End of an Era in Flanders Open Data

Last week saw an end of an era. The program manager for open data of the Flemish government retired. While parts of the work will go on, no direct successor will be named to the role. At the annual conference of Information Flanders (#tiv2017), Noël van Herreweghe after 6 years of being the driving force behind Flanders’ open data team, said his goodbye during the opening plenary. His main and clearly heard message was that much is still to be done, and we’ve barely started on the path towards open by design. I hope the Flemish government and civil service will take this to heart. Now is not the time to reduce efforts, as the transition is only just in motion.


Noël telling us and the Flemish government to stay the course (Tweet and photo by @toon, Toon Vanagt)

In the past 6 years Flanders has taken several steps that I think the Netherlands should follow. Based on the underlying legal framework, the Flemish government has taken pre-emptive decisions for all government entities within their scope about in what ways data can and should be published. It is no longer up to the individual agencies, if you decide to publish you must follow the established principles. In the Netherlands that is all still voluntary, and the principles are put forward as guidelines, not as must-follow rules. Similarly the Flemish government has adopted a URI strategy, using both machine and human readable URI conventions, which in the Netherlands is lacking.

It’s been a pleasure to work with Noël and his team in these past 6 years. Whether it was in helping decide on which local and regional open data projects to fund from the Flemish government, translating research on the economic impact of open data to the Flemish and Belgian context, providing scenario’s to the Flemish Chancellary for opening up Flemish consolidated laws and regulations as open data, or providing open data training together with Noel to a joint session of the Dutch and Belgian/Flemish supreme audit authorities.

For each of those 6 years my colleague Paul, representing the Dutch government open data team, and I participated in the Flemish open government days, and its successor the annual Information Flanders Meet-up. It gave us the opportunity to keep comparing Dutch and Flemish open data efforts, to learn from each other as well as laugh about the differences. A fixed feature on the agenda was eating a Portuguese fish soup the evening before the event in Brussels with Noël and his colleagues.

Portuguese Fish Soup Open data dag Vlaanderen
A ‘small bowl’ of fish soup, 2012 and 2015 editions

As Noël said, the work isn’t remotely done, and judging from the conversations we had with Noël last week, he isn’t likely to stop being active either. So I trust we will find ways of working together again in a different setting in the near future.

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