Category Archives: opendata

Launching the Malaysia Open Data User Group

I spent the last week in Kuala Lumpur to support the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (MAMPU) with their open data implementation efforts (such as the Malaysian open data portal). Specifically this trip was about the launch of the Malaysia Open Data User Group (MODUG), as well as discussions with MAMPU on how we can help support their 2018 and 2019 open data plans. I was there together with my World Bank colleague Carolina Vaira, and with Baden Appleyard, a long time long distance friend of my company The Green Land. As he is from Australia, working together in Malaysia means meeting sort-of half way.

The MODUG comes from the action plan presented last May, after our Open Data Readiness Assessment last year, which I helped bring about when I first visited in spring 2015 as part of the Malaysian big data advisory board. In the action plan we suggested creating an informal and trusted place for government organisations to discuss their practical issues and concerns in creating more open data, learn from each other, and collaborate on specific actions as well as formulating government good practice. Similarly it called for creating a similar space for potential users of government open data, for individuals, coding community, NGO’s and civil society, academia and the business community. Next to having these two places where both government and non-government can discuss their questions and issues amongst themselves, regular interaction was proposed between the two, so that data custodians and users can collaborate on creating social and economic value with open data in Malaysia. The MODUG brings these three elements under one umbrella.

Last Tuesday MAMPU held an event to launch the MODUG, largely moderated by Carolina and me. MAMPU is within the remit of General Affairs Minister within the Prime Minister’s office, Joseph Entulu Belaun. The Minister officially opened the event and inaugurated the MODUG (by cutting a ribbon hanging from a drone hovering in front of him).

Malaysian Open Data User Group (MODUG) 2017 Malaysian Open Data User Group (MODUG) 2017
Minister Joseph Entulu Belaun cutting a ribbon from a drone, and Dr Yusminar of MAMPU presenting the current status of Malaysian open data efforts. (both images (c) MAMPU)

Dr Yusminar, who is the team lead with MAMPU for open data, and our direct counter part in our work with MAMPU, provided a frank overview of efforts so far, and things that still need to be tackled. This helped set the scene for the rest of the day by providing a shared understanding of where things currently stand.

Then we got to work with the participants, in two rounds of a plenary panel followed by roundtable discussions. The first round, after data holders and users in a panel discussed the current general situation, government and non-government groups discussed separately, looking at which data they see demand for, the challenges they encounter in publishing or using the data, and the suggestions they have overcoming those. The second round started with a panel bringing some international experiences and good practice examples, during which I got a new title, that of ‘open data psychologist’ because of stressing the importance of the social aspects, behaviour and attitude involved in making open data work. The panel was followed with round table conversations that mixed both data custodians and users. Conversations centered on finding a collective agenda to move open data forward. After each round the results from each table were briefly presented, and the output attached to the walls. Participants clearly appreciated having the time and space to thoroughly discuss the open data aspects they find important, and be heard by their colleagues and peers. They indicated wanting to do this more often, which is great to hear as creating the room for such conversations is exactly what the MODUG is meant for!

Malaysia Open Data User Group Malaysia Open Data User Group
Malaysia Open Data User Group Malaysia Open Data User Group
Roundtable discussions on a shared open data agenda for MODUG

The day(s) after the event we discussed the output and how moving forward into 2018 and 2019 we can further support MAMPU and the Malaysian open data efforts. This meant diving much deeper into the detailed actions that need to be taken. I’m very much looking forward to staying involved.

Malaysia Open Data User Group
Working with the MAMPU team on next steps

Kuala Lumpur Kuala Lumpur
After work catching up with Baden and enjoying the sights

New Dutch Government Agreement: What It Says About Open Data

A new government has formed in the Netherlands, after a record 7 months of negotiations following elections last spring. I read the coalition agreement (pdf in Dutch) between the four parties involved to see what, if any, it means for digitisation, transparency, and the use and availability of data in the coming years.

