Juni is een goede maand voor open data dit jaar.

Ten eerste keurde vorige week dinsdag 4 juni de Eerste Kamer de wet goed die de Europese open data richtlijn implementeert in de Nederlandse Wet Hergebruik Overheidsinformatie. Al is de wet nog niet gepubliceerd en dus nog niet van kracht komt daarmee een einde aan drie jaar vertraging. De wet had al per juli 2021 in moeten gaan. De Europese richtlijn ging namelijk in juli 2019 in en gaf Lidstaten twee jaar de tijd voor omzetting in nationale wetgeving.

Ten tweede ging afgelopen zondag 9 juni de verplichting voor het actief publiceren door overheden via API’s van belangrijke data op zes thema’s in. Die Europese verordening werd eind 2022 aanvaard, werd begin februari 2023 van kracht, en gaf overheden 16 maanden d.w.z. tot zondag om er aan te voldoen. De eerste rapportage over de implementatie moeten Lidstaten in februari 2025 doen, dus ik neem aan dat veel landen die periode nog gebruiken om aan de verplichtingen te voldoen. Maar het begin is er. In Nederland is de impact van deze High Value Data verordening relatief gering, want het merendeel van de data die er onder valt was hier al open. Tegelijkertijd was dat in andere EU landen niet altijd het geval. Nu kun je dus Europees dekkende datasets samenstellen.

The fate of anyone working to change something in how government works, or any larger organisation or system really, is that most often you’re not around to see the effects. Small course changes can take years to become noticeable shifts, and by that time no-one will remember where that started or who helped start it. So anytime you do get to see a glimpse of how something played out over a longer time frame is a rare gift and compliment. Yesterday I was moved when I was given such a glimpse by a civil servant publicly calling me out in a session that I attended.

A little over nine years ago (my notes tell me), I reached out to a provincial civil servant to tell them I thought it a disgrace how they were treated by their director and that in my view they’d done everything right. They had received a public data request on a (to this day) politically highly sensitive topic. The province not having the data, was the wrong ‘door’ for the request, so the civil servant did the right thing and connected the requester to the government entity that had the data that was requested. A director in the provincial organisation then reprimanded them for doing this, even though their actions were by the book. I had heard about this through my network and contacted the civil servant in question. To tell them they did what was proper, and show my support. They told me thank you and said they had briefly considered quitting, but wouldn’t and would continue to push open government data forward.

Yesterday I was in a session about the use of algorithms in public sector decision making led by that same civil servant. One of the cases they mentioned was how a city government had used an algorithm but then internally had come to the conclusion it was discriminatory, stopped its use and documented the entire process transparently to learn from it. Recently they got vilified in the press (only possible because of their own documentation and transparency), and caught flak. The leader of the session described how useful that well documented case actually was for the entire community of civil servants working on how to responsibly use algorithms in public service. Because of the issues it surfaced, the process it had followed etc. Another participant in the session was using the case as part of their PhD research into these topics.

Then the civil servant leading the session turned to me and said "Then I did what you did for me years ago. I reached out to those civil servants to show my support and tell them how valuable their work was for others and that they did the right thing. It always stayed with me that you contacted me to support me, how important that was for me, and now I paid it forward." When they said that I remembered it, but otherwise had forgotten it happened. It moved me to hear it, and it makes me grateful. Nine years ago I moved a small pebble in a river bed out of basic empathy, and yesterday I got to see how the river that is public sector culture and attitude w.r.t. openness runs a bit differently because of it. It’s a gem of a gift to hear what it meant for the civil servant involved.

Thank you W. for paying it forward. And for letting me know, it means a lot to me.

In October 2017 Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated by planting an explosive in her car. She worked on exposing financial and political corruption, and worked on the Panama Papers. Last year October the murderers were convicted, while the court case against the political and business principal is still ongoing. Four months later Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak was gunned down alongside with his life partner Martina Kušnírová, possibly after his name leaked from freedom of information requests. Kuciak was also involved in reporting on the Panama Papers. In that case the gunmen have been convicted, whereas similarly to Caruana Galizia’s case, the court case against the principal, also a politically connected businessman, is still ongoing. That is to say both were murdered by the klept, to use William Gibson’s label, for their work on transparency. As someone who has worked on government transparency for some 15 years from a different angle, there are always some overlaps between my (net)work and European investigative journalists, the organisations they work with and the projects they work on.

