claims publicly. But one of the frustrations that they have voiced (and that we regularly run into, as it sounds like others here have too) is how difficult it can be to find a similar openness from other data owners - such as government land agencies. Communities ask, rightly so, why they should be willing to share all their mapping data if the government won't respond to their inquiries for official land information. It would help to address some of these concerns if there were more platforms for making land data publicly available and accessible to rural communities.

Olivia Davies, Intern with GODAN

Do we bother putting in the efforts to build a global standard for open data on land?  In short no, however, this question grapples with many complexities surrounding land tenure, ownership, and rights.  Firstly, global standards are a dangerous idea.  It is very easy for the OD community to get lost in building standards, but each time we create a new and improved standard we run the risk of over saturating the field.  Standards are only helpful when there are few, unfortunately agreeing upon which one or two to abide by is extremely challenging.

No matter how technically feasible this may be, a global standard requires cooperation and trust on a global level.  There are so many social inhibitors that make this incredibly difficult.  Firstly, a global standard requires cross-cultural agreement on definitions of ownership.  In many parts of the world land registration is incomplete or there are conflicting understandings of ownership.  In Guinea, for example, there exist formal land laws that recognize customary land rights but there remains a large discrepancy between policy and customary practices—leaving this data unrepresentative of the areas use.  Or if we look at the Cree in Northern Canada we see a community that has comparatively well defined land ownership but their cultural understanding of the space does not include the belief that one can hold possession over nature.  Also if we see a fluid definition of ownership as it exists in some non-Western cultures, conceptualizing and representing this properly is a challenge.  Reconciling these differences at a local level is a necessary first step to developing a global standard.  

Then scaling up we begin to see country differences in land registration data.  And in reaching an agreement upon how this should be done requires examining questions like which method is most ethical? Am I considering all actors when using this method? Am I perpetuating colonialist ideals and if so, is that okay? Unfortunately, until we have more voices from different cultures we couldn’t properly address this.  Because land is undeniable tied to space and place, whose definitions vary depending on you approach (descriptive, phenomenological, or social constructionist), it is important that the standard is representative of all views.  

Secondly, trust issues may be the single largest barrier in reaching agreement on a global standard.  In any place with politically sensitive borders, undergoing peace building, a large natural resources deposit, disputed land tenure or with a history of land-grabs will experience on some level distrust between the peoples and the agency (in most cases governments) collecting and disseminating the data.  Until incentives are transparent and communicated effectively, the feasibility of building the necessary trust levels remain low.  

However appealing a global standard may be, it does pull efforts from more pressing problems.  Addressing issues in conflict zones or surrounding disputed territories with localized open data will play an integral role in development.  To divert efforts from this to the bigger picture may continue to disguise important considerations that should be included in the global standard structure.  That said, there are limits to how inclusive this standard can really be and where we draw the line is a potentially never-ending debate.  Something I’ve learned recently working on ODC, GODAN, ODI and OD4D’s Agriculture Sector Data Package, a policy resource to provide a roadmap for ODC supporters who wish to respond to challenges in the agricultural sector (which has ties to land) with open data, is to focus on efforts that are actionable in the near future.  What most people need right now or in the near future is this data and information to be available in a useful format, and we as open data ambassadors should do our best to deliver.

By Mor Rubinstein, Open Knowledge International

While I am relatively experienced in the world of open data, I am still new to the topic of land data. However, compared to land rights, it’s comparatively easy to be acknowledged as experienced in open data. The open data field that has only existed for the last 12 years, while land rights is  a topic that has long been the subject of wars, violence and corruption for centuries.

When Open Knowledge International (OKI) first started the fellowship with Cadasta on open data in land rights, I came in as a complete “tabula rasa.” I had no idea what to expect, and where to go forward. Our deliverable seems pretty simple - we wanted to determine what type of data we need in order to answer some of the problems of this field, such as land grabbing, corruption and lack of secure tenure. This is of course, not simple at all. There are so much definitions, aggregations and types of data out there when it comes to land. It is really hard to determine what we need to tackle first; data that can help protect indigenous communities is not necessarily the same data that we need in order to fulfill De-Soto’s theory of making the invisible visible. Moreover, sometimes publishing data that fulfils one objective actually conflicts with others.

