knowledge work, learning, social media
A Community Perspective
PSI Group Meeting
Luxembourg, June 24th 2010
OKFN EU Open Data
OurData.eu ePSI platform
Dutch Min f t Interior Danish ITST
Enschede Open Data Scraping
semantic web academics,
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share some thoughts with you.
But ﬁrst let me explain a bit where my thoughts come from
I am active in Open Data / Open PSI on the European level, as well as the national and local
levels. I started the monthly EU open data conference calls, that turned into the OKFN EU
Open Data Workgroup, as well as ourdata.eu a site collecting examples of reuse and of
promoting reuse within the EU, and starting in August I will join the ePSI platform team as a
In the Netherlands and in Denmark I have worked and am working with national government
institutions to help promote open PSI and its reuse.
And locally in my own town I try to work with others in opening up PSI. Also I indulge in some
data scraping myself every now and then.
All in all on a regular basis I am in touch with all the groups you see on the right hand side.
I don’t have a speciﬁc agenda, except the general notion that open psi is a tremendous
resource for all of us. I speak the language of all these groups, and that makes me a natural
connector in the overall network and community it seems.
Sense of Urgency
So let’s have a look at what I see in the general community around open psi.
First of all there is a sense of urgency in the community. Lots of people have been waiting for
gov to open up their PSI 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 psi could help
citizens out in ﬁnding answers and a way forward.
If you look at opinions in the community of where or how to start with opening up PSI you
basically can see two camps. One camp argues for speed. Just get things going right now.
The other camp argues for some caution, out of desire to do everything ‘right’
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
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.
You probably notice from your own national context that people are generally not content
with the current situation in open psi. 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. You and we are making progress, but at the same time all those steps are also
increasing our appetite.
It’s important to keep all stakeholder groups in mind, including yourself!
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 PSI as infrastructure, as a general resource, as dumb.
Just put it out there.
The same goes for areas of application.
Don’t try to second guess what are useful applications and select PSI to open based on that.
There is no way to predict this. Look at the apps available for smartphones. No one would
Just put it out there.
You will like some apps, you will hate some others.
But it’s not up to you or me.
What you must, what you may
A consistent source of irritation is the low general awareness within government institutions
about the current state of the law concerning open PSI.
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 PSI being withheld on privacy grounds, when personal information is not involved
We see downloading 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
Or to register before you can get at the information. (we’d be happy to register for a
conversation, but not for 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 PSI, or will be allowed to get it. Regardless
of the law.
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.
Distrust of Level of Knowledge
This is another big concern within the community.
We generally distrust the level of knowledge within government to actually do opening PSI up
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 you would talk to somebody outside
Business Case / Measurement
It’s been already been mentioned at the start of the day. How to make the case for the value
of open PSI?
To my mind there is no up front general business case to be made for PSI.
Also business cases are often used to derail initiatives. In government and corporations alike.
We probably need some new forms of measurement
Also because it is likely that the problem for showing value is not speciﬁc to open PSI, but to
digitalization in general.
There is however a lot of other things you can do to show and measure the value of open PSI.
Innovation Starts in Unlikely Places
One of them is having a very good antenna for new things happening.
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 PSI, and the relative value generated by that.
Having a good antenna for new things happening will not yield a big measurement in Euro
initially, but it will show you the number of new things, and the variety of ﬁelds of
So vigorously collect examples and stories.
Value is in
Value is also to be found in lots of individual stories.
Like Tine Möller of Denmark, who made the map of public toilets already mentioned. This
enables a certain group of people with bladder problems to become more mobile. They used
to stay at home because they didn’t know where to ﬁnd a toilet. So Tine Möller built this site.
Now they can go out again.
This is empowerment of a niche group. It is in those little niches that a lot of value can be
If you are able to spot it. If you make an effort to collect those stories
Stories are measurement too!
Collecting stories are a different form of measurement, but a very useful one.
Because collections of stories show you patterns. Those patterns show you value.
Value in Your Policy Goals
If you really do want a business case, build them around your very own policy goals, for each
Open PSI means a lot to your own efficiency and effectivity.
One Dutch municipality has employees that rather use the open psi and mashup available on
the outside, than their own mid-office systems.
The Dutch Ministry for Education sees the number of information requests drop since
opening up PSI. And the remaining questions are much easier to answer because relevant PSI
has become much easier to locate for themselves.
This example is a reuse of the Dutch list of monuments and historical sites. This improves
the general awareness of people about the historic value of their surroundings. It helps reach
a policy goal that way. The usual way would have been an ad campaign, but this is creating
more value in meaningful contexts.
Build your case around your own policy goals. What PSI do you need from other gov
institutions, how does opening your own PSI help you?
And then there are those who say asking for the business case is asking the wrong people
the wrong question.
Set ‘Good Practice’
What would help is making good practice for government more visible.
Communicate the Open Gov Data Principles
Communicate with datasets what the quality is, when and where it was generated, when the
next update is. Proclaimers in short as Kees already mentioned earlier.
Communicate it’s ok to start out without doing everything ‘right’, but show what is not
addressed yet. That way it will also lead to competition between government bodies. Like
we’ve seen in Canada.
Communicate what the rules actually are, and who gets to decide on the exceptions. So civil
servants don’t have to make those choices on their own all the time.
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 .
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 community in your respective countries. All stakeholders.
Especially if your country 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.
Make Demands of Us
And also make demands of us in the community.
We need to be useful partners in dialogue as well. We need to learn to talk to you as well.
This picture is from a conference last year in Copenhagen.......
Then there is some movement with corporations when it comes to opening up data.
Open PSI may actually be a way of stimulating corporations to do the same.
The 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 contribute to policy goals of governments when it comes to sustainability.
Coming to conclusion.
In the past 2 years I have become much more of a radical when it comes to Open PSI.
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. And every
government body I ever dealt with contains passionate people who do see the value in this,
and it’s a pleasure to work with them.
So I confess I’m a radical, but a very optimistic one.
knowledge work, learning, social media
All photos: Ton Zijlstra, by nc sa
Except where mentioned on the slide itself.