Starting from the principle that openness and transparency in the public sector are important, the agreement states that digitisation is more than a necessity for that, and an opportunity for better public services as well. (p9 Public governance) This translates into plans to further digitise public services, an ‘ambitious’ national digital agenda also for lower level public entities, more findable and accessible open data, and a new look at the stalled Open Government Law with the aim to balance mandatory openness against implementation costs. In addition the agreement calls for more digital access to the collections of museums and archives (p21, Culture), and promises to publish all transport and mobility related government data so it can be reused by vehicles, apps and planners (p41 Transport and Mobility).

It’s good to see that data governance is getting attention, and that it seems to look at data governance from a holistic perspective, taking into account openness, privacy and information security together.
Citizens will have more control over their own personal data that government holds. (p9, Public governance)
The usage and ownership of travel data (think of GPS trackers, RFID travel cards, (autonomous) car sensor data) will be regulated to maintain privacy while also allowing (general) re-use of that data (p41 Transport and Mobility)
Internet of Things is getting attention in terms of aiming for standards, as part of an ‘ambitious’ national cyber-security agenda (p5 Justice and security)

This means a first few steps towards PDM will be taken, and that the ethics of Internet of Things and the role of regulation in acquiring and using sensor data in the public space are on the radar of this government both in maintaining safeguards and enabling new socio-economic value. That is a welcome development.

That socio-economic value however only becomes reality if citizens and companies are able to use the opportunities that open data and digital infrastructure provide. The government agreement promises money in this regard to enable a conducive investment climate as well as a European digital market (p4, p35 Economy). It also allocates funding to increase digital literacy (p11, Education), including for cyber-security awareness (p5 Justice and security), and to stimulate more investigative journalism (p22, Media). The agreement also proposes a new task for the Competition Authority in digital markets, to prevent dominant internet companies blocking new entrants.

Interestingly the agreement makes several references to competition law, or more precisely to strengthening the regulation against government activities competing with private enterprise in areas that are not deemed ‘public interest’. (p9. Public Governance and p36, Economy). This may have consequences for data holding agencies like the Cadastral Office (real estate ownership and transaction data) and Chamber of Commerce (companies register, beneficial ownership data) that currently provide paid for services on top of data they have free access to themselves but charge others for. For a long time already there’s been debate on opening that data up, but maintaining revenue streams for these public bodies has proven more important until now. Should competition law change, that may indeed tip the balance. Until now political will was lacking here.

In summary it looks like this government agreement will result in more open data, and more pressure on local and regional government entities to play their part. It also seems that openness, privacy and security are more seen as one issue of data governance, not as separate or mutually exclusive issues. Thirdly the agreement shows will to also help create the conditions in which that can result in societal value.

Binnenhof
The prime minister’s office, called ‘the little tower’, by Inyucho

How a Small Municipality Shows the Way with Open Data

In 2014/2015 my colleague Frank and I worked with the Province of North-Holland and 9 municipalities in that province to position open data as a policy instrument: around specific local issues we would publish data, and reach out to potential re-users. Part of this process was to make open data a normal part of every day work on public tasks. Hollands Kroon, a rural municipality in the very north of the Province was one of the participants that succeeded in bringing open data into line management.

Now they have launched a new municipal website, following the so-called ‘top tasks’ model. In this model the most prominent information shown is the information citizens most need or want. I have interacted with many municipalities that because of moving to a ‘top-tasks’ website refused to publish data or the answers to the FOIA requests they received. They said “we’re in the process of limiting the information in our sites to the most sought after, so we’re not going to publish any data etc, that would be confusing.”

Not so in Hollands Kroon. This is how their new site looks, with open data a very prominent menu option.

HK Website

With this step, Hollands Kroon shows how they have embraced open data. Already after the program with the Province, called North-Holland Smarter, they had formed a data team, working to raise internal awareness for open data and data driven work, and working to raise interest in re-use. Now they’ve gone a step further in making open data a significant part of their external communications.

