Archive for the ‘Public Sector Governance’ Category

In this Insights at the Edge of Government Analysis Flash, we look at the hyper growth of mobile data 3G/4G subscribers in Pakistan in the last 3 years. If you are wondering why Alibaba is currently in talks to buy a stake in Telenor Bank, PayPal and Alipay are planning their market entry, and other top technology firms like Uber have made Pakistan a priority, the huge growth in mobile data adoption is it. Mobile data subscribers have grown at a CAGR of 135% since 2014.

Mobile data subscribers have grown at a CAGR of 135% since 2014.

Pakistan’s e-commerce market is expected to reach $1 billion by 2020. However, a world-class regulatory framework for the digital economy will be critical to position Pakistan as an emerging technology hub, attract further foreign direct investment from global technology leaders, as well as speed Pakistan’s transition to a knowledge-based economy. Key regulatory reforms should include modernized business activity licensing classifications for e-commerce and the sharing economy, world-class consumer and data protection laws, clear policies that guarantee personal data privacy, and a sensible tax regime. A Prime Minister’s Committee for developing the digital economy, formed by representatives from leading global and home grown technology firms, would be an effective way of ensuring Pakistan gets its digital economy regulatory framework right and avoids inconsistent federal and provincial laws.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is one of the world’s most important and well visited book fairs. It has emerged as a key forum to define the agenda for the global publishing industry. This year, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be a featured market. As a featured market, the UAE will have the opportunity to showcase its growing publishing industry, expand trade links, and attract foreign investment from international publishers and retailers.

In the run up to the event, Tahseen Consulting was asked by the Frankfurt Book Fair organizers to contribute its thoughts on the key challenges facing the UAE publishing industry. For over a decade, Tahseen Consulting has been involved in many of the Arab region’s initiatives to enhance the competitiveness of domestic publishing industries. We have conducted several regional and country level analyses on the challenges facing domestic publishing industries in the Arab World such as our landmark publication on Saudi Arabia’s publishing industry which supported the Saudi Publishers Association’s promotion as a full member of the International Publishers Association.

We are honored to have contributed our thoughts on the key challenges the UAE publishing industry must address to consolidate and build on the significant growth the industry has experienced over the last several years. At Frankfurt Book Fair, Tahseen Consulting’s Chief Executive Officer Walid Aradi will be discussing these challenges as well as potential market opportunities in more depth.

Key Challenges the UAE Publishing Industry Must Address in its Next Growth Phase

Just four decades ago, 48% of Emiratis were illiterate. Today, the illiteracy rate has dropped below 1% due to the United Arab Emirates’ focus on improving access to quality education for all. The United Arab Emirates’ significant educational, social, and economic gains, have produced an increasingly globalized and educated population eager to consume more locally produced and culturally-relevant content, particularly in Arabic. In the last decade, a small, enterprising national publishing industry has sprung up to meet this growing demand.

The United Arab Emirates’ publishing industry is evolving at a transformative time –publishers are faced with the challenge of redefining an industry which has traditionally focused on ink-to-paper content by finding new and innovative ways to merge high-value Arabic content and technology to meet evolving reader demand. Despite the youth of its publishing industry, the United Arab Emirates has the potential to become a global hub for international and regional publishers, distributors, and other complementary creative sectors. The industry is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 12% to 2030. However, additional growth could be achieved if several industry concerns are addressed.

Enhancing export competitiveness of Emirati publishers

In 2014, book exports from the UAE were $40 million versus imports of $126 million based on the most recent customs data available. Over the last decade UAE book exports have grown at a compound annual growth rate of 1%, while imports have grown at a compound annual growth rate of 8%. Book publishing has so far failed to contribute to the diversification of the United Arab Emirates’ exports. These statistics show that the UAE publishing industry remains insular and inward looking primarily due to its youth. The low number of titles produced in the UAE, estimated at approximately 500 titles per year and unique demographic structure, partially explains the imbalance between book import and exports, but the industry faces a range of other significant challenges that reduce export competitiveness.

