In a conference
room in Brussels a group of data fanatics have spent two days discussing
how governments could be encouraged to make more data available to their
citizens, what technologies might be appropriate for the purpose and what uses the data might serve to those citizens when they get it.
These are important
questions to answer because it is widely accepted that making good quality
public data available can reduce corruption, and contribute to a greater level
of accountability and transparency in policy making.
Amongst the sixty or so attendees at the event organised by Phil Archer (from the W3C) were Franco Accordino, (Head of the European
Commission's Task Force Digital Futures), Andrew Stott, (Public Sector
Transparency Board, former UK Government Director of Transparency & Digital
Engagement) and numerous academics and experts in
The vision, which
largely united rather than divided those at the event is one of a world where
people have better, quicker, more efficient access to government information,
which allows them to hold their representatives to account and generally
improve the way they connect with and consume public services.
This might mean better
ways of to track a policy decision that effects your child’s school or data
that enables you to find out which of allotments in your area have the shortest
This availability of
data is also seen to be a major potential contributor to new ways of designing
policy, which is something that very much fits with the EU’s Digital Futures project
It’s worth mentioning
that there was an almost unanimous
recognition that the best way to make data really valuable was to used the
linked data model. There was a particularly good session
from Tim Davies on open data and engagement which described the five stars of working with linked data.
While there was
widespread agreement on the technologies and the general idea that great things
could come from making data available, a number of people agreed with Vagner
Diniz, who expressed concern that governments with scarce resources were
incurring expense to release data without knowing whether it would be of use to
In fact the imbalance
between the huge amount of data available and the relatively low level of
perceived demand for the services powered by it was something of a recurring
theme. That said, there were some interesting success stories, including an
excellent example of how the availability of market prices data via mobile phone was improving the lives of rural African farmers.
business case from a financial point of view, both for the public bodies
investing in the infrastructures needed to make the data available and for
non-governmental operators looking for commercial opportunities, is that
considerable efficiencies can be found when people, both within organisations
and outside them, don’t struggle to get the information they need.
That might not have
quite the same ring of being a brave new world of transparent policy making for
nations of “smart cities” and towns whose citizens’ lives will be made easier by good quality, timely data at their fingertips, but it might be
enough to get the ball rolling.
transparency campaigners are putting governments willingness to release data high on their check-list when judging a country's openness. Many governments and government
institutions see enough benefits in terms of efficiency to invest in this area and inspiring web developers to have fun with the data available producing apps at Hackathons.
For take up of the
services for the population at large to become widespread though, there is a need for more products that
are more directly focussed on solving real world problems and meeting user
Overall the two day event was an excellent opportunity to discuss the current state of play regarding open government data. This is an area that is getting a lot of attention
and I’d recommend that anyone who’s interested looks through the agenda and reads
some of the papers (all of which are around 2 pages long).
The hashtag for the event was #pmod
Here's a small selection of tweets: