"Cambodian government information technology policy has encouraged the use of open source programs and the uncensored transmission of information, resulting in an energetic IT community that has produced Khmer Unicode and indigenized software. ODC continues this tradition."
This information technology (IT) initiative revolves around an "open data" website, available in English and Khmer, that includes interactive features such as mapping and visualisation related to resource development and land use in Asia. Through the website and its in-person activities, ODC's commitment to openness and transparency combines open data standards, mapping visuals, and principals of objectivity (it does not promote any particular perspective, agenda, or bias) to protect the data from being pulled down by the government for being too provocative or controversial.
All data published on ODC is publicly available and collected from a variety of sources. These data are organised into categories including: briefings (e.g., briefings about Cambodia's forest cover), maps (e.g., maps showing plantations, mines, and dams), company profiles (e.g., of the oil and gas sector), laws and regulations (e.g., those related to social development), natural resources (e.g., resources focused on protected areas), and census data (searchable by province, district, and/or commune). There is also a searchable digital library that is freely accessible to the public. "With over 1,000 articles, reports, and other resources in our collection, the library ensures researchers have access to up-to-date development information in Cambodia." ODC's policy is to ensure that all data shared on the website has clear sources. Any copyrighted material is cited and featured according to internationally recognised "fair use" standards. Users are welcome to download and use information, including ODC original materials, in keeping with its Creative Commons license.
The project is implemented by a young Cambodian staff and "a web of partnerships that are contributing to collaborative information sharing and engaging students and others in contributing to the site and increasing their skills through volunteer opportunities." For instance, as the video below illustrates (and as detailed on the ODC blog), in April 2014, a dozen young Cambodians and expatriates gathered to translate the 9,752-word Open Data Handbook from English to Khmer. The event arose from discussions between ODC and the local Open Knowledge chapter. The Open Data Handbook was first written in English by members of the Open Knowledge Foundation. Since 2010, volunteers around the world have organised to translate it into 18 other languages. A volunteer university student said: "I'm excited to see the open data movement in Cambodia. I think the open data movement, including this event, and Wikipedia are a great source of knowledge for Cambodia." None of the participants - non-governmental organisation (NGO) workers, university students, and journalists among them - claimed any expertise in the subject matter. According to ODC, this resulted in "a collaborative atmosphere, where questions such as 'what is a 'wholesale data platform' or a 'sui generis database right' and 'can we translate technical terms into Khmer and should we?' were hashed out....Then begins the process of review and polishing, where we will seek the support of local university professors versed in law, technology, and media."
The ODC blog also provides details about other ODC team activities, such as a February 2014 presentation on "How to Improve English & Stay Current with National and International Events through Online News Media". Most of the attendees were college students living in Kampot province. The presentation discussed ways to improve English comprehension through news media. Alternative news sources, emerging media platforms, and Google Translate were demonstrated as effective tools to facilitate the learning process. In addition to being a place to go for monitoring development trends and obtaining data for research, the ODC website was presented as a free resource for learning English. In particular, the ODC presenters used pages from the website focused on forest cover and elections, both available in Khmer and English, to demonstrate how these pages could be used to improve users' language skills.
Right to Information, Natural Resource Management
One of the consultants who worked on developing ODC said: "In fact, the silo'd government ministries have come to rely upon it [ODC] along with the advocacy groups, lawyers, journalists and researchers it is meant to support. It employs a very interesting methodology that splits objective data from advocacy. It works well in quasi-democratic environments where freedom of information is technically protected, but in practice self-censorship and overt censorship prevails, particularly if the data does not follow the official line and is seen as being politically motivated or biased. Using this methodology, even if an individual advocacy group is targeted for suppression because for its position, the data itself remains available for others to use, as opposed to when the two are tied together in the same project and a supressed advocacy group may very well also mean its data is suppressed as well. In 2014, the plan is to expand what has been a very successful initiative in Cambodia to the other five countries along the Mekong Delta so better resource decision making can occur along a waterway supporting the livelihoods of 65 million people."
ODC was conceived by East-West Management Institute in consultation with local and international partners. ODC is supported by donors such as the United States Agency for Internaional Development (USAID), the Spider Foundation, American Jewish World Service, and the Open Society Foundations (OSF).
Email from Jonathan Peizer to The Communication Initiative on January 14 2014; and Open Development Cambodia (ODC) website, May 21 2014. Image credit: Emanuel Feld (CC BY-SA)