This week, as part of the Serbian open data week, I participated in a panel discussion, talking about international developments and experiences. A first round of comments was about general open data developments, the second round was focused on how all of that plays out on the level of local governments. This is one part of a multi-posting overview of my speaking notes.
Local is where you are, but not the data professionals
The local government is closest to our everyday lives. The street we live on, the way we commute to our work, the schools our children attend, the shopping we do and where we park our vehicles for it, the trash to take away, the quality of life in our immediate surroundings, most if not all is shaped by what local government does. Using open data here means potentially the biggest impact for citizens.
This effect is even stronger where many tasks are delegated to local and regional levels of government and where central government is less seen to be leading on open data. This is the case in for instance Germany. In the past years the states and especially municipalities have been the trail blazers in Germany for open data. This because also important things like taking in refugees is very much a local communal matter. This has resulted in open data apps to help refugees navigate German bureaucracy, learn the local language, and find local volunteers to connect to. Similar initiatives were visible in Serbia, e.g. the Techfugee hackathons. In the Netherlands in recent years key tasks on social welfare, youth care and health care have been delegated to the local level.
There is however a crucial difference between local government and many national public sector bodies. At national level many institutions are data professionals and they are focused on one specific domain or tasks. These are for instance the national statistics body, the cadastral offices, the meteorological institute, the highway authorities, or the business register. Municipalities on the other hand are usually not data professionals. Municipalities have a wide variety of tasks, precisely because they are so close to our everyday lives. This is mirrored in the variety of types of data they hold. However local governments in general have a less well developed overall understanding of their information systems, let alone of which data they hold.
This is also apparent from the work I did to help evaluate the EU PSI Directive: where the maturity of the overall information household is lower, it is much harder to embed or do open data well and in a sustainable manner. The lack of mature data governance is holding open data progress and impact back.