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Open Data and Power Distance: A Strong Correlation

In his most notable work – Cultural Dimensions Theory – Geert Hofstede said that Power Distance measures “the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally”.

In other words, countries with a low Power Distance Index (PDI) have confidence in equality for every citizen. A country with an elevated PDI has the people accepting (and expecting) that inequality exists between the leaders and themselves.

Figure 1 shows the PDI for the countries Hofstede’s team surveyed.


Figure 1. Power Distance Index. Source:

By golly, Malaysia has been accorded the highest PDI. In fact, Asian countries exhibit high PDIs while their Western counterparts, including Australia and New Zealand, have low PDIs.

In a separate matter, The Open Knowledge Foundation published the Open Data Index (ODI) that tracks how committed governments are to opening up their data on 10 key datasets, including transport timetable, government budget and spending, election results and pollutant emissions.

Figure 2 shows the top 10 countries with the highest Open Data scores.

odi Figure 2. Open Data: Top 10 Countries. Source: Open Knowledge Foundation


So, where do all these talk on PDI and ODI lead to?

We wanted to find out how Power Distance affects how devoted governments are to Open Data by correlating these two sets of indices.

Normalizing both the scores for Open Data and Power Distance, we plotted them on a scatter chart. Then a simple linear regression (best fit) was applied on both series.

The result is shown in Figure 3.

pdi-vs-odi Figure 3: Power Distance vs Open Data

Voila. A correlation between Power Distance and Open Data. The higher a country’s Power Distance Index, the less Open Data you can expect from it. And vice versa.

Malaysia has the highest PDI and there is currently very limited government datasets available to the public. On the other hand, the UK government (PDI=35) has released an avalanche of datasets to the world.

There is little doubt that Open Data drives innovation. A 2013 Open Data study by McKinsey concluded that the 1 million+ datasets made open by governments worldwide can lead to:

  • $3 trillion potential annual revenue in seven domains (education, transportation, consumer products, electricity, oil and gas, healthcare and consumer finance)
  • Identification of 3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emission reductions from buildings
  • 35 hours that could be saved by commuters from schedule changes
  • 100,000+ medical, health and fitness apps for smartphones
  • 50%+ consumer share of potential value

Power Distance is deeply rooted in a society’s culture. To get from where Malaysia is to where we want the country to be by 2020 – to have a high degree of data and information openness – requires a seismic shift in how we view and accept inequalities in the country’s power distribution.



Open data: Unlocking innovation and performance with liquid information, McKinsey&Company, October 2013

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