This week, as part of the Serbian open data week, I participated in a panel discussion, talking about international developments and experiences. This is one part of a multi-posting overview of my speaking notes.

On EU and Global Trends

The team behind the European data portal publish yearly reports (2017 PDF) on how EU countries are doing. They see the differences between previous front runners and later starters becoming smaller. That is a good thing, as it means there is an emerging general European level of maturity in open data.

At the same time I feel a lot of momentum has been lost as well. The UK for instance is much less active under the current government than e.g. 7 years ago. Similarly in the Netherlands I hear ministries who were very active previously ask for what the next big thing is, where to go next, whether open data or something else. This sounds like (relatively) early adopters are moving on, and if they do not leave sustainable structures behind, open data will stall.

Globally we see more populistic governments tending to less transparency. Such as in the US, where government data has been removed from websites.
My colleague Paul was in the Czech Republic last week and came back with an example of a regressive step: the Czech government has reinstated charges for meteorological data. There is no rational argument for charging for access to digital government data, especially not for meteo. While current legally mandated charges are historically understandable, reinstating charges that were previously abolished is not.

The mentioned latest EU report on open data maturity advices several things to drive open data forward:

  • Embed open data into normal data management, and into digital transformation of the public sector. This is certainly a key thing.
  • Do more impact studies to show evidence. I think that particularly micro-economic impact studies are very important, such as we are currently doing for the ESA, but they are time consuming and intensive, and I encounter little will in government bodies to really do them. At a political level policy impact assessment isn’t popular either.
  • Intensify steady external stakeholder engagement. Extremely important I think, as those external stakeholders are the ones creating the impact and realising the value of open data. But going outside and listening to the needs of stakeholders has proven to be scary for most government bodies, even if they know how to go about it.
  • Start looking at privately held data in domains that are close to the public interest. Think of fields like energy transition, health care, etc. This to me is certainly a next step, not just in terms of companies realising the need for action, but also in terms of governments realising there is a legitimate public interest in getting access to cereain privately held data. There is also an increasingly important role for citizen generated data that ties into this.

All in all I think most governments now have experienced it is not enough to just publish data. You have to go out there and provoke re-use, ensure that everyone knows what you have to offer. That is real work and not all government entities are willing or able to make that effort.

The current EU regulation on the usage of open data, the PSI Directive is under review (I’ve done some of the evaluation work for it for the Netherlands in December and January). I hope the rules won’t change much, other than maybe ensuring better alignment with the GDPR, and solving the issues that result from downstream usage of open data. It has only been 2 years since the last PSI Directive changes were implemented, and in most countries the effect of that isn’t fully visible yet.

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