So we started to map the uses, and we map the datasets that we *know* exist out there. We looked at the personas that use these datasets, and conducted a risk analysis to understand the ways in which openness of different datasets might harm people. And this is all good and well, but we need feedback. We need someone to tell us that we are looking at is wrong. We need someone to tell us what the type of knowledge they want to get at the end in order to stop corruption in land.

We need to listen to others, because the worst thing that we can do is to let the data lead us.

We cannot simply say: “if we analyse the data, the solutions will come.” It is time to put all of our cards on the tables, determine what problems we need to solve and then determine how data can support it. So, that is why we need your help. Please, do us a favour, go to the Cadasta Open Data page and tell us what is helpful in it, but mostly help us see where we went wrong, without it, we can't go forward.

By Tim Davies, co-director of Practical Participation Ltd.

Land data crosses over with a few other fields of work, including anti-corruption work where land is one of those assets used in laundering money and the proceeds of corruption often go through land transactions. Having a degree of transparency helps in tracing and ultimately addressing those issues. Secondly, there’s also ties to procurement and contracting. For example, if governments are selling off land, understanding those transactions is also really important.

While transparency in these fields is important, land ownership is only one of the possible rights over land and sometimes ownership is actually very partial. There is much more about the rights that can be found within land contracts and deeds. However, these contracts can’t necessarily be captured in simple structured open data, so we need to be realistic that the data only shows a snapshot of some of the information we might want to know about a piece of land and then dig further into the documents to see what is really happening.

Another key thing that is important to unpack is that in many cultures, there is no such thing as land ownership data in terms of absolute descriptions of facts on the ground. Our whole world is built on land records which are competing, overlapping pieces of history and narratives about those pieces of lands. So I think another barrier is the mental model that we come with about what land data is from the open data community, which is in fact an impoverished mental model when it is measured against the reality that is land rights. These rights are highly complex, layered things and what we are often dealing with are very blunt datasets. We need to get more sophisticated both in our technical structures for capturing these things but also in the stories that we tell ourselves about what it is possible to know from the land datasets or what we need to do to help explore those stories better.

Within the open data space, I would like to see us doing more around the different types of rights over land. Rather than focusing just on ownership, we could explore how to better capture common rights over land or understand forestry rights to see if there are rights that we aren’t taking full advantage of or aren’t arguing for when we should be. I hope the future holds more sophisticated thinking around the different layers of rights within land data.

Finally, there are legitimate privacy and power concerns about opening land data. Therefore if we’re considering making land data available as open data, then we need to ask to whom are we granting access to that information. If we’re talking about making data on small landowners available in a way such that it can be exploited then I think we should have concerns about doing that. As Sunil Abraham has so aptly put in the past, privacy protections must be inversely proportionate to power. That’s why I think there should be different levels of transparency in land ownership. I have no concerns about openness of corporate land ownership because again a corporation is a fictional person legally created and we recognize that public stakeholders and shareholders within that company have the rights to scrutinize that behavior. Similarly with public lands, these are lands that are entrusted with the government on our behalf and should therefore be public records. Publishing the boundaries to plots of lands can be useful information, however, when getting to the specific rights to these plots, how and what to publish becomes a bit trickier.

By Diana Fletschner, Sr. Director of Research and Evaluation, Landesa

This has been a very thoughtful and informative conversation. Thank you to all the contributors!

I particularly appreciate the idea of viewing data as infrastructure to inform decisions and like Peter Wells and Williams Gerry’s very apt argument that roads are to destinations what data is to decisions. Just like we invest in building roads, maintaining them, and making maps available, we should invest in generating data, maintaining it and making it available in a user-friendly format.

Which decisions and therefore which type of data are we talking about? Several examples have already been discussed, but it is worth pointing out that openness and transparency, important as they are, will only address a fraction of the problem. There are critical questions for which the data simply does not yet exist. 

One of the most visible examples is indicator 1.4.2 of the recently adopted 2030 Agenda—an indicator endorsed by hundreds of civil society organizations, supported by donors, and approved by governments around the world—which is designed to track women’s and men’s land rights by combining documentation of rights and individuals’ perceptions of tenure security.  The adoption of this indicator has the potential to transform the sector:

It will provide countries and communities with two measures that are (i) people-centered, as opposed to parcel-based; (ii) universal, not constrained to specific tenure arrangements or sectors; (iii) sex-disaggregated; and (iv) globally comparable. 
Its inclusion in the 2030 Agenda ties it to a formal commitment made by governments and offers civil society a valuable advocacy lever.

