Value of Open Government Data


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A community perspective. Introduction for Austrian Open Data Meet-up in Graz.

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Value of Open Government Data

  1. 1. knowledge work, learning, social media Value Creation with Open Government Data A community perspective Graz, August 31st 2010 good evening everybody. Thank you for inviting me. There is a lot to say about Open Data, and the value of open data. To me Open Data is currently the primary potential catalyst for improving our societies and economies. But it is also very easy to loose ourselves in abstract notions when discussing Open Data. So let’s make it real and tangible first.
  2. 2. Meet Tine Müller I’d like you to meet Tine Müller. She’s Danish and in her fifties I think. She’s part of a group of friends where many have bladder problems. They are afraid to go into the city for shopping because they do not know if there will be a toilet when they need one. So they rather stayed home. Tine built this map of all public toilets in Denmark, based on Open Data. Her friends get to go out more. Because she was able, without any technological knowledge up front, to use Open Data in a way that was valuable to her.
  3. 3. Meet Dirk Houtgraaf Meet Dirk Houtgraaf. He’s a director at the Dutch national institute for cultural heritage. He sits on a ton of data, about the cultural history of the Netherlands. Like all government institutions he needs to be looking for ways to save money. He decided to work together with amateur historical societies and the wiki media foundation to improve his own data, as well as get his data used more widely. Open data means a lot to his own efficiency and effectivity. Because he is using Open Data to reach his own policy goals. He says he is getting better at his job, and needs to accept it will make his workload smaller. The pictures are an example of reuse of the Dutch list of monuments and historical sites. The Wikimedia foundation took the open data list of monuments, checked all addresses, and made pictures of all buildings. Then someone else built this Augmented Reality app for smart phones so you can see the monument information on your phone as you walk around a city.
  4. 4. Meet Rudi Kragh Meet Rudi. He’s a Danish entrepreneur. He built a website where in less than 15 minutes, based on your address and a handful of other questions you will get a complete plan how to save energy for your house, including a financial plan with the subsidies available to you, as well as a list of skilled builders from your town who could do the work. This is possible because information on the construction of every house, plans for neighbourhood heating, weather in your region, and subsidies etc are available publicly. His clients are the municipalities, who are seeking energy efficiency, or want to create more local jobs, or see their subsidy programs more succesful. With Open Data Rudi pulls it all together, to create value for home owners, communities and himself alike.
  5. 5. Meet Richard Jansen Meet Richard Jansen, he’s an officer with the fire brigade of Amsterdam. And he has three urgent problems he wants to solve. He wants to know where the road construction is in his city and get to the location of a fire quickly; He wants to know what hazardous materials are in a building he lets his people enter; He wants to know what is beneath the water surface at a spot he lets his people dive; All this information and data is public. But it is not available to him how he needs and when he needs it. He tried a lot of things, but Open Data is the really the only way, as well as the easiest and quickest way. The file with construction activities he know has. The others he is still waiting for. For him Open Data means saving lives.
  6. 6. So what is this Open Data, that can do all that? It is useful to define it first. Especially as the term Open is used for many different things in different contexts, even when it is actually very much closed and costs a lot of money. We’re not just talking about Open, as in Open Source, which is about being able to see and re-use source code. We’re not just talking about Open, as in Open Government, which is about transparency and accountability We’re not just talking about Open, as in Open Standards, which is about interoperability We’re not just talking about Open, as in Open Licensing, which is about access and terms of use We’re talking about Open Government Data, which incorporates these different kinds of open.
  7. 7. Open Gov Data Principles These are the primary aspects of Open Government Data. It means every bit of public data is available to everyone, regardless of intended use, without restrictions, in a way that it can be processed by machines. The basic reasoning is: we already paid for it through taxes, so it is our public data, and let’s put it to good use.
  8. 8. Public trumps all I said PUBLIC data, as anything that is about individual persons or of explicit national interest may be excluded. BUT, public data that is public by law does not know these privacy or national interest concerns. For instance that I am the one owning my house, and how much I paid for it, is publicly available, because the housing register is public information in the Netherlands. Open Data is by definition Public Data, but not all public data is already open data. Publicness is just one of the criteria.
  9. 9. Where are we? So where are we now when it comes to Open Data in the EU? Let’s have a look at what I see in the general community around open data. First of all there is a sense of urgency in the community. Lots of people have been waiting for gov to open up their data for a long time, and now that the first promising steps have been taken, impatience for more is growing. And it’s the law after all. Also it is increasingly hard to understand how there could be differences in what is open and not, now the floodgates have been opened. So momentum is really building. Above all, there is a whole range of questions and problems where open data could help citizens out in finding answers and a way forward.
  10. 10. Speed If you look at opinions in the community of where or how to start with opening up data you basically can see two camps. One camp argues for speed. Just get things going right now.
