Does Open Data have the Potential to Help the UAE Achieve its Sustainability Goals?

September 21, 2018

A student of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology is pairing his background in software engineering and his current studies in sustainable critical infrastructure to bring innovation to the UAE’s sustainable infrastructure sector through his growing open data research.

Aleksandar Abu Samra was one of the first students in Masdar Institute’s Master of Sustainable Critical Infrastructure Program when it launched in fall of 2014, and he is already making waves.

His research at Masdar Institute is focused on analyzing the current situation of open data in the UAE, specifically on understanding the process of data collection related to energy in Abu Dhabi’s building sector. Access to building data – which includes information like electricity consumption, water consumption, cooling demands – is important to understanding the complex functions of the building, and how they can be improved and regulated. The objective is to propose policies that make energy consumption data up-to-date, structured and publicly available, because access to accurate and up-to-date data is critical for making effective interventions and decisions.

“If my research is successful and it provides the UAE with information that leads to improved policies on publishing of open data, it can help contribute to the strategic goals of Abu Dhabi by encouraging and enabling access to large datasets, while improving the transparency of data,” he said.

Abu Samra was also part of a team that won the ‘Best Embodiment of Values and Ethics’ prize at the inaugural ‘Al Jazeera Canvas Hackathon 2014’ for a Google Chrome web browser extension they developed, called Acumen, which aims to make news and media more unprejudiced for readers by introducing a tool for detecting potential bias via information on the content, author background and audience reading the work.

“During the initial development of the application’s concept, my research in open data at Masdar Institute helped to filter out the information most relevant to detecting bias in news and media,” Abu Samra said.  

Open data has become an increasingly important avenue for the provision of information by governments. It provides an outlet for governments, agencies and organizations to demonstrate their transparency, encourages the development of social and commercial enterprises to utilize available data and enables citizens to become more informed of their country’s governance. Open data policies are believed to create new business and job opportunities; support development of communication between government, private sector and individuals, improve efficiency of data sources; promote innovation; contribute to economic growth; and raise the standard of living.

UAE federal law puts emphasis on the importance of open data, with the Ministry of Social Affairs website stating that, “Adopting Open Data at the federal level in the UAE is in line with the UAE Strategy (2011-2013), which emphasizes that government entities should take into account users’ requirements and expectations when providing their services.”

In line with this focus, Abu Dhabi was the site of the first Open Government Data Forum in 2014 and this year Dubai strengthened its commitment to the UAE’s open data policy by issuing an Open Data Law to allow the sharing of non-confidential information by government entities and other stakeholders to turn Dubai into a smart city.

Enhancing the UAE’s open data landscape can also contribute to innovation and entrepreneurship in the country by revealing business opportunities and needs. This can help to contribute to Abu Dhabi’s Economic Vision 2030, by assisting in the continued development of a diversified and innovative knowledge-based economy.

Abu Samra is just one example of the innovative and dedicated students who are researching and developing their skills at Masdar Institute. By taking a leading role in the development of human capital in Abu Dhabi, Masdar Institute is ensuring that its students develop the skills and experience that will allow them to become innovators and critical thinkers empowered to solve current and future sustainability challenges, while helping the UAE attain its strategic goals.

Ciara Sutton
News and Features Writer
16 March 2015