Though changing due to increased participation in international book fairs, the international publishing community still has little awareness of the emerging UAE publishing industry. A growing portion of UAE titles are of sufficient quality and appeal for global export. For example, Emirati-authored books now make up 11% of the top-selling Arabic books in the UAE, and Kalimat’s children’s book Tongue Twists was recently awarded the Bologna Children’s Book Fair Award. However, international publishers and literary agents still remain largely unaware of UAE published titles. An interesting initiative by Spain, called New Spanish Books, which provides an online guide of titles from Spanish publishers and literary agents available for foreign rights sales, is potentially a program that could be replicated in the UAE to increase awareness of the titles of Emirati publishers with export potential. At the most foundational level, enhancing export competitiveness of publishers will require an industry wide effort that brings together government entities that are concerned with the promotion of cultural industries and economic diversification as well as civil society institutions like the Emirates Publishers Association, and publishers.

At the publisher level, two significant issues must be addressed: enhancing the market responsiveness of domestic publishers to operationally respond to the internationalization and globalization of the publishing industry and building the capacity of domestic publishers to access international markets through translation, selling foreign rights, and international marketing and promotion. While use of Arabic is a common denominator which promotes export to other countries in the Arab World, export statistics show that UAE books also have a broader appeal in countries such as the UK, US, Germany, Spain, and Italy. Though there are several government backed industry support initiatives, such as translation and rights trading grants, more comprehensive publishing industry support programs, potentially similar to the Canada Book Fund, could be more impactful in increasing the export competitiveness of domestic publishers and addressing firm-specific challenges that limit export capacity.

Strengthening the domestic production of learning materials

Approximately 54% of UAE book imports are textbooks primarily from the UK and US. Imported textbooks generally cover science and mathematics subjects while domestically produced textbooks, which are primarily published by the Ministry of Education, cover humanities and religion subjects.

Emerging research on textbooks and their relationship to learning outcomes suggests a link between textbook design features, student reading levels, and student performance – engaging textbook content with practical application to students’ lives influences reading of textbooks which ultimately affects student learning outcomes. In this way, the high portion of imported textbooks and regional textbooks which lag socio-cultural development, combined with other factors like poor quality teaching, may ultimately be having a significantly negative effect on student learning outcomes.

Evidence of this complex linkage is potentially found in the UAE’s performance on the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study in which the UAE ranked 40th out of 45 countries in terms of average reading achievement at the 4th grade level. Because of the influence that learning and teaching materials have on learning outcomes and reading skills, a key challenge which must be addressed is ensuring that educational materials are appropriate to the local context and do not perpetuate cultural and gender stereotypes which are at odds with evolving national values.

The production of quality, Arabic children’s books and digital content is also essential to complement Arabic teaching with age-appropriate, culturally relevant material to inspire children and help educators teach more effectively. While recent studies have shown that children would prefer to read in Arabic, the lack of genre diversity available in Arabic children’s books and online content forces children to consume English publications and media. For this reason, many children have come to perceive reading in Arabic as difficult and boring.

Many UAE publishers have begun to focus on publishing books and digital content for children, but there still remains a shortage of children’s publications in genres such as fairy tales, fantasy, suspense, action, and science fiction. The lack of engaging Arabic children’s books and online content reinforces the use of English and consumption of English language media in the classroom and at home which serves to further erode Arabic proficiency. More diversity in Arabic children’s books can enrich learning, allow children to build on what they learn at school through self-directed reading, and enable parents to complement the role of teachers by reading to their children and encouraging reading for pleasure.

Enhanced capacity of domestic publishers to compete in the educational publishing market is critically important to ensure that Arabic retains its role as a foundation of national identity and to ensure future generations are capable and proficient at leveraging Arabic as an effective tool. Publishers have a very important role in reversing the deterioration of Arabic skills by developing quality Arabic teaching and learning materials that engage students and support teachers in developing Arabic proficiency.

Building a national culture of reading

Though improving, several studies have found that a national culture of reading for pleasure is still in its early stages. These studies point to a range of issues from household access to books to low involvement of parents in building early childhood reading skills. Beginning in the late-2000s, a number of emirate-level initiatives sprung up to address national reading challenges. While the extent and breadth of these initial efforts to address national reading challenges was ambitious, collaboration and coordination across the many entities and initiatives was lacking. For this reason, the National Reading Law was passed in 2016 to ensure the sustainability of government efforts to build a reading culture and clarify the objectives of government agencies in promoting reading.

The National Reading Law is the foundation for the National Reading Strategy which is backed by $30 million in funding earmarked for 30 national initiatives to support reading and lifelong learning as national values. The National Reading Strategy also deemed 2016 the Year of Reading. The Year of Reading Initiative involves more than 340 major reading initiatives and activities taking place across the country involving over 100 local government entities working in co-ordination with the Higher Supervisory Committees for Year of Reading. The UAE has come a long way in defining a common agenda for promoting a national culture of reading based on localizing promising international best practices.