Perhaps as importantly, the experience leading to the adoption of the indicator has proven that the land rights sector can come together and collaborate constructively, strategically, and effectively. This experience should provide us with the confidence and inspiration to continue working together to address remaining data gaps. 

This last point is critical because transformative as the adoption of the indicator might have been, when one considers what it will take to implement it, it is easy to see that this step was merely the tip of the iceberg. The amount of work ahead is mind-boggling and will require concerted efforts: clarifying technical and conceptual questions, mobilizing resources, developing capacity at all levels, testing tools to gather the data, making the data available in a friendly format, supporting governments and civil society as users, and much more. 

Moreover, the implementation of this indicator can and should benefit from new sources of global data, such as Prindex—a global poll expected to provide nationally-representative, individually-based, sex-disaggregated data on perceptions of tenure security by early 2018—and from grassroots efforts, like the one led by ILC, expected to develop tools that will empower communities to gather this and other data themselves. 

Once available, these new waves of data will prompt conversations, will create demand for action, will add visibility to land rights related issues, and will hopefully lead to substantial improvements on the ground. 

So the debate hosted by the Land Portal Foundation and the Cadasta Foundation could not be better timed.  Let’s leverage the 2030 Agenda’s historical opportunity to generate and make publicly available data that is critical to inform key decisions, and let’s work together to start addressing some of the many other data gaps.

By Zara Rahman, Research Lead at The Engine Room

Access to and effective use of land data, including data on land rights, but also on land resources, plants and soil, is becoming more and more valuable across several sectors. However, the stark contrast in resources between actors within this sector means that there is a stark power imbalance between actors. The least powerful actors (smallholder farmers, women) currently cannot find the information that would be most useful to them, don’t have the capacity to leverage the data for their own benefit and have no mechanisms to manage ownership of data about them.

Until these imbalances are addressed, it is difficult to protect vulnerable populations from exploitative use of data (open or otherwise) about them or their land. In a recent report on Responsible Data in Agriculture published in partnership with GODAN, we explored these challenges and due to the cross-over between land and agriculture issues, we believe that many of the lessons learned about the agriculture sector have applicability within the debate over open land rights data.

In order to ensure that open data can benefit, rather than harm, less-resourced actors, it is the responsibility of those who collect, manage and disseminate the data to prioritize the contextual circumstances over the dataset itself. There are some land datasets considered sensitive by certain communities where measures should undeniably be taken to safeguard this information (data about the land and natural resources of indigenous populations is often cited as an example of this).

However, there are some datasets that may be deemed publishable in one context but not in another due to the social, economic or political circumstances on the ground. Additionally, the methods by which information is packaged and delivered must be based on target audience literacy, existing information systems and cultural understandings of various technologies. Indiscriminately opening up data is not enough, we need to strategically work with specific communities to work out what data would be useful to them, and ensure that it is available and accessible to them.

Finally, we need to support strong rights frameworks that enable populations to access, use and see the benefit of data about them. The Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data is one of the first multi-stakeholder commitments aimed at addressing this problem. It would be promising to see a similar initiative among the broader land sector aimed at articulating data rights. Beyond high-level commitments, we also need to work to make these frameworks actionable by ensuring that populations reflected in the data have the resources to understand and defend their rights in the wake of potential violations.

By Peter Rabley, Director of Investments for the Property Rights Initiative at the Omidyar Network

In general, we think that open data is important for good governance and transparency. It's a way to keep tabs on government: what are governments spending and what are they spending it on? The idea is that by having transparency on government spending, we can make queries as to the efficacies of that spend, and whether or not taxpayer money is being well used.

It’s not our belief that everything should be open, as there can be significant unintended consequences if you release all data out into the public; governments do collect quite a lot of sensitive information on individuals and corporations. But at its core, we believe that open data is a good thing for good governance. We think that translates well into the land field. Efforts to collect data about land are typically underfunded, the agencies that are tasked in many countries with collecting, transacting and keeping public registers are typically not well equipped to do the job that they are supposed to do. It is difficult therefore to collect and keep an up-to-date registry of land transactions and deals. That is one side.

