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‘En boca cerrada….’: open data in Catalunya today

Alejandro Ribo - July 4, 2012 in External, Featured, Open Government Data, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data

sagrada familia by Olia  Saunders (oliasaunders) on There is a popular expression in Spanish that says, ‘en boca cerrada no entran moscas.’ Its equivalent in English is ‘loose lips sink ships,’ basically meaning that you are better off just keeping quiet. This culture of secrecy, some would say discretion, is particularly true in Spain’s public administration, being traditionally pervasive at all levels. Information is too important a power resource to let go of easily. Yet, as in other countries, changes in the information environment brought about by the Internet are forcing authorities, though painfully slowly, to open their ‘papers’ – aka public sector information (PSI) – to the public . A key dimension of this opening is the publication of data by the government. In Spain, it is the regional governments, particularly Basque Country and Catalonia, that have been more emphatically pushing open data agenda.

In accordance with EU directive 2003/98/CE on the re-use of public sector information, Spain passed Law 37/2007 on 16 November 2007, but its implementation has been deficient and limited. In October 2011, the Spanish government adopted a Royal Decree implementing the Law 37/2007, taking into account the experiences and practices of its first years of application. This new regulation is an important shift in the principle of publication of public data in Spain, for it states that “data should be open and available by default and exceptions should be justified.” Spain opened its national open data portal at the end of 2011. And yet still Spain doesn’t have a coherent policy for opening data.

It is in some Spanish regions where we can find more advanced initiatives towards open and reuse of PSI. The Basque Country has been a pioneer in opening their data with the launch of the Euskadi’s OpenData portal in April 2010. In Catalonia, the Parliament passed the Law 29/2010 on the use of electronic means in the public sector, which promotes the use of these means throughout the entire public sector. In November 2010, the Generalitat (Catalan regional government) opened its own open data portal Dades Obertes. At local level, a few big cities have opened their own portals: Barcelona, Badalona and Lleida.

Out of all these initiatives it’s worth highlighting, for their quality and breadth, Generalitat’s Dades Obertes and the Barcelona open data portal. The Gencat Dades Obertes – published in Catalan, Spanish and English – puts together all the Catalan government’s open data initiatives into a single catalogue, and adds the most important information associated with them for reuse purposes. Data available on the site is very extensive and varied – including data on the 26,000 public facilities in Catalonia and 1,400 procedures handled in the Gencat’s offices -, and also includes lots of visual data – videos, images – and maps and other geographic data. This data is given in many different types of formats, and it’s available for reuse under four different licenses depending on its type and source, including two Creative Commons licenses. This portal also dedicates some space to feature applications made using the data available. Barcelona’s open data portal opened with 500 data sets classified in five broad themes – geography, demography, economy, city services and utilities, and administration – in various formats (csv, pdf, rdf, xls, xml and other). Licenses to reuse the data are mostly based on Creative Commons.

In Catalonia a culture of open information is slowly emerging. Yet it is not enough. First, like in the rest of Spain, “new” things happen only when they have been proved somewhere else. Second, the community of programmers in Catalonia, if such a thing can be said to exist, doesn’t seem to be interested in open data – or at least those that are interested seem to be few, not enough to push the open data into the political agenda with the same energy as in other countries. And third, the economic crisis, affecting particularly Spain and its regions, is certainly not facilitating the governments – national, regional or local – to implement policies to open public data.

In March 2012, the Spanish government introduced a bill on access to information, Ley de Transparencia, Acceso a la Información Pública y Buen Gobierno. In general terms, this bill lacks ambition and it’s very restrictive of the right to access to information, limiting it with a wide array of exceptions that go beyond accepted international standards. More specifically, concerning open data and electronic access to public sector information, this bill is just inadequate to regulate it and create a robust framework in which public, business and civic initiatives can flourish using the large amounts of data that governments produce. Leaving a fragmented regulation with the abovementioned Law 37/2007. Like other Spanish regions – notably Navarra, where an ambitious bill was introduced in January 2012 – the Catalan Parliament is currently discussing the writing of a bill to protect the right to access information of citizens and the publication of open data as emanating from this right. This bill is necessary for building a transparent, efficient and accountable government, and a society that can reutilize this data for emerging, new and creative applications. Nonetheless, according to some people familiar with the process of deliberation the bill being discussed is as lacking of ambition as the Spanish one. It seems that in Barcelona as in Madrid some people are very much afraid of losing their ships to the people’s rights.