Best PracticeIndicative UAE Programs
Giving readers choice* Knowledge Without Borders’ Home Libraries Initiative
* Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation My Family Reads Program
Incentives and awards* Arab Reading Challenge
* Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development Reading Creative Award
Ensuring an enabling home environment* Ajman Department of Culture and Community Development My Family Reads Initiative
* Fujairah Department of Economic Development‘s Book in Every Home Initiative
Support from schools* Abu Dhabi Reads Campaign
* Knowledge and Human Development Authority’s #10Minutes10Days challenge
Accessible, modern school and public libraries* Knowledge With Borders and Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority mobile library programs
* Mohammed bin Rashid Library which will be the biggest library in the Arab World
* Ministry of Education’s reading corner, reading club, and Darfa platform

Ensuring that implementation of GCC VAT does not negatively affect the industry

In February 2016, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries agreed to introduce a Value Added Tax (VAT) at a rate of 5% in January 2018. While the education sector will be exempt from VAT, which will presumably be extended to textbooks and educational materials, it remains unclear how trade books and the raw materials for publishing will be treated under the new VAT system.

Currently, the UAE does not impose customs on imported books and printed goods. A key question that must be addressed as e-commerce grows in the UAE and global and regional online marketplaces increase book and digital content sales is how VAT and customs should be imposed on online transactions in the UAE. A still larger question is whether trade book imports and sales should be exempted from VAT altogether. Another issue that warrants discussion are potential customs and VAT exemptions for critical publishing industry inputs such as paper. Despite these large uncertainties facing the publishing industry surrounding VAT, there have been no policy impact studies conducted by the industry. There are several significant questions surrounding the imposition of VAT on the publishing industry and e-commerce transactions that remain unanswered.

When it comes to news on socio-economic trends in the Arab World, government and business leaders turn to Trends Magazine. Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its insights on regulating the emergent sharing economy in the Arab World in the publication’s October issue. We have posted the full article below.

Tahseen Consulting’s Chief Operating Officer, Wes Schwalje, spoke with Nikhil Inamdar, a leading voice on key business trends in the region, regarding the evolving role the sharing economy is playing in meeting the region’s youth employment challenge. In a wide-ranging discussion, Schwalje warns of avoiding heavy-handed regulatory approaches that might limit the socio-economic impact pioneering companies in the sharing economy such as Uber and Airbnb can have on the Arab region.

Despite the negative press attention the sharing economy has received, the Arab World has largely shied away from public and government debate over the policy issues that this major growth sector highlights as it disrupts mature industries. As the sharing economy has grown, it has puzzled global policy makers who are faced with the challenge of embracing innovative, digital services which can lower costs and increase convenience for consumers while balancing the continued competitiveness of incumbent industries.

The Rapid Growth of the Sharing Economy in the Arab World

The sharing economy includes a wide range of online platforms that help people share access to assets, resources, time, and skills. While there are a growing number of regional companies that have entered the sector, the dominant players in the Arab World remain well-funded, Silicon Valley-based startups. From Marrakech to Beirut, and many cities in between, sharing economy firms have rapidly scaled their operations across the Arab World due to strong consumer demand. However, regional policymakers, for the most part, have yet to consider how to regulate the sharing economy.

The Importance of Travel and Tourism to Regional Economies and Employment
CountryTravel and Tourism Total Contribution to GDPTravel and Tourism Total Contribution to Employment
Source: World Travel and Tourism Council

Early Attempts At Regulation

In considering how to regulate the shared economy, Arab policy makers face two options: dismiss new sharing economy platforms by regulating them out of existence and retaining legislation that favors market incumbents or embrace the efficiencies the sharing economy  can bring to increase innovation and harness the growth of the shared economy to promote socio-economic growth.

Dubai is ground zero for how regulation of the sharing economy might unfold across the region. For example, in the run up to Expo 2020, Dubai is attempting to broaden its range of accommodations. One market segment that has surged in the past several years is short-term apartment rentals. Until 2013, when Decree Number 41 was introduced, short-term rentals of holiday homes were largely unregulated. The Decree made it mandatory for operators and owners who lease out their apartments on a short-term basis to attain a license from the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. (DTCM) In mid-2014, DTCM started accepting license applications from operators and owners. As of July 2015, a total of 37 operators and owners were licensed to rent out holiday homes in Dubai with 800 units registered.

