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.

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 EU and Global Trends

The team behind the European data portal publish yearly reports (2017 PDF) on how EU countries are doing. They see the differences between previous front runners and later starters becoming smaller. That is a good thing, as it means there is an emerging general European level of maturity in open data.

At the same time I feel a lot of momentum has been lost as well. The UK for instance is much less active under the current government than e.g. 7 years ago. Similarly in the Netherlands I hear ministries who were very active previously ask for what the next big thing is, where to go next, whether open data or something else. This sounds like (relatively) early adopters are moving on, and if they do not leave sustainable structures behind, open data will stall.

Globally we see more populistic governments tending to less transparency. Such as in the US, where government data has been removed from websites.
My colleague Paul was in the Czech Republic last week and came back with an example of a regressive step: the Czech government has reinstated charges for meteorological data. There is no rational argument for charging for access to digital government data, especially not for meteo. While current legally mandated charges are historically understandable, reinstating charges that were previously abolished is not.

The mentioned latest EU report on open data maturity advices several things to drive open data forward:

  • Embed open data into normal data management, and into digital transformation of the public sector. This is certainly a key thing.
  • Do more impact studies to show evidence. I think that particularly micro-economic impact studies are very important, such as we are currently doing for the ESA, but they are time consuming and intensive, and I encounter little will in government bodies to really do them. At a political level policy impact assessment isn’t popular either.
  • Intensify steady external stakeholder engagement. Extremely important I think, as those external stakeholders are the ones creating the impact and realising the value of open data. But going outside and listening to the needs of stakeholders has proven to be scary for most government bodies, even if they know how to go about it.
  • Start looking at privately held data in domains that are close to the public interest. Think of fields like energy transition, health care, etc. This to me is certainly a next step, not just in terms of companies realising the need for action, but also in terms of governments realising there is a legitimate public interest in getting access to cereain privately held data. There is also an increasingly important role for citizen generated data that ties into this.

All in all I think most governments now have experienced it is not enough to just publish data. You have to go out there and provoke re-use, ensure that everyone knows what you have to offer. That is real work and not all government entities are willing or able to make that effort.

The current EU regulation on the usage of open data, the PSI Directive is under review (I’ve done some of the evaluation work for it for the Netherlands in December and January). I hope the rules won’t change much, other than maybe ensuring better alignment with the GDPR, and solving the issues that result from downstream usage of open data. It has only been 2 years since the last PSI Directive changes were implemented, and in most countries the effect of that isn’t fully visible yet.

This week is Open Data Week in Serbia. It kicked off on Tuesday with a conference session, and an unconference. I was invited to join a panel on current trends and developments. The panel was balanced to provide a nicely layered perspective. Where my role was to talk about global and European developments, my UNDP colleague Lejla Sadiku provided insight into developments in the Balkans and the wider eastern European region. The perspective on Serbia itself was provided by Мihailo Jovanovic who is the director of the Serbian government office for IT en e-government, and Djordje Krivokapic who represented Serbian civil society.

The panel, ltr, Djordje, me, Lejla (speaking), Mihailo, and Slobodan (moderator). Photo: Aca Ivic

We did two rounds of comments from the panel, and then discussion with the other participants in the room. The first round focused on general developments and trends, the second round focused on how that plays out for local government and cities / communities.

Spread out over the coming 8 postings are the notes I used for my statements in the panel. I am posting them as separate blog postings, as otherwise the postings get quite long. The first 4 are observations about the general open data developments and trends I see. The second 4 are observations about open data developments in local settings.

General observations:

  1. EU and Global Trends
  2. Open data as infrastructure, going under the hood
  3. The GDPR is an opportunity
  4. Fragmented community, splitting into sectors

Local government level observations:

  1. Local is where you are, but not the data professionals
  2. Well considered outreach is key
  3. Local data may need national coordination
  4. Citizen generated data, and sensors in public space

I will also post some thoughts about the unconference session where we discussed more deeply the role of open data in local government settings.

I participated in the Serbian open data week the past days. Taking last Saturday’s international open data day as a starting point, the Serbian open data week is organized by both the Serbian government office for IT and e-government and the UNDP in Serbia, in collaboration with civil society groups such as the coworking spaces of Startit Centar.

On Tuesday there was a formal conference with many government representatives, in which I joined a panel to discuss international trends in open data on both the general and the local level. Also there local government and civil society open data efforts presented themselves. Later that same day there was an unconference in the Belgrade Startit Centar in which I had the opportunity to talk with both civil society as well as local government representatives about our work in the Netherlands deploying open data as a tool to achieve specific local policy outcomes. The rest of the week long program consists of both internal sessions with government bodies to help them move forward with open data, and awareness raising sessions, data clinics and training in coworking spaces across cities in Serbia.

I will publish my notes from both sessions I participated in, divided over a series of blog postings here.

Otvoreni Podaci – Otvorene Mogucnosti / Open data – open opportunities

It was good to be back in Serbia, three years after doing a national open data readiness assessment, and two years after last working with the national government open data working group building action plans for specific institutions. In the years since then momentum hasn’t dried up, and I met many people again who have been involved since my earlier visits, as well as many new faces from new involved institutions. (As an indicator, 2 years ago the open data working group consisted of about 8 institutions, but now is comprised of some 70 organisations from all over Serbia) This week my translator was the same lady who accompanied me 3 years ago. She said that back then she didn’t believe anything would change, but “look at us now”, and that in every government document she is asked to translate open data is mentioned. Indeed, look at Serbia now. As anyplace else, there is still much to do, but also much has been gained already.

UNDP Serbia has formed a pool of open data consultants to assist the Serbian government in moving ahead with open data, and I’m happy to be involved until July 2019. In the coming weeks I will be doing an ex-ante exploration of the impact open data can have in Serbia, together with my Serbian colleague Vid Stimac. This week we had a planning session, in Dutch surprisingly as he went to university here.