On the way to the new market of information in Russia

Ivan Begtin - June 29, 2012 in External, Linked Open Data, Open Government Data, Open Standards, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data

On June 5th at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow a round table conference took place, devoted to the opening of state-collected datasets. It was convened by the Higher School of Economics (HSE) together with the Russian Office of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Open data is the new trend in the state practices of the developed countries, and Russia also acknowledges the importance of this trend. The Presidential Decree of May 7th 2012, “About key measures for the improvement of the state governmental system” states that it is important to publish open government data by July 15th, 2013.

Oleg Pak, from the Ministry of Economic Development, told the round-table that his department is currently developing the standards and the concept of open data in Russia. Within the framework of this concept, they will develop a comprehensive strategy for open data usage in Russia. This concept should become a roadmap for the work of all authorities engaged in the realization of this vision.

As a rule, the realization of national projects for open data has two goals. The first is socio-political – the State should open the data for its citizens. This goal can be easily achieved with the existing level of technology. The main issue at the discussion in June was the achievement of the second goal: the transformation of state data arrays into a product suitable for cost-effective use. This would allow businesses to form a new structure of services, and offer previously non-existent things on the market.

In many countries, this is already happening, as Victor Klintsov (W3C, HSE) pointed out. “The USA Administration has already published over a million data sets. This has been published not for “readers”, but for computers and services which use this data for development of new data, products and services”, he said. Pavel Pugachev (Ministry of Communications and Mass Communications) cited the example of an IT-company in the US. Its programmers use anonymised medical data about outbreaks and numbers of patients, process it and supply large pharmaceutical companies with the results. This allows those companies to develop their demand and supply tactics. Pugachev suggested we ought to determine the open data priorities according to which data types will be most interesting to the market, and concentrate our efforts on opening them first and foremost.

A key issue in the data that is being opened in Russia is that of interoperability. Releases so far have been based on the idea of human consumption – it is largely unsuitable for computer “consumption”, being unmatched and in different formats. This massively limits its business potential. Meanwhile, in Moscow alone there are 4,000 portals state-owned portals and organizations without consistent principles of data delivery. Common publishing standards need to be established as a matter of priority.

Nonetheless, as Daniel Hladky (W3C) pointed out, we cannot simply wait for the development of all the regulations that will allow perfect publication: “Publish, what you have. As you can and by any means. Good or bad, with mistakes, unattractively, even if 90% of this data will be badly structured. Maybe it lacks metadata. I would like to say that it is necessary to pick up speed. If 5% of the information is useful, it will be a start and a push for the development of business”. In developed countries the open data market started not from acts of government, but from the activity of individuals who collected information and published it on their portals, bringing it up to a machine-processable state.

This opinion was supported by Maksim Dubinin (OpenStreetMap, GIS-Lab projects): “The community of users and the culture of usage will not appear until open data is presented in large enough quantities”. He shared his experience in the area of geodata. “When it became clear that it was impossible to wait for governmental steps in this field, projects started to appear in which users contributed geodata by themselves. Over 600,000 people around the world have taken part in the OpenStreetMap project. As a result, some governmental organizations have started using data created by users.”

Undoubtedly, this needs to come from both ends at once.

Progress with Russian open data projects will be presented by Daniel Hladky during the European commission workshop Using Open Data: policy modeling, citizen empowerment, data journalism, which is going to take place in Brussels this week.

Victor Klintsov promised that the next meeting of the round table participants will be held this autumn. W3C office is planning to invite the leaders of open data projects from the USA and Great Britain.

The shorthand transcript and presentation graphics of the round table conference will be published on the site of W3C Russian office

Taking “utmost transparency” to the next level – at4am for all!