It is unclear how Dubai’s renewed push to register holiday homes and impose fines on offenders who rent their properties without a license will ultimately affect sharing economy players operating in the short term rental sector. The licensing of holiday homes in Dubai is an example of a reactionary public policy response that could potentially erode the supply base of shared economy players in the short term rental sector by imposing a licensing process on landlords. A win-win solution which would have supported the growth of the shared economy as well as maximized government revenues would have potentially been to meet with sharing economy companies and short term rental agents to discuss how the Dubai tourism tax could be collected from intermediaries and paid directly to authorities. In France, Amsterdam, India, and the United States, sharing economy companies work with authorities to do exactly this.

A recent study suggests that the market presence of sharing economy players operating in the short term rental sector negatively impacts hotel room revenues. However, the competitive response from incumbent hotels often results in price reductions by lower-end hotels and hotels not catering to business travelers. In this respect, short term rental sharing economy firms have the potential to lead to lower consumer prices for hotel rooms as well as more flexible accommodation offerings. In so far as, lower accommodation prices can drive tourism numbers even higher, Dubai’s introduction of licensing requirements as a mechanism for regulating the sharing economy may ultimately have the unintended effect of reducing tourism by reinforcing higher accommodation prices.

Across the Arab World, overlaps between regulatory and operational functions of government institutions can result in significant inefficiency. When government entities provide a service, set delivery standards, and monitor compliance with standards, an unintended outcome is often reduced quality of public service delivery and lower service standards. This governance tradition in the Arab World has produced a number of cases in which regulatory agencies, which should be accountable to Ministries and focused on setting standards to ensure high quality public services, have become too involved in commercially motivated, operational functions. Over involvement of government institutions in operational activities has the potential to reduce the growth of the sharing economy and ultimately negatively impact consumer convenience and choice.

In association with the United Arab Emirates’ Smart Government Initiative, government agencies have been called upon to make their services accessible via smart technologies such as smart phones. The Dubai Road and Transport Authority’s (RTA) recent announcement of its e-limo system, which will require private hire vehicle operators to route transactions through its booking and dispatch system, is a potential example of a case where a government entity with a regulatory and policymaking mandate is extending itself too far into an operational role. By introducing their own limo application, which essentially competes with sharing economy transport networking companies and erodes market supply, RTA risks crowding out private sector innovation that can fuel entrepreneurship, private investment, and job creation.

Embracing the Sharing Economy for Regional Socio-economic Development

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, travel and tourism contributes approximately $283 billion to Arab economies and employs 11 million people. This means that the contribution of the travel and tourism sector to regional gross domestic product is on par with the banking, chemicals, agriculture, and automotive sectors. It is clear that travel and tourism will play a strong role in generating economic growth and employment in the Arab World over the next decade.

The sharing economy, in so far as it is a key driver of travel and tourism, has the potential to contribute significantly to regional socio-economic development. While there have been no rigorous attempts to determine the socio-economic impact of the shared economy in the Arab World, limited data suggest that the sharing economy has a growing importance in driving the travel and tourism sector in the region. For example, 40% of Uber’s riders in Dubai come from outside the country. Statistics such as this indicate that sharing economy trends and penetration rates globally can have a significant impact on economies regionally.

A recent report on the sharing economy workforce in the United States found that 67.5% of sharing economy jobs are occupied by workers in the 18-34 age demographic. The youth employment impact of the sharing economy globally suggests that embracing the sharing economy in the Arab World could play a key role in government socio-economic development programs to address the Arab World’s youth unemployment challenge. This insight has important implications for how Arab governments should approach regulating the shared economy.

The Age of US Sharing Economy Workers
Age% Sharing Economy Workforce
18 - 2438.70%
25 - 3428.80%
35 - 4416.30%
45 - 5411.00%
55 - 644.30%
65 +0.90%
Source: Requests for Startups 2015 1099 Economy Workforce Report

The Future of the Sharing Economy in the Arab World

The future of the sharing economy in the Arab World is heavily dependent on how governments approach sector regulation. Knee jerk approaches to public policy will prevent the likely considerable positive socio-economic development impacts that can be generated by the sharing economy. In the GCC countries, entrepreneurship programs and wage subsidies offer significant potential to attract nationals and private investment to emerging sharing economy sectors that can reduce public sector employment. While in middle income Arab countries, the sharing economy can offer employment options for youth that can be combined with government finance and training programs that eventually lead to business ownership. Where other countries are limiting consumer choice by over-regulation of the shared economy, the Arab World has the opportunity to distinguish itself as a region that embraces the sharing economy through a well-considered public policy response that harnesses the sector’s potential growth for regional socio-economic development.