To me this is all the more remarkable, as when we started in 2014 Hollands Kroon as a small rural municipality doubted whether open data could be a useful tool to them, and assumed it would only make sense in urban environments, such as in Amsterdam, the biggest city in the Province of North-Holland. They then quickly realized there is potential for their own local context and policy issues as well, especially if you work together with neighbouring municipalities in the region, in collaboration with the Province.

FOSS4G Keynote: Open Data for Social Impact

Last week I had the pleasure to attend and to speak at the annual FOSS4G conference. This gathering of the community around free and open source software in the geo-sector took place in Bonn, in what used to be the German parliament. I’ve posted the outline, slides and video of my keynote already at my company’s website, but am now also crossposting it here.

Speaking in the former German Parliament
Speaking in the former plenary room of the German Parliament. Photo by Bart van den Eijnden

In my talk I outlined that it is often hard to see the real impact of open data, and explored the reasons why. I ended with a call upon the FOSS4G community to be an active force in driving ethics by design in re-using data.

Impact is often hard to see, because measurement takes effort
Firstly, because it takes a lot of effort to map out all the network effects, for instance when doing micro-economic studies like we did for ESA or when you need to look for many small and varied impacts, both socially and economically. This is especially true if you take a ‘publish and it will happen’ approach. Spotting impact becomes much easier if you already know what type of impact you actually want to achieve and then publish data sets you think may enable other stakeholders to create such impact. Around real issues, in real contexts, it is much easier to spot real impact of publishing and re-using open data. It does require that the published data is serious, as serious as the issues. It also requires openness: that is what brings new stakeholders into play, and creates new perspectives towards agency so that impact results. Openness needs to be vigorously defended because of it. And the FOSS4G community is well suited to do that, as openness is part of their value set.

Impact is often hard to see, because of fragmentation in availability
Secondly, because impact often results from combinations of data sets, and the current reality is that data provision is mostly much too fragmented to allow interesting combinations. Some of the specific data sets, or the right timeframe or geographic scope might be missing, making interesting re-uses impossible.
Emerging national data infrastructures, such as the Danish and the Dutch have been creating, are a good fix for this. They combine several core government data sets into a system and open it up as much as possible. Think of cadastral records, maps, persons, companies, adresses and buildings.
Geo data is at the heart of all this (maps, addresses, buildings, plots, objects), and it turns it into the linking pin for many re-uses where otherwise diverse data sets are combined.

Geo is the linking pin, and its role is shifting: ethics by design needed
Because of geo-data being the linking pin, the role of geo-data is shifting. First of all it puts geo-data in the very heart of every privacy discussion around open data. Combinations of data sets quickly can become privacy issues, with geo-data being the combinator. Privacy and other ethical questions arise even more now that geo-data is no longer about relatively static maps, but where sensors are making many more objects as well as human beings objects on the map in real time.
At the same time geo-data is becoming less visible in these combinations. ‘The map’ is not neccessarily a significant part of the result of combining data sets, just a catalyst on the way to get there. Will geo-data be a neutral ingredient, or will it be an ingredient with a strong attitude? An attitude that aims to actively promulgate ethical choices, not just concerning privacy, but also concerning what are statistically responsible combinations, and what are and are not legal steps in getting to an in itself legal result again? As with defending openness itself, the FOSS4G community is in a good position to push the ethical questions forward in the geo community as well as find ways of incorporating them directly in the tools they build and use.

The video of the keynote has been published by the FOSS4G conference organisers.
Slides are available from Slideshare and embedded below:

Data Sovereignty as Prerequisite for Open Data Agency

As we are living in a networked world, increasingly government bodies execute their tasks while collaborating in networks of various other stakeholders. This also happens when it comes to collecting, providing or working with data as part of public tasks. One of the potential detrimental side effects is that it quickly becomes unclear who can decide to open such data up. Or whether a government entity, who wants to publish data as part of a policy intervention, still feels able to do so. This ability to decide over your own data, I call data sovereignty. I think without proper attention, the data sovereignty of public institutions is under pressure in collaborative situations and a threat to the freedom of public entities to decide and act on their own open data efforts. This is especially problematic where the lack of data sovereignty hinders public entities in deploying open data as a policy instrument.