The other side is that because people are underpaid and because the value of the transaction is so out of proportion to what someone is paid as a civil servant, the opportunity for rent seeking is significant, and of course is often used. Quite a few powerful citizens have built wealth out of the accumulation of land and land transactions. Their vested interest can be to not have a transparent register of all transactions related to land.

All these factors can lead to opaqueness around the official land registry and a lack of completeness and coverage of records. Typically, if we ask a country, 'Can you make available on a public portal a map layer that shows all the land that the government owns?' they are challenged to do so and it may not be that they do not want to do it, they probably just don’t have the capacity to do so. This is a problem.

One of the interesting things about having an open cadaster [land and property register] is that you can highlight how little the government actually knows about what is going on with land or alternatively might choose to be less than forthcoming about. The land registry and other related databases like property taxation and land use can combine powerfully to provide a lot of rich insights for Government, citizens and the private sector. We can see evidence of this in the United Kingdom, where Her Majesty's Land Registry, covering England and Wales, does make elements of its data freely available (Price paid dataset). There is a charge for many of the more detailed HMLR data that commercial entities rely on and use. The national UK mapping agency, the Ordnance Survey, also has some freely available spatial datasets that are also widely used. There is significant economic activity that feeds off this information by combining it with other datasets to create derived products of real value. A good example of this is the burgeoning prop-tech (property technology) industry activities, that have sprung up in New York and London. In the UK prop- tech sector, business activity is now estimated at approximately 1.2 billion USD a year. This is just the beginning.

There are numerous other examples around the world.

It's interesting to note that in some Western European countries and in the United States and Canada that do manage to efficiently update their registries and make them publicly available, they are seen as revenue-generating operations for the government. While this can be a good thing suggesting efficiency and value for the taxpayer there is a down side. These organizations are a natural monopoly and without good oversight there is a danger that they can move towards monopolistic behavior squashing competition and charging high access fees for information. Many would argue that the Ordnance Survey in the UK is a good example of that. There have been a number of economic studies, including an investigation into the charges for access to information Ordnance Survey holds, that would indicate it has led to a stifling of economic development by limiting the number of value added businesses that could build upon Ordnance Survey datasets. You can argue (and many do), that if you compare the geospatial industry in the UK with its cousins particularly in the United States, even after adjusting for GDP disparities the UK is well behind. This in many ways contributed heavily to the formation of the Open Street Map foundation at UCL.

The key question raised under this discussion may have multiple and varying answers depending upon the context of the person responding and his/her geography.  Theoretically, yes open data should contribute in increasing accountability and transparency may it be for land and/or good governance but doing so, new challenges such as homeland security may arise . 2nd issue can be, the consequences for public and private sector organizations that are producing and selling data to generate revenue. Similarly there may be many more issues as well. Before jumping to a conclusion, longitudinal and empirical studies needs to be conducted and supported.

This is a very interesting debate on a key topic for responsible land governance. A great many valid points have been raised by other contributors already, and it's good to see different people highlighting the need to consider how to protect vulnerable people when setting up open data systems. As Kaitlin Cordes says above, data is not neutral. It's a tool, and it can be used to harm as well as for good. The idea that more open and transparent data will necessarily be a good thing thus needs to be treated with care. The data has to be governed, managed, validated etc. Interesting developments around the blockchain are ones to watch here - but again it would be wrong to assume neutrality of any approach to open data systems, even exciting new approaches such as blockchain. This is especially evident when considering gender-disaggregation of data. Gender-disaggregation of land data is something that has been called for now for a long time, as other contributors will know. However putting it into practice within land administration systems is harder to do, particularly when social relationships are unclear or fluid. The same issues that sometimes make it hard to clearly define different tenure rights over an individual parcel of land, likewise make it hard to record those rights whatever the land information system. Nonetheless, as new and more open data systems are built, it's imperative to ensure right from the design phase that the data to be included will incorporate information on gender so it can be easily gender disaggregated and analysed.

I read with extreme interest all the eminent contributions shared so far and I wish to add something that I realised during my own work experience at the Land Portal.