Unemployment By Age Group in Selected Arab Countries
65 +NANANA0.22%2%
Source: Latest available statistics from the International Labor Organization

When it comes to news on economic trends and policies in the UAE, government and business leaders turn to the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development’s Economic Review. Tahseen Consulting is honored to contribute its analysis on the economic policy role of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority to the publication’s November issue. We have posted the full article below.

In the article, Tahseen Consulting’s Chief Executive Officer, Walid Aradi, spoke with representatives from the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development regarding his thoughts on the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority’s role in fiscal policy.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: Who Does the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority Serve?

Aradi: Based on the constitution of the United Arab Emirates, natural resources are the public property of the Emirate in which they are located. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) receives funds from the Government of Abu Dhabi and invests these funds in the public interest of the Emirate and its citizens. The process for allocating and transferring revenues to ADIA is not rule based but is based on three sources:

  • Budget surpluses, which arise from an excess of petroleum revenues, from the Government of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. This includes taxes on oil companies as well as profits from the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC)
  • Investment income from returns made by ADIA
  • ADNOC pays an undisclosed percentage of its income directly into two natural resource funds (Abu Dhabi Investment Council and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority)

The size of the funds under the management of ADIA has been conservatively estimated at between $700 billion and $800 billion.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: How is it Managed?

 Aradi: ADIA is an independent government investment institution wholly owned by the Abu Dhabi Government. However, it carries out its investment mandate independently of the Abu Dhabi Government and other institutions that also invest funds on behalf of the government. Since 2008, ADIA has made significant progress in transparency and disclosure and has participated in the formulation of the Santiago Principles and meetings of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds. Key stakeholders in the management of ADIA include:

  • Government of Abu Dhabi: The Government of Abu Dhabi established the legal mechanism for ADIA in 1976 and remains the legal owner of ADIA and its assets.
  • Board of Directors: Provides oversight over ADIA’s management. The Board’s nine members are appointed for three-year periods which are renewable. H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan serves as the Chairman of the Board.
  • Managing Director: Is responsible for investment and operational decisions and reports to the Board of Directors. The Managing Director is also a member of the Board of Directors.
  • Investment Committee: Advises the Managing Director on investment policy and external manager selection and performance.
  • Internal Audit Department: Reports to the Managing Director and the Board of Director’s Audit Committee.
  • Audit Committee: Oversees and appoints two external auditors

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: How is it important for the development and future of Abu Dhabi?

Aradi: ADIA plays a critical economic policy role in efficiently and effectively managing the financial wealth of the Government of Abu Dhabi. Since 1976, Abu Dhabi has maintained a prudent fiscal policy in which oil revenues were used to balance the Emirate’s budget and finance development. Surpluses are invested through ADIA and are drawn upon in times of deficit.

ADIA operates as an inter-generational savings fund with a diversified portfolio of international assets and a focus on generating long-term financial returns. Savings funds are typically utilized by countries to preserve some part of the revenues from a depleting resource for future generations and spending need. In countries that have a high degree of fiscal dependence on the export of nonrenewable resources, a key challenge is to transform nonrenewable resources into sustainable and stable sources of future income while also isolating the country from volatility in commodity prices. Placing commodity revenue in a sovereign wealth fund such as ADIA is a means to avoid boom and bust cycles, such as those we are potentially experiencing now, by accumulating adequate international assets.

ADIA is an important fiscal revenue source that allows Abu Dhabi to reduce its reliance on volatility in oil revenues. Its purpose is it to decouple Abu Dhabi Government finances from oil revenues and to maximize future spending power and to prepare the economy for a post-commodity era.

Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its report on personal data privacy practices of financial institutions in the UAE cited by The National, one of the UAE’s largest English-language daily newspapers. In our report issued in July 2014, we found that UAE personal financial data privacy policies can be significantly improved to offer consumers more control over their personal data. Our original article is available here:

View Our Other Work on Data Regulations and Standards in the GCC

Is Open Data Leading to Better Government in the GCC?