  11. 11. Caution The other camp, and government is mostly here, argues for some caution, out of desire to do everything ‘right’
  12. 12. The colour of ‘right’? The problem with that last thing is that the definition of ‘doing it right’ really depends on the group you talk to. Academics mean that everything has proper metadata and fits the semantic web standards and comes in neat RDF triples. Coders mean that everything is available as raw data, through API’s in the formats they happen to be using a lot currently Entrepreneurs mean it has a reliable license and there’s a guarantee of availability and continuity and a way to evaluate the quality of data. Government institutions mean they have political cover and won’t run into trouble doing it And individual citizens mean it’s free and properly described so they can figure out what to do with it, and have a way to see what’s not there. Because doing it right means all of these things, it’s better to just start with speed, and figure out how to do it right in all the different ways as you go along. There’s no way to reliably plan this anyway, as complexity theory tells us. We have to learn as we go along.
  13. 13. Consistent Gap You probably notice from your own context that people are generally not content with the current situation in open data. The interesting bit to me is that the perceived gap between what people want to have and what they see happening is a constant. In general in the Netherlands we look at the UK with envy as they have a great data catalogue. Within the UK everybody is still eager for much more, as they say it’s still only data that the UK chooses to release. I’ve heard the Netherlands praised as making great headway when it comes to legislation. But within the Netherlands we see that those laws and guidelines are hardly followed, and we perceive a big difference between the law and what gov is doing. Some, like the Dutch association of municipalities are to my eyes even actively resisting opening up, and fighting it each step of the way. So there seems to be a consistent gap, regardless of the progress made. Do not be discouraged. We are making progress, but at the same time all those steps are also increasing our appetite.
  14. 14. Stakeholders? It’s absolutely of critical importance to keep all stakeholder groups in mind, including government itself! don’t design openess with just one or a few in mind. It will help keep it simpler. Infrastructure isn’t build with user groups in mind. Infrastructure is dumb, its intelligence is at the boundaries. Treat open data as infrastructure, as a general resource, as dumb. Just put it out there.
  15. 15. Stakeholders • Private citizens • Activists • Coders • Entrepreneurs • NGO’s • Academics • Civil Servants • Gov Institutions Taking into account all stakeholders is key. Or you will completely largely miss all the value open data generates. If you think only in terms of companies and economic value, you will never notice that Tine Möllers friends are now able to leave their homes and can find a toilet, participating in society again. If you think only in terms of transparency you will never notice the number of lives Richard saves due to Open Data in his work as fireman. Or the way Dirk makes his government institution be more effective as well as efficient. If you only think in terms of cool apps for your smart phone you will not notice the higher quality of decisions Danish home-owners can take regarding their energy use. Saving money as well as the planet.
  16. 16. Applications? The same goes for areas of application. Don’t as a government try to second guess what are useful applications and select data to open based on that. There is no way to predict this. Look at the apps available for smartphones. No one would have guessed a few years back. Just put it out there. As a platform for others to build on, as infrastructure. You will like some apps, you will hate some others. So will I. But it’s not up to you or me.
  17. 17. Fields of application • Participation / empowerment • Transparency, democratic control • Better (gov) products and services • New (gov) products and services • Impact measurement • Gov Efficiency and Effectivity • New knowledge / real innovation Here’s just a small list of areas where open data is already creating value.
  18. 18. Corporates Also realize that government open data has impact in the corporate world. Open government data may actually be a way of stimulating corporations to do the same with their data. The Dutch initiative ‘See if it checks out’ gives insight in the origin and ingredients of food products. It turns out that parties like Unilever, large farmer associations, and large super market chains are actually willing to open up their data for this. Because transparency and corporate social responsibility is a competitive edge to them. This may in turn contribute to policy goals of governments when it comes to sustainability.
  19. 19. Innovation Starts in Unlikely Places It is easy to simply apply Open Data merely to what we already know. But I am sure most value will be in doing new things. We need a very good antenna for new things happening, to demonstrate the value of Open Data. Innovation theory tells us that innovation, disruptive innovation will not likely be coming from incumbent structures or organisations. Nobody thought Google or Apple were worth anything when they were still working out of their garage. It’s easy to see NOW that they create value. But not back then. So looking in the usual places will only show you how existing things may be done differently with some open data, and the relative value generated by that. We need to be aware of the unusual places and vigorously collect examples and stories.
  20. 20. Can you be Dr Snow? The same goes for new knowledge gained. If we try to guess what data to open up, we are overlooking the high likelihood that new knowledge will be mostly found in combining the unexpected. This is where semantic web or linked data will make its greatest contribution I think. By allowing us all to become Dr. Snow. He was a doctor in London during a 19th century Cholera epidemic. He took the addresses of those who died. And he took the locations of water sources. And mapped them together, seeing that most deaths were around one single water well. Which turned out to be polluted with sewage. It is how we know that it is bad water that carries these diseases. And why London started building huge sewage systems after Dr Snow made this one little map.