I have just completed an inventory of the data sets that a Dutch province holds and the visible erosion of data sovereignty was the main unexpected outcome for me.
This erosion takes different shapes. Here are a few examples of it, encountered in the Province I mentioned:

  • Data collection on businesses locations and the number of people they employ (to track employment per municipality per sector) is being pooled by all provinces (as a national level data set is more useful). The pooling takes place in a separate legal entity. It is unclear if this entity still falls under FOIA and re-use regulations. This entity also exploits the data by selling it. Logical at the organisational level perhaps, but illogical in comparison with the provincial public task (and maybe not even legal under the Re-Use law). Opening up the data needs to be done through that new entity, meaning not just convincing yourself, but all other provinces as well as the entity who has commercial interest in not being convinced. The slowest will thus set the speed.
  • Data collection on traffic flows, collected by the Province, is stored directly in a national data warehouse (NDW). Again pooling data makes it more useful, but the Province cannot store cleaned data there (anomalies filtered out, pattern changes explained etc.), so always needs to redo that cleaning and filtering whenever they want to work or access their own data. Although the publicly owned NDW now publishes open data, until recently they saw themselves as a commercial outfit, adverse to the notion of open data.
  • Data collection on bicycle traffic, done by the Province, is stored in the online database of a French service provider active in the entire EU. Ownership of the data is unclear. The Province only accesses the data through the French website. If a FOIA request came, it would be unclear if providing the data runs counter to any rights the service provider is claiming.
  • Data collection on the prevalence of bird species is being collected in collaboration with nature preservation groups and large numbers of volunteers. The Province pays for the data collection, but the nature preservation groups claim their volunteers (by virtue of their voluntary efforts) are the rightful owners of the data. Without seeking internal legal advice, the discussion remains unsolved and stalls.

None of these situations are unsolvable, all of them can get a definitive answer. The issue however is that nobody is clearly in a position, or has the explicit role to make sure such an definitive answer gets formulated. Because of that, uncertainties remain, which easily leads to inaction. If and when the Province wants to act to open data up, it therefore easily runs into all kinds of questions that will slow action down, or ensure action does not get taken.

It is entirely logical that public entities are collaborating in networks with other public entities and domain-specific stakeholders for the collection, dissemination and use of data. It is also certain, given our networked society and the drive for efficiency, the number of situations where such collaboration takes place will only rise. However, for the drive towards more openness it is detrimental when ownership of public data becomes unclear, gets transferred to an entity that potentially falls outside the scope of FOIA, or falls under the rights of a private entity, just because nobody sought to clarify such matters at the outset.

Public entities should learn to strongly guard their data sovereignty if they want to maintain their own agency in using opening up data as a policy instrument. Moving to open by design as a default for the public sector, requires stopping the erosion of data sovereignty.

On Open Data and the Panama Papers

Two questions I was asked

In the past days people asked me questions about the Panama Papers and how it is connected to open data. Is a leak like the Panama Papers helpful or not to the cause of open data? Is it reasonable that the journalists don’t plan to publish all leaked files?
Before answering those questions, I will explore aspects of the data we’re talking about, the content of the leak, and the legality and morality of it all.

The core concept at stake: beneficial ownership

First let’s look at the data that we are interested in here, and why that data needs to be fully transparant.
There are two elements of importance. One is that in a transaction you need to be able to verify that you are dealing with the right person: can your counterpart deliver, and is your counterpart legally able to enter into a transaction? If you buy my house you need to verify it is mine to sell, and therefore cadastral ownership information is a public register. Similarly if you deal with my company, you need to verify who is allowed to enter into a contract on behalf of that company, and who ultimately owns it. That last bit is called beneficial ownership: cui bono? This information is registered in public company registers.