Most UAE banks don’t give the right to opt out of sharing your personal information with affiliates, companies related by common ownership or third parties, Mr Schwalje adds. “So if a large bank has affiliated subsidiaries that offer private banking, financial management or insurance, all of your information can be freely shared for cross-selling services.”

Most UAE banks don’t give the right to opt out of sharing your personal information with affiliates, companies related by common ownership or third parties. If a large bank has affiliated subsidiaries that offer private banking, financial management or insurance, all of your information can be freely shared for cross-selling services.

A key challenge to knowledge-based economic development faced by Arab countries is weak innovation systems. We are honored to have had our research on Arab innovation systems cited by Dr. Mongi Hamdi, former Head, Science, Technology, and ICT at UNCTAD and Head of the Secretariat of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (now Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs) in his address to the Arab Forum for Scientific Research and Sustainable Development.

Dr. Hamdi cites Tahseen Consulting’s Arab World Research and R&D Situation Analysis and Options in which we highlight several serious challenges that Arab countries face in developing strong science, technology, and innovation systems:

  • R&D spending is significantly lower than in the developed world with very little private sector funding;
  • Regulatory frameworks do not protect intellectual property leading to low levels of patents and stifling private R&D expenditure;
  • Weak government policy making in research and innovation in spite of various studies which have shown that critical components necessary for innovation systems, research, market-oriented R&D, and entrepreneurship need to be concurrently fostered and linked in knowledge-based economies;
  • Weak institutions such as educational systems; institutions conducting basic, applied, and interdisciplinary research; business incubators; funding institutions; and professional societies;
  • Arab scholarly, scientific, and professional organizations generally operate at a low level of activity due to lack of funding;
  • Venture capital, research foundations, and technology transfer funds that promote research are only emerging now;
  • Few multinationals or regional companies have R&D centers in the Arab World. Incentives to promote private sector R&D, innovative research, and recognition of research achievements are limited;
  • R&D and education, especially graduate education, are strongly coupled. However, the research function has gradually been marginalized in Arab universities;
  • University research centers are few and do not have access to critical resources;
  • Research commercialization is depressed due to the lack of business incubators and disconnects between industry and academia;
  • While availability of scientists and researchers is higher than other developing regions, the number is significantly less than OECD countries and other R&D leaders;
  • Few Arab national or regional organizations or governments provide funding to promote international or inter-Arab research cooperation;
  • Absence of travel grants to attend academic meetings has stifled the formation of professional societies, dissemination of research, and international citation;
  • Individual Arab researchers who lack financial support instead increase their level of international collaboration while neglecting regional cooperation or co-authorship with other Arab researchers, or in extreme cases choose to brain drain.

GCC leaders must adjust policies to move beyond low impact forms of technologically-driven citizen engagement that do not address public demands for increased accountability, improved performance, and participation in decision making

While the use of technology is a common denominator between Arab open data initiatives and those in other countries, leadership, social, cultural, and institutional factors have negatively influenced the effectiveness of open data initiatives in the GCC. According to a new Tahseen Consulting report, most GCC open data initiatives are severely lacking in comparison to open data programs in OECD countries.

The report outlines a comprehensive framework and best practices that Arab governments can use to improve open data initiatives and bring them into alignment with good practice from OECD countries. Any information such as transit schedules, hospital locations, school enrollment data, birth statistics, traffic data, or weather trends might qualify as an open government initiative. However, by focusing on low priority government activities, GCC open data initiatives rarely provide additional information that is not already available via traditional media or institutional websites.

View a Summary of the Report’s Findings

Is Open Data Leading to Better Government in the GCC?

While the embrace of open government to complement public sector service provision is still in its infancy in the GCC, there is much expectation that open data will have a transformative impact on citizen participation, policy formation, and the way public sector entities conduct business. Relative to OECD countries, most GCC governments focus on national data portals rather than regional and city initiatives, have not enacted right to information laws, fail to engage civil society and academia in efforts, and lack education and training courses for developing more effective open data programs, the report says.

Drawing on examples from OECD countries, Tahseen Consulting’s report Is Open Data Leading to Better Government in the GCC? Identifies several policy, implementation, and data improvements that GCC governments can undertake to make the most of regional open government and data initiatives.