  21. 21. What Gov must, what it may So why aren’t we there yet? If the value is so obvious. We have the European PSI Directive which is translated into law in all Member States. That law basically says that everything needs to be opened up, and that if gov is not doing that pro- actively citizens can ask for it anyway. It is the law. A consistent source of irritation however is the low general awareness within government institutions about the current state of the law concerning open PSI and data. This leads to confusion and general unpredictability for citizens. Because it seems every institution, and each civil servant is making up their own mind when confronted with a request for information. So we see data sources in arbitrary formats We see arbitrary costs being charged We see data being withheld on privacy grounds, when personal information is not involved We see downloading of already public information being actively blocked We see the demand to state your interest Or we’re told that we’re not skilled enough to deal with the information (by statistical offices mainly) Or to register before you can get at the information. Or cease and desist letters from Belgian state railway for even linking to their website! In general, where there is no clear political incentive (like there is in the UK), we find there is no clear picture of whether you can actually get at data, or will be allowed to get it. Regardless of the law.
  22. 22. Basic Things Unknown Even simple things are completely unknown sometimes. My basic test for this is sending documents in Open Document Format. Accepting Open Standards have been mandatory since 2008 in the Netherlands I have yet to find one single Dutch government employee who is actually able to open ODF files. And found only a handful that knew they should be able to open them.
  23. 23. Distrust of Level of Knowledge This leads to general distrust of the level of knowledge within government to actually do opening data up ‘right’. In the picture it actually says ‘Knowledge’ if you know how to read street tags. Which I don’t. The technology people seem to be used to complicated ICT projects, and have grown unable to deal with making things simple. Like creating new standards where there are already enough of them. Like wanting to build their own webservices and not releasing the data itself. Like wanting to build huge portals where a simple list of sources is more than enough Non-techies seem to know too little about technology to be able to foresee the consequences of their choices. Like deciding doing everything in PDF, as that is an open standard after all. Or they have no notion what reuse actually is. All of these issues have relatively simple answers. If government would talk to somebody else outside or inside government first. You simply need to ask the right people. Like you gathered in Graz today.
  24. 24. So we aren’t there yet. Not by a long shot. The gates have opened, and it will be increasingly difficult for anyone to close them again. Chris Taggart, when we met in Madrid said it this way. Open Data is such a no-brainer that the burden of evidence should be on those who think it’s a bad idea to do. But we’re not at that point yet. More active work is needed.
  25. 25. We need to act. As individual citizens, to make sure government lives up to our expectations. And we need to start in our own spheres of influence.
  26. 26. EC: “Demand your data” By demanding our data. You have the backing of the European Commision. In the picture Javier Hernandez Ros of the Commission, at a conference in Copenhagen said that if your government isn’t doing enough, go out and demand your data. It is your right. It is the law.
  27. 27. Involve Civil Servants But don’t see it as US against THEM. Civil servants are citizens too, and I have yet to meet one that does not have a passion for public service, even if that is well hidden. So involve civil servants. Find the ones that care about open government data, and connect them together. The screenshot is of a Dutch community of over 4000 civil servants, called Civil Servant2.0, of which I am one of the board members. The community is all about using open data, social media, new work methods to improve government.
  28. 28. Sharing Stories Share your stories. Make what you know and see visible. Share examples. It will help others see the potential, and see the value. It will help others to become active. Including your government. Make it visible that your government is being out-competed by their fellow governments in the EU. The German government in their recent e-gov strategy wrote they see the UK and US action on open data as a competitive threat to the German economy.
  29. 29. Co-create the Path But most of all: All the mentioned issues actually become easier to deal with if you let yourself into dialogue with the wider community and government. We are all new at this basically. We are all learning. So let’s co-create the path. It will help with all issues mentioned. Spend time stimulating the wider open data community in your respective communities. With all stakeholders. Especially if your government has not taken many steps to open up PSI yet. I’m happy to tell you how to go about that, but it will take some more time than the 20 mins given me.
  30. 30. Make Demands of Ourselves And also make demands of people in the community. We as citizens need to be useful partners in dialogue for government as well. We need to learn to talk to government as well. This picture is from a conference last year in Copenhagen.......
  31. 31. Optimistic Radical Coming to conclusion. In the past 2 years I have become much more of a radical when it comes to Open Data. Less patient, less understanding of certain government people unwilling to get moving, less forgiving of obstruction. But I have also become much more optimistic. Good things are happening. The likes of Tine, Richard, Dirk and Rudi I introduced at the start proof that. And every government body I ever dealt with contains passionate people who do see the value in open data, and it’s a pleasure to work with them. So I confess I’m a radical, but a very optimistic one. Thank you for your time and attention.
  32. 32. knowledge work, learning, social media Credits All photos: Ton Zijlstra, by nc sa Except where mentioned on the photo. Slides: Blog: Contact: Skype: ton_zylstra