This means that for my company (The Green Land), you can find out through the Dutch company register (searching by name, or by the company number we provide on our website and letter head) that there are 4 owners with power of signature. Those four are all other companies. One of those owning companies is Interdependent Holding, and if you check that one, you’ll find out that I’m the sole owner (the other three are owned by my partners). This way you can trace that I am the ultimate owner of part of The Green Land. This is relevant information if you do business with my company, and it is important information for the tax office, who want to know when to tax me for what. These sort of checks, which should be possible, means beneficial ownership should be completely transparant. You are thus able to find out personal information about me through the company register.

That is the trade-off I make as an entrepreneur with you and the rest of society. You all allow me, by creating a company, to shield myself personally from several risks: a bankruptcy of my company will mostly not touch me personally (unless it is due to my negligence or misconduct). The overall benefit to society is that more people will feel opportunity to start something new that way. In exchange I need to give up some of my anonymity, so that it is always clear who ultimately owns something.

Shell companies break that trade-off when beneficial ownership is purposefully obscured, especially when it is the primary reason that company was created in the first place. It allows me to make myself invisible to you in a deal, and it allows me to evade taxes without much chance of that becoming easy to spot.

What is in the Panama Papers?

The Panama Papers are a collection of over 11 million of documents and some structured data, about the creation of a wide range of shell companies (210.000!) in the past 40 years. All the documents come from one law firm in Panama, that has assisted in creating companies in jurisdictions where beneficial ownership is not fully recorded. Those jurisdictions don’t record that information because they don’t need it for taxation. The leaked documents contain the correspondence and other material, such as copies of passports, that was used to keep client records at the law firm, and to establish firms. So the leak is not a list of companies and beneficial ownership like you could get from e.g. the Dutch company register. But from the leaked documents that information about beneficial ownership can be derived. Even if it is ultimately not recorded in the company registers of the jurisdictions these companies are established in (such as the British Virgin Islands). And that is what some 400 journalists in 80 countries did this past year: derive the beneficial ownership information from the leaked documents. And then write stories about it. The law firm in Panama involved is just one of many law firms offering these services. It is not the biggest either, though it is in the top 5, it just is a law firm that seems to have had crappy data security.

On legality and morality

It is perfectly legal to create a company in the British Virgin Islands or any other similar jurisdiction, and using a Panama law firm to help you do that. It is also normal in those jurisdictions that beneficial ownership is not always recorded, simply as it is not needed by the local tax office and they have therefore no reason to collect it.
It is however illegal to not disclose such ownership when asked to do so by the tax office in your country of residence.
When beneficial ownership is hidden, and when the law firm you asked to help you do that is also somewhere hard to get at, it becomes easy to not disclose such ownership to your local tax authority and not be found out though.

This leak now ends that purposefully created obscurity for a large amount of companies and the people who have the beneficial ownership of those companies.
Some of that will until now have been undisclosed to tax authorities elsewhere, and thus illegal. This is what is now prompting government investigations in Australia, Peru, Netherlands etc.

Next to legality, there are also issues of morality at play. And this mostly is where the journalistic interest is.
The morality of having a company in a jurisdiction where you do not do any business, but where you happen to be able to obscure your beneficial ownership can be called into question.
Why would a board member of a Chilean transparency organisation need one? Why would a prime minister who demands austerity from all citizens have one? Citizens that cannot use the options the prime minister apparantly does have access to (or draw immediate attention if they do, such as the shop owners of a Welsh village)
Why would an advisory board member of a Dutch bank, that is currently government owned after a bail-out have one? Why would an NGO have one and send public money and donations to them? Why would family and friends of heads of state need them, coinciding with their rise to power? Why would such obscurity be important to art dealers?