When it comes to land related issues, most of us would agree that the openness of data improves land governance, thanks to increased transparency and enhanced knowledge. Yet, the link between open data and responsible land governance is not that simple. A key element too often neglected is that openness is not synonymous with accessibility. Indeed, while the degree of openness – say – of a cadastral registry can be measured looking at the amount of non-classified information that it contains, the accessibility can only be defined with respect to the specific needs of final users.

For instance, a farmer would find a cadastral registry accessible if she can use it easily and without exorbitant costs to register the ownership of a parcel of land; a researcher, instead, would probably find the same registry accessible is she can download in one click a detailed shape file containing GIS coordinates for the boundaries of each parcel of land registered in that cadastre. In principle, both the farmer and the researcher would benefit from an open data cadastre: the former could see rights over land recognised, whilst the latter could conduct rigorous research. Yet, the farmer would probably not benefit from the shape file of data – no matter how precise it is – and similarly the researcher would not benefit from a quick and affordable procedure for land title registration.

Open data can definitely improve land governance, thus producing benefits for a wide range of stakeholders (e.g. smallholders, agribusiness, governments, NGOs, civil society, media…). However, each audience group has specific needs, as well as different understanding of the same data. Therefore, different groups require accessibility tools specifically tailored for them. In other words, it is crucial to understand how to make open data accessible for a broad range of users because this affects whether open data will be used effectively to improve land governance.

Bearing this in mind, we recently launched the new Land Portal Country Portfolios. Here different content types on land related issues (narratives, data, news, blogs and bibliographic resources) can be easily retrieved and combined together. Here data are not just open, but also accessible to a variety of different users.

By Emily Polack, Senior researcher, Natural Resources, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)

This is a very interesting and important discussion. As many contributors have suggested – the context is key. And in each specific contexts we need to ask what the data ownership issues are and what are the opportunities for transparency and accountability versus the risks to local populations? In a recent Webinar we hosted on a similar topic we discussed some very similar issues. The focus of the Webinar was not simply on making data available but the types of support services that are needed alongside publicising data in order to make data accessible and appropriate for its audiences, and to ensure that those whose lives are implicated by the data are involved and supported. I.e. how can the gathering and presentation of data in the public domain also lead to the legal empowerment of those whose rights to land are most precarious? One case shared in the Webinar was that of Open Land Contracts which Kaitlin Cordes has described in detail above sharing important lessons CSSI have identified in the development of OLC. She includes the need to provide support to local land holders to make sense of the contract data. As a contrast to a global platform sharing land investment data, the other case presented was Open Data Myanmar (data not currently available in English). ODM uses web technology to share unbiased and verified data on land conflicts in Myanmar associated with investment projects. ODM aims to shine a light on the details and scale of conflicts, to resolve disputes and improve land governance. This is perhaps a less conventional interpretation of ‘land data’. However land conflict data relies on accurate land data in affected sites and publicizing the data is a critical component of informing reforms in land governance. Myanmar’s historical and political context demands substantial work to identify what land data exists, in what forms and with which government departments and offices it sits. Ongoing dialogue and engagement with local government and national ministries and departments is promoting better data sharing and availability, but it’s a long road. But providing accessible data from across the country on the nature, scale and impact of land conflicts is forming a good basis for dialogue on land governance issues as well as raising questions about how land data needs to be or could be modernised. ODM are also focused on facilitating dialogue and mediation at the local level between communities, authorities and private actors, and where necessary providing legal representation for local communities. What the two cases and the webinar discussion demonstrated was that open data initiatives in places where information is still scarce and difficult to access, and where mistrust may exist between different stakeholders, benefit from being embedded in multifaceted initiatives, and creating opportunities for open dialogue. 

By Everlyne  Nairesiae, GLII Coordinator, Global Land Tool Network (GLTN)

I appreciate comments shared by colleagues and do find them very informative. My contribution comes in late in this discussion, though I had the best opportunity to interact with most of the comments shared so far. There is no doubt that open data on land is an important tool for influencing transparency and foster accountability in land governance; including securing tenure rights for women and indigenous people (IP). Access to open land data can greatly contribute to reduced land grabbing (with cases reported  involving grabbing IP; and public land meant for public institutions like schools, sports/play grounds, water catchments, forests and cultural sites). Open data on land can also reduce corruption in provision of land administration services including land transaction; promote efficient land market and transparency in tax collection and use. Open data can greatly enhance citizen participation in land governance/decision making, providing them with needed information and data as a tool for engagement and advocacy on their tenure rights including access to services. 

