I’ve been involved in open data for about 15 years. Back then we had a vibrant European wide network of activists and civic organisations around open data, partially triggered by the first PSI Directive that was the European legal fundament for our call for more open government data.

Since 2020 a much wider and fundamental legal framework than the PSI Directive ever was is taking shape, with the Data Governance Act, Data Act, AI Regulation, Open Data Directive, High Value Data implementing regulation as building blocks. Together they create the EU single market for data, adding data as fourth element to the list of freedom of movement for people, products and capital within the EU. This will all take shape as the European common dataspace(s), built from a range of sectoral dataspaces.

In the past years I’ve been actively involved in these developments, currently helping large government data holders in the Netherlands interpret the new obligations and above all new opportunities for public service that result from all this.

Now that the dataspaces are slowly taking shape, what I find missing from most discussions and events is the voice of civic organisations and activists. It’s mostly IT companies and research institutions that are involved. While for the Commission social impact (climate, health, energy and agricultural transitions e.g.) is a key element in why they seek to implement these new laws, for most parties involved in the dataspaces that is less of a consideration, and economic and technological factors are more important. Not even government data holders themselves are represented much in how the European data space will turn out. Even though everyone single one of us and every public entity by default is a part of this common market.

I would like to strengthen the voice of civil society and activists in this area, to together influence the shape these dataspaces are taking. So that they are of use and value to us too. To use the new (legal) tools to strengthen the commons, to increase our agency.

Most of the old European open data network however over time has dissolved, as we all got involved in national level practical projects and the European network as a source of sense of belonging and strengthening each others commitment became less important. And we’ve moved on a good number of years, so many new people have come on to the scene, unconnected to that history, with new perspectives and new capabilities.

So the question is: who is active on these topics, from a civil society perspective, as activists? Who should be involved? What are the organisations, the events, that are relevant regionally, nationally, EU wide? Can we connect those existing dots: to share experiencs, examples, join our voices, pool our efforts?

Currently I’m doing a first scan of who is involved in which EU country, what type of events are visible, organisations that are active etc. Starting from my old network of a decade ago. I will share lists of what I find at Our Common Data Space.

Let me know if you count yourself as part of this European network. Let me know the relevant efforts you are aware of. Let me know which events you think bring together people likely to want to be involved.

I look forward to finding out about you!


Open Government Data Camp in Warsaw 2011. An example of the vibrancy of the European open data network, I called it the community’s ‘family christmas party’, at the time. Above the schedule of sessions created collectively by the participants, with many local initiatives and examples shared with the EU wide network. Below one of those sessions, on local policy making and open data.

30 reactions on “Call To Action: Strengthen the Civic Network Around EU Data/Digital Laws and Data Space

  1. @ton I think I’m sort of moving into this network 🙂 going to @fnf in Brussels in a few weeks also to get an impression of what civic society and activists are working on and where I could contribute.

    I have not been to events like @ccc but I think I’m ready to venture into those waters at this point 😉

    I would love to know more cooperations and associations in this sphere, also for work.

    I’m thinking of @dajb , @marleenstikker , @rysiek , @aral , @smallcircles , @cubicgarden as a start 🙂

  2. @erikkemp @ton

    Got it now..

    > I would like to strengthen the voice of civil society and activists in this area, to together influence the shape these dataspaces are taking. So that they are of use and value to us too. To use the new (legal) tools to strengthen the commons, to increase our agency.

    A huge frustration (and fascination) to me is witnessing how many positive initiatives exist in these spaces that are so fragmented that they lose their effectiveness and are reinventing wheels.

  3. @erikkemp @ton

    Noticing that, while many voices are raised on the awareness side and discussions ensue, there’s precious little coordinated action where it comes to solutions that are able to scale.

    Not that there aren’t plenty solution-oriented initiatives, but each takes their own approach, does it “their way”.

    We form “the foam on top of the crashing waves of hypercapitalism” as it were.