The people it concerns apparantly feel those morality issues themselves as well when confronted, though some have above board explanations, such as the NGO mentioned. Why else would a prime minister walk out of an interview about it and later resign? Why else would another prime minister provide 4 different explanations in 4 different days before coming clean?
Why else would a banker give up his position when challenged? Why else would a country whose powerful figures are named have reporting on it censored and firewalled. Why else would a government denounce it as smear campaign even before the Panama Papers were first published?
Why else would a leading transparency activist immediately resign? A FIFA official resign from his organisation’s Ethics Panel? And a minister from another austerity-focussed government? Why else try damage control, while pleading innocence without denying the facts presented, but because of being caught with your hands in the cookie jar?

The full list will come out

One of the defenses out there for those finding themselves cornered in this moral quandary is that only they are targeted. Trying to raise suspicion about the fact not all companies and their owners are yet published. That is attacking the messenger when you don’t really have anything to counter the message. Of course the journalists involved lead with the juiciest stories, so heads of state and prime ministers find themselves first exposed.
The list of shell companies and their owners is of course much longer, 210.000 companies long, and as I said beneficial ownership is the key concept here. So it is needed that that list will come out in full. It will. The ICIJ has announced that the full list will be published early May (last sentence at that link), after the stories prepared in the past year have been published. So we will soon be able to see for ourselves who else we are dealing with.

Getting back to the questions

So should the entire leak be made public? All those 11 million documents or so? I don’t think so. The beneficial ownership information definitely should be. This is the stuff you can get from most company registers around the world. Beneficial ownership being public is part of the deal a company owner makes with society. That is however only the information derived from the leak and not the content of most of the documents leaked. Copies of passports used to register the company are not ours to see. You don’t post yours either, nor is it public through company registers normally. So no, the entire leak does not need to be public I think.
Once you will see the full list of 210.000 shell companies and their owners, you will realize how many people not of public interest are on it. And you’ll realize that disclosing material other than beneficial ownership is a breach of privacy that doesn’t add anything to further challenge the legality or morality of the situation.

Does this help open data? That is uncertain to me. Maybe it helps to put beneficial ownership information at the heart of current discussions of opening up company registers in Europe further. Many of these European registers are public (you can check the records, for a fee), but not open. Only Denmark has a fully open company register. In other words: for you as an individual, Panama isn’t very far away in a certain sense, Panama is right in your own capital. Maybe it helps European governments to understand that they should lead by example in opening up beneficial ownership to the public pro-actively, and that their tax-offices have something to gain by it (because then data across multiple European jurisdictions will be routinely available).
Maybe it shows owners of shell companies that geographical distance and obscurity are much less of a protection than before digitisation, and lead at least some to make different choices. Or maybe it shows that full global transparency of company registers is unavoidable over time: if not voluntarily then forced.

Open Data Readiness Assessment Kyrgyzstan Published

The UNDP has published the open data readiness assessment for the Krygyz Republic. From November 2014 to June 2015 I visited Kyrgyzstan three times for a week on behalf of the World Bank. In collaboration with the Kyrgyz Government and the UNDP, as well as local companies, civil society organisations and the coding community, we looked for the right starting points for open data in Kyrgyzstan, and which steps to take to get going.

The UNDP has now published the resulting report, which is embedded below. Download link here.

When Governments Don’t Walk the Talk

Last fall the European open data portal project published two reports. One on the potential economic value of open data in Europe, the other taking a look at the maturity of open data efforts in European countries.

Both reports contain interesting insights and conclusions.
Both reports are also useless.

Because the data underneath the reports has not been published. Without explanation.

That is of course rather surprising because the subject of the reports is open data. At least when the topic is openness, all the related material should be open. That is why, when we built the EU PSI Scoreboard in 2011, we published all the underlying data right alongside the scoreboard. As does the Open Data Barometer. As does the Open Data Index. As does the Digital Agenda Scoreboard. But not the European Open Data Portal project. I would have expected the data under both reports by the European Open Data Portal to actually be available in the European Open Data Portal.