Access and use of open data, in my view, need not to be delinked from official data generated by governments/national data agencies. This is to ensure that data community and infrastructure is coordinated, and harmonized to ensure data is authenticated and standardized at country/local, regional and global level, including open data. Unfortunately, most countries in Africa have limited data on land and where data is available, may not be fully disaggregated or its national coverage is also limited. In some cases, land data being generated by various ministries including that of Lands, Environment, Planning and Public Works, among others, making it complex to provide a single reliable open data on land. Largely, access to cadaster maps and land ownership information is restricted and mostly attracts higher access cost for local communities mainly women and the poor who would like to register or transfer their land; or use in judicial redress for violation of their land rights.

This discussion comes at an opportune time, when we already have regional mechanisms e.g. Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa; AU Agenda 2063; and the Africa Data Consensus, 2015; and global Indicator framework for Agenda 2030 that recognize the importance of land data in planning and decision making; measuring outcomes at country, regional and global levels. Africa Data Consensus does envision ‘a partnership of all data communities that upholds the principles of official statistics as well as openness across the data value chain, which creates a vibrant data ecosystem providing timely, user-driven and disaggregated data for public good and inclusive development’. There is no doubt that this initiative by governments in Africa presents greater opportunity to further examine and promote the application and use of open data on land. It’s worth noting that approximately 70% of land in Africa is still governed under customary tenure regime, with limited or no data including cadaster maps unlike examples shared in this discussion from other continents including Europe. 

 As already noted by Diana and Jolyne , the inclusion of land indicators in the SDGs 1, 5 and 11; and in the upcoming New Urban Agenda which recognizes the importance of land in urban growth, development and fostering resilience (to be endorsement in October,2016) presents us the best opportunity to leverage commitments made by UN members states on the implementation of  goals within a timeframe of 15 years, endorsing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 70/1. UN Agencies and Member states, donors and private sector; civil society organizations and I/NGOs, networks of grassroots organizations and IP movements are more challenged than ever to ensure data collection, analysis and dissemination promote transparency and accountability. We however, are not yet there and need more coordinated efforts and mechanisms to address this gap; and which the establishment of Global Land Indicator Initiative (GLII) in 2012 by World Bank, MCC and UN Habitat and hosted by GLTN; and now with over 50 partners - continues to provide the needed platform for coordination of land community engaging in land governance monitoring for which land data is core, fostering learning and exchanges of best practices in land governance monitoring and measurement, and capacity strengthening in land data collection, analysis and reporting. This discussion is therefore, very important to the work of GLII and its partners, and supporters of these initiatives. I find this discussion very timely to the overall development process surrounding the global indicator framework and expected management of data to be collected and reported at county level; as well as country capacity development initiatives for land data collection, analysis and reporting in line with SDGs; and the role of CSOs and other data agencies; for which GLII is keen to support and accompany directly or indirectly in various dimensions.  

To increase governments and data agencies commitment to open data particularly on land; we need to consider addressing a number of key issues with some already alluded to by colleagues in the discussion:

  • Increase awareness on the importance of access and use of open data on land; with clear linkages to official data; to be made available in easily accessible and understandable format by respective users including those with limited literacy skills.  
  • Address structural and systemic challenges to access and use of open data, taking into account the balancing act between openness and confidentiality, security and protection aspects related to land data including boundaries, minerals and other natural resources etc.
  • Make clear national/regional policy provisions that stipulate legal parameters for generation/production of open land data including financing, access and use; legal restriction and penalties for misuse of such information by governments, private sector, individuals or other entities.
  • Sustain the conversation on access and use of open land data to develop a common narrative for which policy issues including gender could be discussed and addressed at various levels especially at the community level, answering the question on what open land data and who has rights to access?
  • Examine the application of open data from a continuum of land rights, taking into account the varying tenure regimes for which total data coverage/ inclusion is paramount.
  •  Encourage use of technological innovation for data capture, analysis and presentation by grassroots organizations and communities; ensuring their inclusion in government led processes on land data collection and dissemination for information, ownership and use.
  • Access and use of open data requires political good will, hence the need to sustain this conversation while making reference to SDGs, VGGTs, Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa, the regional and global data consensus among other initiatives for which major political commitments have already been secured and could leverage success.