Erik Josefsson - June 27, 2012 in Free Culture, Legal, Open Government Data, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data

What? When?? Where??? How?!?! were the questions that got me started some 10 years ago now, on my free software journey that’s taken me to the heart of the European Parliament. As a young Swedish musician, politically innocent and ignorant as the next, I got worked up together with a bunch of newborn stallmanites unleashing ourselves on the internet determined to kill the software patents directive. There was a lot of code. I remember Xavi rewrote the EU’s co-decision procedure algorithm in java to be able to understand it, and that our content management system said ‘Cannot parse this Directive’ instead of returning 404. The tracking of MEPs was managed by Knecht, an email driven content management program written in lisp (insert awe comment here), and I cannot remember the number of different perl scripts that were playing around with voting results. It all ended happily (we won), and I still say “Can I have a B-item please!” whenever I get to go for drink with Miernik or Jonas.

You might think things would be different when you’re on the inside. I have been working in the European Parliament since the last elections, but it turns out at least three of the questions are still the same – What? When?? Where??? One administrative response from the institution is to serve the MEPs and their staff with iPads and intranet pages. Users of iPads and intranet are happy. But I am not. I have decided with a bunch of old stubborn stallmanites to try to use free software in the European Parliament as far as humanly possible. And we do. And it is (partially) possible. We put up a sign at FOSDEM in February last year calling for help and now we are 2 patrons, 13 members and 29 supporters. You can find info on how to become a supporter or a member (or even patron) of European Parliament Free Software Users Group (EPFSUG) here.

Another administrative answer by the institution to the questions above has been to build an Automatic Tool for AMendments, at4am. If ever I can nominate anybody to the Nobel Peace Prize, it would be the at4am developers team who have made this brilliant application possible. They have succeeded in making independent and competing committees in the European Parliament cooperate to provide information on their internal workings that can be parsed into a unified way of tabling amendments. It’s huge. Imagine a world without git (or anything like it) and then there is git – that is how epic this application is. More than 150k amendments has been tabled since its launch. I’d say that the same number of tears and curses have been saved.

Now, to close this already long, bushy and wild blog post with the reason for it in the first place: The at4am team has decided to share the code with the world, and on Wednesday 11 July we’re going to talk about which license would be best to use. The event is kindly hosted by MEP Marie-Christine Vergiat, and Carlo Piana and Karsten Gerloff from Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) are going to speak. Please come! A follow up meeting should of course focus on how to get the data out of the EP intranet and which licence would then be the best to use.

Why? Because the question “How?!?!” actually has an answer already. Rule 103 of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament reads as follows:

Transparency of Parliament’s activities

  1. Parliament shall ensure that its activities are conducted with the utmost transparency, in accordance with the second paragraph of Article 1 of the Treaty on European Union, Article 15 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and Article 42 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

That’s a pretty serious standard. Come join to give it meaning! Let’s figure out how to make utmost transparency work in practice.

International Open Legislative Data Conference, July 6-7, Paris!

Regards Citoyens - June 25, 2012 in Events, Legal, Open Government Data, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data

While the newly elected French National Assembly gets ready to choose its president, the question of its modernisation keeps arising. From the academic research world to the hacktivist perspective, parliamentary monitoring and studies are flourishing in France and all over the world. Methods and techniques may differ, but all share one common need: larger transparency regarding parliamentary activity, meaning raw OpenData access to legislative data.

That is the core of the international Open Legislative Data Conference we are organising in Paris on July 6th and 7th together with our academic partners at Sciences-Po, for our project “The Law Factory”. With speakers coming from all over the world, this two-day event will be an opportunity to discuss all kinds of experiences within the field of parliamentary informatics: law tracking, parliamentary monitoring, citizen involvement, rollcall vote analysis and accountability, the study of speeches, and of course raw access to bulk data from parliaments around the world.

On Friday the 6th, the conference will start at Sciences-Po, with a plenary session in the morning introducing various ongoing projects including “The Law Factory” initiated by the conference organizers, and the work on a future “Declaration for Parliamentary Openness”. About 30 different speakers will then present, including Bruno Latour (Sciences-Po’s Medialab), Daniel Schuman (Sunlight Foundation), Claire-Emmanuelle Longuet (French Senate), Tom Steinberg (mySociety), Maria Baron (Latin America Network for Legislative Transparency), Ashok Hariharan (UN’s AkomaNToso project), and many others.