Missing data destroys the report’s value
Not having the data renders the report on open data maturity useless:

  • it makes interpretation of the conclusions impossible, as there is no way to see if the assertions chime with the collected data, nor if that data chimes with ones own experience in the field
  • it makes any meaningful discussion about the merits of the report impossible, even where it gives rise to questions (such as, what makes Bulgaria an open data trendsetter?)
  • it makes formulating actions aimed at improvement impossible, as the data to determine what improvements can be made are not available

Thus after reading the report nobody is, nor can they be, any the wiser as to how to move forward.

Cold feet
I approached the European Commission, and through them the authors, to request the data. After a few messages back and forth, the reason that the data is not published became clear: the national representatives involved in the project, such as the members of the EU PSI Group, have witheld publication of the data. I assume because of cold feet and dreading actual comparison between countries. Not publishing the data however, even if not intended as such, is also sending a clear message: “we’re not serious about openness.” The verdict when it comes to European open data maturity therefore is likely “not very mature”.

Requesting data per country needed
A very few countries may pro-actively publish the data about themselves, but most will not. To obtain the data used for the open data maturity report, it is now needed to approach all the national government representatives involved and request the data from them.

Which I intend to do. Help is welcome. [UPDATE: I have approached most of the governments involved, to ask for the information that could make the maturity report actually useful.]

Closed
Off to get some closed data

Largest government spending is also the least transparant

Tuesday will see the presentation of the new Dutch national budget, during the traditional opening of the parliamentary year, ‘Prince’s Day‘.

58% (153 out of 262 billion Euro) of the budget is allocated to social affairs (78 billion Euro), and healthcare (75 billion Euro). These two largest domains are also the two least transparant ones. For both domains little to none exists in terms of meaningful open data.

On the contrary both domains are notorious for their opaqueness. In the social domain a massive decentralization has transferred billions to lower levels of government, making the way they are spent invisible to both Parliament and the High Court of Audit. In healthcare insurers and hospitals are fighting the Minister tooth and nail over disclosing even basic numbers they are legally bound to make public, and freedom of information requests end up in court.

The budget shortfall for the next year comes in at some 12 billion Euro, or about 8% of our spending on social affairs and healthcare.

I bet increased transparency in both the social and healthcare domains can surface lots of potential savings, by exposing inefficiencies etc. Even if you shave of just a few percents of spending that way, it may actually fix the hole in the national budget completely.

A Month In Lucca (and CH along the way): Week 1

We’ve packed up the household for a month in Lucca, Tuscany this July with a week in Switzerland before it, and a short stay in Switzerland after it.

More relaxation and sabbatical than working in a different environment this time, so in that sense different from previous month long moves to Copenhagen and Cambridge or other extended working stays in Berlin, Helsinki and Switzerland.

A lot has happened, and is happening, to us and our close relatives on both sides of the family, making it a challenging year. So some extended time to be together with the two of us is something I was looking forward to a lot. At the same time I hope to be able to do some reflection, research and writing as well, in the hours where it’s too hot to venture out anyway. Before heading out to explore and enjoy Tuscany more, as I’ve never visited this area.

Half-way stop: Switzerland
The first week we spent halfway to Lucca, in Switzerland. Staying with dear friends in their home on Lake Zug, Elmine took it easy, while I spent most of my time working.

Walchwil breakfast view. Bbq in Walchwil
View on Lake Zug, and welcoming bbq

Swiss open data conference
Monday was spent on creating two presentations, one on open data as an instrument for policy implementation, one on the economic and organizational rationale for a national data infrastructure of ‘core registers’ such as the Netherlands and Denmark have, and others are currently exploring. Tuesday afternoon I took a train to the Swiss capital Bern for an early bird and speaker’s dinner with the organizers of the Opendata.CH conference. A lovely dinner at the bank of the river Aare. We were just underneath the Swiss parliament building perched on the edge of the higher lying old inner city, in a bend of the river. People were swimming in the river, letting the stream transport them before walking back upriver to jump in again.