I commend the launch of the new Land Portal Country Portfolios as a means to promote local content on land data and information. This will definitely support and profile best practices in the use of open data; monitor to inform trends in the use of open data on land in those countries for our learning, advocacy and strategic intervention by different players. 

By Elizabeth Stair, Chief Executive Officer of the National Land Agency (NLA) in Jamaica

What are some examples that illustrate the potential beneficial uses of land information data? Between government agencies? By individuals or organizations? By the private sector?

I immediately think of the environmental and planning agency that needs data to inform their development orders and for serving enforcement notices; the Health Ministry to be able to identify landowners in cases of health and safety and  the police for crime fighting, to name a few. For the general public, information on land data gives them the opportunity to have wide knowledge which will allow them to make proper informed decisions, for example for investment purposes.

Land is one of the factors of production and therefore land information is important to general productivity in a country and to help promote sustainable development.

Does open land information have an implication on other sectors? Why or why not? Which sectors?

I believe it would have an implication on other sectors, both private and public, as it facilitates greater research and development.  The more information that is available, the more solutions can be found and therefore you can do more things. Land Information can have an impact on the social aspects of an economy with regards to the equitable distribution of land and how persons use land to improve their livelihood and increase wealth.

What is your government/organizations policy on open land data? When were these enacted, and do you have examples of positive or negative consequences?

The Agency which has been existence since 2001, has no issue with open land data to a point, but the major concerns would be privacy and security of persons.  Data relating to ownership of land is not readily accessible to members of the public.   However, all the other data relating to properties is available through two (2) major products of the Agency which are available online through our website:

There are several other NLA products that provide land information to persons, such as data on the sale of properties.

Do you anticipate more or less land data in your country becoming open in the future? Why/Why not?

We anticipate that more data will become open over time as data on land information is important to sustainable development.  Persons are increasingly interested in statistical data, such as, the number of parcels of land with and without registered titles or number of real estate transactions in a given year or number of properties sold under powers contained in a mortgage, to make informed decisions.

Can you share any examples of the effective use of data (open or otherwise) for land governance? How has this positively contributed to your community / region or country? 

The Agency’s Imapjamaica, which is a free service online, is widely used by many persons/entities in the public and private sector. These include the police force, land surveyors, the insurance sector, utility companies, property tax administrators and the general public for various purposes.

It has positively contributed in that the information, excluding ownership data, is easily available online and at no cost. 

What are the barriers for government agencies in shifting towards open data on land?

As previously mentioned, privacy and security issues are paramount to placing restrictions on the availability of certain land data as well as the cost of providing the data, whether through online systems or maintaining the hard copy records.

By Elizabeth Stair, Chief Executive Officer of the National Land Agency (NLA) in Jamaica

What are some examples that illustrate the potential beneficial uses of land information data? Between government agencies? By individuals or organizations? By the private sector?

I immediately think of the environmental and planning agency that needs data to inform their development orders and for serving enforcement notices; the Health Ministry to be able to identify landowners in cases of health and safety and  the police for crime fighting, to name a few. For the general public, information on land data gives them the opportunity to have wide knowledge which will allow them to make proper informed decisions, for example for investment purposes.

Land is one of the factors of production and therefore land information is important to general productivity in a country and to help promote sustainable development.

Does open land information have an implication on other sectors? Why or why not? Which sectors?

I believe it would have an implication on other sectors, both private and public, as it facilitates greater research and development.  The more information that is available, the more solutions can be found and therefore you can do more things. Land Information can have an impact on the social aspects of an economy with regards to the equitable distribution of land and how persons use land to improve their livelihood and increase wealth.

What is your government/organizations policy on open land data? When were these enacted, and do you have examples of positive or negative consequences?

The Agency which has been existence since 2001, has no issue with open land data to a point, but the major concerns would be privacy and security of persons.  Data relating to ownership of land is not readily accessible to members of the public.   However, all the other data relating to properties is available through two (2) major products of the Agency which are available online through our website:

There are several other NLA products that provide land information to persons, such as data on the sale of properties.

Do you anticipate more or less land data in your country becoming open in the future? Why/Why not?