    There’s fundamental weaknesses in the Commons and how they are able to get to collective achievement.

  4. @erikkemp @ton

    I’m convinced that all building blocks to address organizational challenges in grassroots movements exist, and that there’s great opportunity to connect these as pieces of a puzzle.

    It requires taking a holistic approach that’s focused on long-term sustainability.

    Our “foam” is a continual formation of bubbles that pop again some time later, well-meant efforts wasted, attention moving elsewhere.

    Dynamics and culture of the grassroots movement must be taken into account.

  5. @erikkemp @ton

    These dynamics imho entail taking into account the role of the individual within the movement.

    I’m critical how many activist movements operate. The activism part is like the tip of a spear. It’s needed, but it is the weight of the spear that gives it momentum and most of its power.

    That weight is the ability of the movement to get the average person coming along. Here approaches imho are flawed, when movements demand every member to be an activist, go all-in, give sacrifices.

  6. @erikkemp @ton

    Most people aren’t natural activists, they lead day-to-day lives with many concerns to take into account. They are exposed to doom & gloom in news cycles and activist groups demanding radical actions.

    And the net effect is that most turn away, tune out, turn the other cheek. They’ll be active once their house is on fire or flooded. The ask is too big.

    A healthy Commons provides pathways for anyone to come along, and do so gradually, through shades of grey and on own volition.

  7. @erikkemp @ton

    A healthy Commons provides outlooks beyond the activism and calls for revolution. Positive ones that one can dream about and move towards.

    It provides incentives for anyone involved to participate where their strengths are, where their interest lie, and hence where they are most motivated to be active. Hedonistic drivers.

    People are inherently free, independent and, yes, self-centered. Grassroots organization should take that into account and enable mission, vision, purpose.

  8. @erikkemp @ton

    These are some of the things that fascinate me and that I have been thinking about quite a lot.

    Having a lot of advocacy and community experience, I’ve witnessed these dynamics, the potential that exists, and how it is not coming about time and time again.

    We talk a lot about the power of Community, and that’s great. But there’s a problem: Community doesn’t scale. People collaborate best in smaller groups. Small is Huge.

    Movements of many interconnected communities can scale.

  9. @erikkemp @ton

    This is where I will focus and have spent some of my time.

    First thought was to launch Social Coding Movement, but then I realized it wouldn’t work, as it was based on formation of large-scale community, and incentives for that to be a healthy Community of Action couldn’t be readily provided and sustained.

    Now I am working on a concept/formula called Prosperity Guilds based on a motivational framework where people can blossom within a larger and grassroots movement.

  10. @smallcircles

    I follow what you are saying, and for me, from the position of a municipal council member with an autonomous small team of 5, but an association with 25.000 members around Europe, I see the value of having networked and interconnected self-organised teams within a greater community 🙂

  11. @erikkemp @ton

    Anyway, this is still in the context of Social Coding Movement, but on a different and more thoughtful approach.

    Social Coding ideas started to ripen when witnessing the Fediverse’s potential not coming about and the challenges all being social in nature (though with opportunity to be tackled with socio-technical support). See:

    https://discuss.coding.social/t/major-challenges-for-the-fediverse/67

    Overarching challenge I guess is that in a grassroots setting the creation a *holistic* organizational structure is very hard.

    Major challenges for the Fediverse

  12. @smallcircles

    So within organisations what I usually do best is not bring useful things up myself but connect relevant people or organisations with each other. From your words, it seems there is space for that to happen more. Where, or in what form, would you see that connection, the holistic approach, putting these puzzles together happening? Is it at diverse events of civic society that Ton mentions? Or are there some organisations trying to do this and take a governance role? 🙂

  13. @erikkemp I am sideways involved with Pirates Party myself, based on my interests to see humane technology become broadly applied.

    But indeed Politics is one of those many aspects that are very important, but need to be embedded in a holistic movement to be most effective. And just like with activism, most people aren’t natural politicians 🙂

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