In the afternoon, six working sessions will be held in 3 parallel workshops on the different themes so that participants can share and exchange after a few introductory talks. On Saturday the 7th of July, “La Cantine”, a co-working space used for hosting hackathons and barcamps, will host informal sessions and discussions to enhance cooperation.

Gathering together people from very different horizons, this English-speaking conference is open to anyone: Join us and register! Read the full programme

Denmark drops reform of EU access to documents rules as disagreements prove insurmountable

Pam Bartlett - June 20, 2012 in News, Open Access, Open Government Data, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data

The Danish Presidency of the Council of the EU yesterday gave up on trying to reach an agreement between the European Commission, the Parliament and the Member States on reform of the rules that govern public access to EU documents.

With the European Parliament standing firmly in favour of greater transparency for citizens, and the European Commission pressing for amendments to the Regulation that would exclude entire classes of information or narrow the definition of a document, the process hinged on an agreement between the 27 Member States meeting in the Council.

But divisions between the Member States were so acute that the Danish Presidency has abandoned the file after six months of intense negotiations. The public is not allowed access to the positions of each individual Member State in the Council (a practice being challenged by Access Info Europe before the European Court of Justice), but government and Council sources involved in the negotiations report that a majority of Member States – particularly large countries including France and Germany – either support the Commission’s approach or have been proposing further transparency-reducing amendments.

With the key players in polarised positions, it was clear that the current version of Regulation 1049/2001 is of a higher standard and that the compromise necessary to reach an agreement required sacrifices, which neither the European Parliament nor the Danish Presidency are willing to allow – see the comparison between 1049 and the other proposals here.

The collapse of the negotiations on reform Regulation 1049 means that the existing rules will stay in place, but it leaves two outstanding issues.

The first is whether some reforms are needed to comply with the Treaty of Lisbon, which obliges the EU institutions to take decisions “as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen” and which requires a transparent legislative process. The European Charter of Fundamental Rights also now recognises the right of access to EU documents “whatever their medium”, as a fundamental human right. At the very least the Treaties extend the scope of the right of access to all EU bodies and it is not clear whether this requires a legislative amendment to do away with current discrepancies such as different time frames for different EU bodies.

The second undecided issue is the Commission’s 2008 reform proposal, which remains open for any Member State to pick up again once they reach the Council Presidency. Access Info Europe is concerned at this “loose end” which leaves room for less transparency-friendly countries to push through regressive reforms if the Commission does not withdraw the file.

Will technology boost the fight against corruption in the Post-Soviet region?

Karolis Granickas - March 22, 2012 in Events, External, Open Government Data, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data

Having come across the recent UNDP study on the role of social media for enhancing public transparency and accountability in Eastern Europe (download here), one cannot help feeling optimistic about the potential to raise the level of civic empowerment and to fight corruption in the post-Soviet countries.

Looks like the Transparency Works event jointly organized by the Sunlight Foundation and Transparency International comes at the right time in the right place. The first ever in Lithuania transparency camp-like event will take place on 29 – 30 March in Vilnius.

Why Lithuania, the country which is considered to be among anti-corruption champions in the post-Soviet region but at the same time is only an average performer on the global scale (ranked 50th with the score of 4.8 at the Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International)?

The abovementioned UNDP study came up with a number of interesting and somewhat rationalizing figures.

Figure 1. The more people have access to Internet in a particular country, the less corrupt that country is perceived to be.

Lithuania is among the leading countries in the world in terms of the Internet usage. It is leading in deploying fiber-optic Internet access (FTTH) technologies with the fastest rate in Europe and sixth on the global ranking. Around 70% of the households have Internet connection. Evidently, the high levels of Internet penetration did not massively help with Corruption Perception. There is clear potential to better use the information and communication technologies to increase the public transparency and encourage e-participation in the country.

Figure 2. The higher the country’s e-government index, the less corrupt that country is perceived to be.

Lithuania is ranked 29th in the UN e-government survey 2012 – one position lower than in 2010. The main aspect pulling the score down is the fact that only a small number of citizens use e-services. While one can argue about whether demand or supply should come first, an open government that is willing to increase public transparency ideally should do more to pro-actively promote e-services.

Figure 3. The better the advocacy capacity of NGOs are in the country, the less corrupt that country is perceived to be.