Swimming in Aare river (Bern) Bern Opendata.ch
People swimming in the Aare, Opendata.ch banner

The Opendata.ch conference took place for the 4th time this year (I spoke there in 2012 as well), at the University of Bern. Over 200 people ignored the sweltering summer heat and sat in stuffy lecturing halls to discuss opening Swiss government data together. In the morning I gave a keynote where I asked how come we are still meeting like this, to encourage and convince? Why is the visibility of impact so fragmented? After which I proceeded with how starting from a (policy) goal, mobilizing stakeholders with open data leads to more easily visible impact. At the same time also creating intrinsic government motivation to keep publishing open data, as it becomes a valuable policy instrument. It seems the presentation went over well, getting a mention in the press.

The afternoon was given over to workshops. Together with my Swiss colleague André Golliez and with Alessia Neroni (Bern Univ for Applied Sciences) we hosted a workshop on building a national data infrastructure around core registers. I presented the experiences we made in Denmark (research done by colleague Marc) and Netherlands, as well as touching upon France (link to a opinion piece I wrote) and other countries. The Swiss current situation was very well described by Alain Buogo (Deputy director at Swisstopo) and Bertrand Loison (board member of the Swiss statistical office). This was the first such discussion in Switzerland and one I hope to continue.

After the conference I returned to Walchwil by train, joining three board members of the Swiss open data community until Zurich.

C360_2015-07-02-15-41-07-643_org Zürich Hardbrücke
Street art and shipping container shops in Hardbrücke

The next day I traveled to Zurich again to talk more with André Golliez, meeting at the Impact Hub, an international oriented co-working space in one of the spans of a railway viaduct, in the hipster dominated Hardbrücke area. We planned some next steps for our collaboration, which likely will see me return late next month for more meetings. Then we moved next door to pub and music podium Bogen F (viaduct span F), for the 60th birthday party of André, as well as the launch of his new open data consultancy. It was a good opportunity to meet some of his family, friends and professional peers. The relaxed bbq, and some wheat beers, made my German slip into a stronger Austrian accent (where I learned it as a kid), to the amusement of the Swiss.

Zürich Hardbrücke Zürich Hardbrücke
At Kultur Viadukt Bogen F

Open Data Barometer
Friday was spent mostly in conference calls while gazing out over Lake Zug. In the morning working with Aleksandar in Belgrade on the Serbian open data readiness assessment (see recent posting), and in the afternoon taking a deep dive into the methodology behind the W3C Open Data Barometer. The research for the 2015 edition is starting now, and me and my colleague Frank are doing the research for six countries (Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium and Netherlands). In the evening we had a leisurely dinner at the lakeside, in restaurant Engel.

Off to Lucca, but first…
We had originally planned to drive to Lucca on Saturday but traffic and weather predictions suggested to do otherwise. So instead we met up with our dear friends Hans and Mirjam, who moved to Switzerland 18 months ago, for a nice summer bbq. Much better to spend time in conversation than standing in a traffic jam in tropical temperatures. Sunday we then left relatively early at 8:30, cutting through the Gotthard Tunnel with ease and cruising along mostly empty Italian motorways (except for near Milano), to our destination Lucca, arriving early afternoon.

Here in Lucca, originally an Etruscan city, we were met by our kind host Enrico, who guided us to our apartment located right within the old city walls and gave us some useful tips to help us find our way around. In a renovated former nunnery we now enjoy a quiet home looking out over a garden towards the city wall, with the busiest shopping street Via Fillungo (dating from Roman times), with coffee, wine, shoes, and Italian food right in front of our doorstep. A nice basic meal at Gigi, after unpacking, finished up this first week.

Our gate in Lucca
The gate on Via Fillungo to the inner courtyard leading to our apartment