A large part of this week I was in Valletta, Malta, for the EuroGeographics General Assembly. Tuesday afternoon I strolled around town, and made sure to visit the impromptu memorial for Daphne Caruana Galizia that is on Republic Street in front of the courts of justice. Because the case is still ongoing, the corruption still in place therefore. And because upon arrival the very first Maltese newspaper I saw Sunday evening carried a headline about the assassination, still in the spotlight of attention five and a half years after the fact.

The improvised memorial for Daphne Caruana Galizia, calling for justice to be done almost 6 years on. Located on the square in front of St. Johns Cathedral along Republic Street, facing the front doors of the Courts of Justice. (Photo by me)

The Sunday Malta Times of 19 March 2023, with a headline connected to the 2017 assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Een paar weken geleden had ik een gesprek van een uur met Bart Ensink van Little Rocket over mijn werk en mijn bedrijf The Green Land. Dat gesprek is als zesde aflevering van de Datadriftig podcast nu te beluisteren. We ‘kwamen elkaar tegen’ in de interactie op een draadje op Mastodon in december. Little Rocket is een ebusiness bedrijf en maakt voor hun zakelijke klanten data bruikbaarder. Het is gevestigd in Enschede, dus bracht ik een bezoek aan de stad waar ik tot 6 jaar geleden woonde, en dook Enschede en de Universiteit Twente vaker op in het gesprek.

Today I heard the EU High Value Data list in its first iteration is finally decided upon. In September 2020 we submitted our advice on what data to include in the thematic areas of geographic data, statistics, mobility, company information, meteorology, earth observation and environment. Last week the Member States submitted their final yes/no vote, and the final text was approved. The EC will now finalise the text for publication, and it should be published before the end of the year. It will enter into force 20 days after publication and government data holders have 16 months until April/May 2024 to ensure compliance. It’s been a long path, and this first list could have been better concerning company information. Yet, when it comes to geographic data (addresses, buildings, land parcels, topography), meteorology and that same company information, it draws a line under two decades of discussion, court cases and studies to help dismantle the revenue model of charging at the point of use. Such charges are a threshold to market entry, and are generally lower than the tax revenue otherwise gained from the activities it’s a threshold to.

It’s easy to just move ahead and think about how this is not enough, what still needs doing, how to implement this etc. But it’s good to acknowledge that when I first started working on open government data in 2008 I heard the stories of those who had been at it for many years since well before the first PSI Directive was agreed in 2003. Some of those people have by now been retired for quite some time already, and I worked on it standing on their shoulders. The implementation act for EU high value data sets is a big step, even if in the field we thought it a no-brainer for decades already.

Today a colleague at the Netherlands Space Office showed me a new Copernicus service, the ground motion service (EGMS). Quite an amazing data service to explore. Earlier I wrote about the European forest fire information service (EFFIS), and its use as a proxy for the fighting going on due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. EGMS is another service based on satellite remote sensing, here radar telemetry tracking the subsidence or rising of the ground. As far as I understand it can’t ‘see’ soft materials (peat land subsiding e.g.), only sees hard materials (solid ground, or buildings on softer grounds).
The images are quite amazing, and the data is provided right alongside it.

First an overview of northern Europe. Blue is rising ground, red is sinking ground. Sweden and Finland show rising ground, this is still the bounce back of the earth since the last ice age ended when the tremendous weight of glaciers was removed. At the tip of the arrow you see subsiding ground, this is the result of gas extraction in Groningen province.

Zooming in on Groningen province, here’s the data for a single house, subsiding 4 centimeters in the past 6 years. No wonder many homes are getting damaged in that area, both from subsidence as well as from the earthquakes that accompany it.

For comparison, here’s the data from the street I live on. It shows a subsidence of 6 millimeters in the past 6 years.

And here’s the same data as in the graph in the image above, but exported from the Copernicus services as an SVG, and pasted here as text.

-14-12-10-8-6-4-202468101214Displacement mm2016011120160428201608142016113020170318201707042017102020180211201805302018091520190101201904192019080520191121202003082020062420201010Measurement dateORTHO Vertical: 20dXRnBSzzDataset: Point ID: Position: Mean velocity: RMSE: ORTHO Vertical20dXRnBSzz3242050.00 N 4007550.00 E -0.60 m-1.10 mm/year0.40 mm