“There are many examples of open government and data best practices from the OECD countries that need to be applied more effectively in the GCC,” said Wes Schwalje, Chief Operating Officer of Tahseen Consulting and author of the report. “Use of technology is not a substitute for deeper reform towards transparency, accountability, and cooperation. Current open data initiatives must go beyond releasing data on non-sensitive political topics towards the release of data which involves the public in a participatory dialogue that can shape decision making, policies, and public service delivery.”

How GCC Open Data Initiatives Compare to OECD Benchmarks

Although several GCC countries have invested heavily in open government and data programs and establishing e-government authorities, Tahseen Consulting’s research finds that GCC government open data programs may not be adequately meeting citizen needs. GCC governments must adapt to new citizen expectations for participation and engagement, coproduction of government services, crowdsourcing solutions to societal issues, and increased transparency and accountability.

View Our Other Work on Open Government and Data in the Arab World

An Arab Open Government Maturity Model for Social Media Engagement

GCC governments must respond to evolving citizen expectations by showing clear senior level commitment to open government and data programs, establishing federal implementation guidelines, and ensuring sufficient resources. “GCC governments must become much more specific in establishing guidelines and data standards for open government and data initiatives,” said Walid Aradi, Chief Executive Officer of Tahseen Consulting. “Most federal guidelines in the GCC remain at a general level and only outline basic principles without specifying how government entities should implement open government and data programs and what types of data should be released.”

Tahseen Consulting has developed an Open Government and Data Diagnostic Tool to help GCC governments adopt more effective practices to make the most of open government and data initiatives. Tahseen Consulting’s diagnostic tool provides a comparative framework that enables entities to determine specific organizational changes that need to be made in order to reach higher stages of open government and data maturity and compare their organization’s maturity level to other entities in the region.

Insights to Help GCC Governments Succeed With Open Government and Data Initiatives in Response to Increased Citizen Expectations

Lack of guidance on how to implement open government and data good practices and regional governance traditions have led to several public sector entities introducing politically low impact programs that fail to enhance transparency, citizen participation in decision making, and collaboration in public service delivery. “Technology often solidifies existing institutional practices rather than changing long standing organizational behaviors,” said Schwalje. “Bringing Arab open government and data initiatives in line with the spirit of programs in OECD countries will require reforms at the national level as well as substantial organizational changes at many entities.”

Tahseen Consulting’s research identifies several ways in which GCC governments can align open government and data programs with similar initiatives in OECD countries.

Enact Right to Information Laws. Many Arab countries do not have right-to-information laws, don’t permit citizens to request data, and have no mechanisms via which to handle citizen requests for data. In several countries, right to Information laws will need to be passed to overcome a prevailing culture of secrecy that limits citizen access to information.

Enact Personal Data Protection Laws. The principle of a right to privacy of personal information is codified in some Arab constitutions and contained in laws that require consent for collection and processing of personal data However, very few countries have federal laws that protect personal information. Many of the data privacy policies in the region have broad clauses related to taking measures to prevent use and disclosure of information but do not specify particular methods of compliance. Updated personal data protection laws are required to reduce citizen concerns about how their personal data is used.

Increase Civil Society Engagement. There is little evidence which suggests that civil society or information technology professional groups are being actively engaged by governments in forming open government and data strategies, identifying data requirements, or in increasing citizen use of open data. Open data initiatives are generally designed to broadcast data rather than create a genuine dialogue about what data might be required by the community. There is a significant role that civil society can play in defining the types of data citizens might find useful and in analyzing publicly available data.

Establish Regional and City Initiatives. The majority of entities with open government and data initiatives are federal ministries, authorities, or agencies. More emphasis on creating regional and city initiatives is required to ensure local needs are being met.

Increase Academic Participation. There is very little evidence that the academic community and academic institutions publish open data as a part of fulfilling their research mandates. For example, grant guidelines for receiving funding from national research funds rarely contain stipulations to publicize data which could be useful to other researchers. An institutional research culture which supports sharing of data must be instilled to promote higher impact research.

Improve the Education and Training System. At the higher education level, many public and private universities offer computer and information science degrees which address concepts related to open government and data. While degree programs cover technological subjects, many programs fail to sufficiently provide more extensive training on areas such as data science, visualization, legal issues related to open data, and open data entrepreneurship.

For more on Tahseen Consulting’s work on open data in the Arab World and other findings in the new report, please visit

In late 2013 in our whitepaper An Arab Open Government Maturity Model for Social Media Engagement, Tahseen Consulting wrote about the increasing use of social media by Arab governments. Based on an analysis of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts of 28 public sector entities in Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates, we found that most social media activity by Arab governments wasn’t adding to more transparency or citizen participation in the public sector.