The ability to distinguish between objective data and speculative information on mainstream commercial TV, radio and newspapers can significantly improve the corruption perception index. Therefore, the information collected by the civil society should be available to the wider population.

So, what do these figures suggest? There is not a lot of room to improve the Internet penetration in Lithuania and the region. However, a lot can be done with educating the government and the society about the benefits of e-participation. While the ideas of open government data (OGD) and e-democracy have gained momentum in most developed countries, the expansion of the movement to the post-Soviet space has been slow and fragmented.

Why is it important that e-democracy becomes topical in the region? Freely accessible data is becoming a must for transparent and accountable states and their institutions. Data presentation online is inherent to its publicity. It is important to identify the local communities that can constantly come up with ideas on how to achieve greater government transparency and increase civic participation in public decision-making. Such multi-stakeholder communities could more than ever contribute to a further democratization of the post-Soviet region.

The Transparency Works event will for the first time in Lithuania bring together international IT developers, think tanks and civil society actors, online marketing specialists, journalists, government officials, students, academics and others to share their experience and knowledge about how to use new technology to make the government really work for the people and contribute to greater transparency, accountability and citizen engagement in the region and beyond.

While a lot of events of this kind tend to be the place to hack and meet your fellow OGD geeks, the Transparency Works event will attempt to have the full palette of stakeholders present. Hopefully, this will serve as a qualitative attempt to spread the word about e-democracy and lay a fertile ground for open government data ideas to grow in Lithuania and the post-Soviet region.

The deadline for the registration for the Transparency Works event is 26th March at

Applying Austrian Open Data Experiences in the Czech Republic

Jindřich Mynarz - March 16, 2012 in Events, Featured, OK Austria, OKF Czech Republic, Open Government Data, Open Knowledge international Local Groups, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data

Open data in Austria enjoys support from various levels of the public administration, and as a result Austria is one step ahead of the Czech Republic. Last month, we held a seminar to learn from each other’s experiences.

Austrian initiatives promoting greater openness of government data, such as the Open Knowledge Forum Österreich, have managed to involve a wide array of stakeholders ranging from politicians to activists, and the country now hosts quite a number of related events, such as the Open Data & Business or the recently established Open Government Data Conference.

Still, is has to face the same challenges other countries encounter on their way to open up data. Given the Austrian headstart in open data activities compared to the ones in the Czech Republic, a seminar was held under the title “Open Data and Public Sector: applying Austrian experience in Czech Republic” so we could learn from Austrian practical experiences of taking first steps towards better availability of such public data.

Czech Republic and Austria

The seminar took place on February 28th, 2012, in the centre of Prague in the Chamber of Deputies, under the auspices of Jan Farský, a member of parliament. The main target group of the seminar consisted of Czech politicians and civil servants, who came to hear from their Austrian peers. The event was organized by together with OKFN-CZ and was supported by the LOD2 Project and Open Society Fund Prague.

The programme was opened by Jan Farský, who went through the reasoning that led him to support open data. This overview provided a perspective of a politician, who realized that the public sector is not able to make applications for citizens in a cost-efficient way. However, as various evidence suggests, it often suffices to provide the public sector data and the applications will follow, for free.

The main part of the seminar consisted of presentations by the Austrian guests. Martin Kaltenböck from the Semantic Web Company kicked off, introducing the key concepts of open data and how they are underlying the vision of open government. A perspective of the Austrian federal level was brought to the fore in the next talk by Daniel Medimorec from the Austrian Federal Chancellery, emphasizing the vast, yet not insurmountable challenges that governments decided to put open data principles into practice face. What followed was the talk discussing view of the city Linz by Stefan Pawel representing the Linz Open Commons initiative. Of the applications shown, the one that caught the most attention was probably Linz Linien, a visualization based on streaming open data showing Linz public transportation in real-time. The Austrian session was finished by Marco Schreuder, who shared his views as politician from the Green party.

To complement the Austrian side, the ongoing open data activities in the Czech Republic were presented. First, Jakub Mráček from the Open Society Fund Prague announced the publication of Open data in the public sector: new era of decision making (in Czech), and provided information about the recently launched portal Náš stá, that offers a guide to the Czech projects and applications that build upon public sector data. Jan Kučera from the University of Economics, Prague, presented the as-yet unofficial Data catalogue of Czech Republic.

