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 Open Data as infrastructure, and how open data is going under the hood

Several countries such as UK, Netherlands, Denmark and Switzerland are regarding openness of key government data sets as infrastructure. There they’ve come to see that these core data sets also play a role in enabling the re-use of other data sets, as they provide a backbone or way to combine them.
Also open data in various places has become a more common part of how government operates or how people use data. This means it moves into more general and mainstream topics such as general IT or data management. As a result open data is becoming less visible as a separate topic.

In the Netherlands for instance the digitization of all processes concerning activities and permits etc in public spaces is largely being done through open data. The law demands a level playing field in terms of the same information being available to all stakeholders easily. Government entities are now building ‘information houses’ to cater for that, and open data is the primary way they see for achieving that. Similarly in the Netherlands there are 5 software vendors for information systems for city councils (decisions, meeting reports, voting records etc). Those 5 now have open data adapters in their software, meaning they provide fully accessible API’s. Because of it individual councils no longer really need to consider open data, their software systems will do it for them. Last year only a handful municipalities had their council docs as open data as proof of concept, as of last month 100 opened up, and in the coming time the remaining 300 will do so as well. This project is driven by CSO Open State Foundation, the national association of municipalities in collaboration with the 5 vendors, and no longer an individual thing for a single municipality. As all the provinces use the same software it likely will soon be true for them as well.

Where open data is nicely embedded in the regular processes of government structures, and that is as it should be, the open data efforts and results are becoming less and less visible, up to the point where you’ll only notice its absence, like with any other infrastructure such as roads, electricity, and phones.

Yet that visibility, of both good practice and of impact, is still very much needed to drive open data forward to include all European government entities equally and all government data equally. We are nowhere near that point yet, but paradoxically the things that already have been achieved may be making it harder to keep up the momentum to do more.

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