This week on their People, Spaces, Deliberation Blog, The World Bank’s Communications for Governance and Accountability Program cited our research on how governments can use social media to engage with young citizens more effectively.

You can read Tahseen Consulting’s An Arab Open Government Maturity Model for Social Media Engagement here

The World Bank’s article Look Who Has a Megaphone… which cites our research is available here

 An Arab Open Government Maturity Model for Social Media Engagement

The principles of open government may challenge Arab public sector institutions to embrace governance ideals, expand citizen interactions, and adopt operational practices which may not be manifest in their current offline functioning or necessarily demanded by citizens.

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, an initiative of Saudi Aramco, invited Tahseen Consulting’s Wes Schwalje to Saudi Arabia to host a panel on global best practices in the transition to knowledge societies. The panel, which was held at the Global Knowledge Society Forum, featured:

Dr. Hun Joo Park
Executive Director, Korea Development Institute

Dr. Indrajit Banerjee
Director, Knowledge Societies Division, UNESCO

H.E. Professor Dr. Nasser David Khalili
UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador

Dear Readers,

As 2013 draws to a close, here is a look at our most popular content of the year. We hope you are enjoying Tahseen Consulting’s Research and Insights, and we look forward to continuing to engage with you in 2014.

Best wishes for a happy and productive new year,

The Tahseen Consulting Team

Tahseen Consulting’s Walid Aradi Interviewed on Dubai TV’s Money Map

Tahseen Consulting’s CEO Walid Aradi appeared on Dubai TV’s Money Map to discuss the role of entrepreneurship policy in economic development and meeting the region’s youth unemployment challenge.
Women Wanted: Attracting Women to Technical Fields in Qatar

In this article, we discuss the difficulties Qatar faces in terms of promoting technical and vocational education amongst females. Over the past several decades Qatar has dramatically reformed its education and training system to align it with macroeconomic policies aimed at advancing towards a knowledge-based economy. However, technical vocational education and training (TVET) has not been a significant focus of educational reform.

Promoting Entrepreneurship in the Arab World: The Need for Tailored National Approaches

Understanding the determinants of self-employment and how they might differ across the region is critical to meet the region’s youth unemployment challenge

An Arab Open Government Maturity Model for Social Media Engagement

While embrace of social media as a component of open government initiatives is still in its infancy in the Arab World, there is much expectation that public sector social media use will have a transformative impact on citizen participation in government, policy formation, and the way public sector entities conduct business. However, existing evolutionary models of e-government and open government maturity based on the experiences of Western democracies offer little support to Arab entities that operate in an institutional environment characterized by much different governance traditions.

Arab Knowledge Economies Require More Effective Skills Formation Systems to Generate High Skill, High Wage Employment

As Arab countries pursue knowledge-based economic development, national skills formation policies require significant rethinking says this report from Tahseen Consulting in collaboration with the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research.

Skills Shortages and Gaps May Limit the UAE’s Islamic Finance Hub ambitions

Based on our projections that a another $87 to $124 billion could potentially enter the Islamic banking system in the UAE by 2015, approximately 7,800 new jobs will be created at Islamic banks in the UAE assuming current asset concentration ratios remain similar.

Arab Corporate Social Responsibility Rapid Appraisal Diagnostic

Given the scattered use of Global Reporting Initiative standards in the region, Tahseen Consulting has developed an Arab Corporate Social Responsibility Rapid Appraisal Diagnostic based on analysis of a representative sample of 128 regional CSR initiatives and previous literature.

The Arab World’s Most Generous Philanthropists Could Mobilize $24 billion by Signing the Giving Pledge

If the Arab World’s billionaires signed a pledge to donate their wealth to philanthropy, an estimated $24 billion would be mobilized.

Arab Students Studying Abroad Contribute $77 Billion to Other Economies

Arab students studying abroad have generated $77 billion in income for other countries over the last decade without even considering other economic externalities.

Only 11% of Arab Educators Regularly Use Educational Technologies in their Classrooms a Tahseen Consulting Study Finds

Due to the region’s youthful demographics and widespread use of mobile technologies, Arab educators face the challenge of meeting new expectations of learners who want engaging, interactive, and individualized learning experiences.