We anticipate that more data will become open over time as data on land information is important to sustainable development.  Persons are increasingly interested in statistical data, such as, the number of parcels of land with and without registered titles or number of real estate transactions in a given year or number of properties sold under powers contained in a mortgage, to make informed decisions.

Can you share any examples of the effective use of data (open or otherwise) for land governance? How has this positively contributed to your community / region or country? 

The Agency’s Imapjamaica, which is a free service online, is widely used by many persons/entities in the public and private sector. These include the police force, land surveyors, the insurance sector, utility companies, property tax administrators and the general public for various purposes.

It has positively contributed in that the information, excluding ownership data, is easily available online and at no cost. 

What are the barriers for government agencies in shifting towards open data on land?

As previously mentioned, privacy and security issues are paramount to placing restrictions on the availability of certain land data as well as the cost of providing the data, whether through online systems or maintaining the hard copy records.

By Francois van Schalkwyk of the Web Foundation

At the Web Foundation, I’ve not worked on many open data projects in Africa where there’s overlap between land data and agriculture. However, during a workshop that involved several members of a coffee value chain in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the issues that emerged were contestations that surfaced when one of the participants attempted to map the farm boundaries of smallholder coffee farmers. The government entities didn’t have the ability to step in and say where a boundary lies and the communities themselves couldn’t decide amongst themselves where the boundaries lie. This struck me as an instance that demonstrates the fact that, while the data may be made open and therefore transparent, the accountability aspect is still very weak. If a community can’t work together to identify where a boundary lies, the question of how are they going to come together and form a strong collective to hold anyone accountable remains unresolved.

By putting data up on a platform such that can be accessed via the internet, the claim is often made that the the condition of transparency has been met, but this doesn’t automatically mean that accountability will follow. In these instances, there are likely to be users of the data in some shape or form, but steps need to be taken to ensure that the communities that we claim are going to benefit from making the information transparent are the ones who actually benefit. Trusted intermediaries, who can work on behalf of communities and who have the political and social connections or the access to knowledge and resources to drive change, are key actors in working toward this goal. In many circumstances, there is a need for several types of intermediaries to connect, from actors that have the skills to dig into the data as well as actors with access and influence within government. Understanding and attracting the trusted intermediaries within the land sector as well as the role that they can play still needs to be explored and understood to result in the effective use of open data, including land data.

There also needs to be the potential to change the behavior of those in positions of power, be it due to a misallocation of land resources or other inappropriate actions. While this is an ambitious goal, these social shifts need to be the long-term objective of these projects. Without them, we can create projects and publish datasets that may attract publicity and resources but don’t ultimately lead to change.

Finally, across the open data spectrum, including land data, we see more and more of a need to show “impact.” What I would like to see are case studies which show clear, sustained and unequivocal evidence of change, while acknowledging the complex interplay of extraneous variables (including shifting institutional cultures and power distribution) that enable change to take root. It may still be too soon in the case of land data to demonstrate this and it’s going to take years for the ecosystems to mature and for the contextual factors that are largely out of our control to activate. However, as time goes by, case study work can provide the type of detail of the situation on the ground that allows one to see and understand what the actual impact of open data is.

Transparency International (TI) sees open data as one important requisite for transparency, accountability, participation, and integrity. However, the quality of data, the sourcing, and the processing are crucial. Availability of data does not automatically lead to making optimal use of data. Accessability and the empowerment to use open data is key to making it relevant. TI has recently published three case studies on "Open Data to Fight Corruption": in the judiciary, on the EU and lobbying, and in the health sector The case studies aim to provide guidance to policy-makers and activists in a diverse range of countries for how specific data sets can be used to prevent, detect and investigate corruption. All three case studies look at TI National Chapter or regional initiatives carried out by the Transparency International movement. These initiatives have been designed to leverage open data sets as part of addressing corruption. As such, the studies do not assess the broader landscape of open data or how it has been used in other areas to promote change.

Possibly, these studies from other sectors can bring insights to using open data to fight land corruption.


Thanks to everyone for their participation in this excellent and substantive discussion.

The Cadasta Foundation and the Land Portal Foundation have put together a report highlighting the outcomes of the debate:

Looking forward, we will be taking the results of this discussion to define a path forward at the World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty in March 2017.

Stay tuned for further evolution of this debate.

Sincere regards,

Neil Sorensen



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