The session was dedicated to open data business cases, that were “commissioned” by Jan Farský to provide him with strong arguments in favour of open data. For instance, a case for a price map of cycle paths or an application showing time slices through the legislation in force were suggested. In the final part of the seminar, three applications using Czech public sector data were demonstrated by their authors. This showcase featured Budování státu visualizing government spending, Váš majetek aggregating notices about auctions of public property, and Map of Public Contracts that explores the public contracts that were tailored to the suppliers.

Not only did the seminar provide a chance to learn from the Austrian experiences and to follow their lead in the Czech Republic, it also served as a meeting opportunity for the representatives of Open Knowledge Foundation’s local chapters, as the members of Czech, Austrian, and Italians chapters were present. Hopefully, it resulted in a useful knowledge sharing about overcoming the initial difficulties when starting with open data in the public sector.

To find out more about the seminar, please see its website. The slides and the links to the applications that were presented can be found there.

Community Note: The Czech Republic hosts one of our incubating OKFN:LOCAL groups and its organisers have held several regional open knowledge meetups in Prague to date. They are currently looking for more collaborators to join the community – introduce yourself on the OKFN CZ discussion list to get involved.

Footnote: All photos accompanying this blog post were kindly provided by Martin Kaltenböck under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Austria License.

Does Switzerland have no need for Open Government Data?

Kat Braybrooke - March 2, 2012 in Featured, OK Switzerland, Open Government Data, Open Knowledge international Local Groups, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data

Switzerland is one of our incubating OKFN:LOCAL chapters in its last stage before full incorporation. Its core group of organisers, a talented collaboration from Geneva and Zürich who also founded http://OpenData.CH, are planning an Open Data Conference in Zürich on June 28th. Here’s a hello from Hannes Gassert and Andreas Amsler regarding the state of things in Switzerland, and why they believe their nation still needs more open data.

Switzerland is often cited as a model democracy. It does indeed have one of the most participatory systems, but, most notably, doesn’t have any Open Government Data policy to speak of. Why is that? Will it change? Let’s take a look.

It all seems rather obvious: in a small country where knowledge is the only resource to work with, opening public sector information as a commons for everybody clearly is sensible policy. And of course direct democracy is only as good as the information we have on the implementation of our common decisions, for adequate participation we clearly need adequate transparency. Obviously. Still, that is not what we practice in Switzerland today.

Sure, we do value privacy here – but privacy is for people, not bureaucracies. Sure, we have a system built for the long-term, for well-balanced compromise, not one for jumping the bandwagon for the latest fad or for grandiose initiatives by splendid spendthrift presidents – but can making data accessible be anything but decent, reasonable and neutral? And yes, sure, information technology moves fast and we prefer things to go rather slow and steady, but wasn’t the Web invented here, aren’t the worlds biggest IT corporations doing research on the shores of our lovely lakes, shouldn’t we move now?

Well, perhaps -and without cynicism- we just want to do things right. We want a clear plan, proven benefits, no experiments, no innovation for the sake of it. Maybe things just take more time in Switzerland, more time to come out not as an experiment, not in beta, but authoritative and reliable as our proverbial Swiss watches.

Somebody though has to take the risk of proposing and trying out new things, of going there and see what happens, of talking to people about things that might actually just work. For Open Government Data in Switzerland that role is taken by, a small band of entrepreneurs, activists, civil servants and journalists about to join the Open Knowledge Foundation as their new Swiss Chapter.

Over the last two years they have been building awareness, alliances and considerable political clout, resulting in a number of parliamentary inquiries as well as a significant number of well-attended local events, from developers to designers, from policy makers to business leaders:

  • In June 2011 the first conference took place at the Federal Archives, already attracted 150 participants, including some senior public officials
  • In September 2011 the first hackdays drew a crowd of 120 innovators, hackers and makers to venues in Lausanne and Zürich, resulting in stunning projects such as a visualization of sites contaminated by the Swiss army, tag clouds of all speeches in parliament and a “where did my taxes go” tool for Zürich, kindly supported by eZürich.
  • January 2012 saw the launch of a first broad study of the actual potential of Open Government Data in Switzerland, lead by the Bern University of Applied Science.

These grass-roots efforts were complemented by policy work on the federal level:

Further events are planned, hackdays on open transportation data (30/31 March 2012), open health data (fall 2012) as well as the second edition of the big conference in June 2012 in Zürich, has all the latest updates.

Taking a step back from all the successful events, from all the good news surrounding manifestos and motions and the slow official response, we Swiss seem to stand at a crucial point in the journey to upgrade our famed political system. Leveraging information technology to increase both transparency and ensure the highly participatory nature of our political setup can make all the difference in making sure that our direct democracy remains sustainable, adapting constantly to the changes in society and technology.

If we manage to do that in the months and years to come, using our political system so well geared toward sustainable solutions and abhorring quick shots from the hip, and implement sensible PSI policies we might well reap the ample fruits of a renewed “direct data democracy”.

But in the meantime will continue to convince public servants and policy makers one by one – with both arguments and apps. What would you do in our place?

Announcing the Open Data Handbook version 1.0

Laura Newman - February 22, 2012 in Open Data Handbook, Open Government Data, Our Work, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data

The Open Knowledge Foundation are proud to announce the launch of version 1.0 of the Open Data Handbook (formerly the Open Data Manual):

Read the Open Data Handbook now! »

Old books

The Handbook discusses the ‘why, what and how’ of open data – why to go open, what open is, how to make data open and how to do useful things with it.

Read on to find out more about what’s in the Handbook, who it’s for, and how you can get involved – for example by adding to and improving the Handbook, or by translating it into more languages.

What is the Open Data Handbook?

The Open Data Handbook is a valuable resource for everyone interested in open data. It covers many types of data, but its particular focus is open government data.

The Open Data Handbook is targeted towards a broad audience. It contains useful information for civil servants, journalists, activists, developers, researchers – basically, for anyone with an interest in open data!

From a basic introduction of the ‘what and why’ of open data, the Handbook goes on to discuss the practicalities of making data open – the ‘how’. It gives advice on everything from choosing a file format and applying a license, to motivating the community and telling the world. Clear explanations, illustrative examples and technical recommendations make the Handbook suitable for people with all levels of experience, from the absolute beginner to the seasoned open data professional.

The Handbook is divided into short chapters which cover individual aspects of open data. It can be read in a single sitting, or dipped into as a reference work.

Finally, the Handbook is intended to be an organic project. It has been dubbed v1.0 for a reason – we hope that there are many more versions to come! We welcome feedback and suggestions; more on this below.

Where did it come from?

The Open Data Handbook began life as the ‘Open Data Manual’. The initial text was written at a book sprint in Berlin in October 2010. The sprint was organized by members of the Open Government Data and Open Data in the EU working groups at the Open Knowledge Foundation.

Since then, a wide group of editors and contributors have added to and refined the original material, to create the Handbook you see today.

What next?

The vision is to create a series of open-source Handbooks and Guides, which offer advice on different aspects of open data. This project has already been started. So far, we have:

We hope to expand this list and to add further titles over time.

Work to translate the Open Data Handbook into many more languages has already begun, and special thanks are due to everyone who has already contributed. However, more translators are needed! You can watch the progress of the translations on Transifex. See below for details of how to contribute.

We are also aware of the need to tailor general advice about open government data to the legislative frameworks and requirements of different countries. If you would like to be involved in writing a country specific adaptation of the Open Data Handbook, please do get in touch via the mailing list.

Get involved!

The Open Data Handbook v1.0 represents the culmination of more than a year’s work – but the challenge isn’t over yet!

We need now need your input in order to:

  • Translate the text into more languages! We use Transifex to manage translations; see the instructions on our wiki for information about how to get started
  • Point out corrections and suggestions for improvement on our issue tracker or by emailing opendatahandbook[@]
  • Contribute to the next version of the Open Data Handbook – join the mailing list and share your ideas!
  • Donate! We are committed to keeping the Open Data Handbook entirely free, and all contributions to enable this are gratefully received. Please follow the button below:




COMMUNIA’s response to the proposed amendments to PSI Directive

Theodora Middleton - February 2, 2012 in Open GLAM, WG EU Open Data

The following guest post is by Timothy Vollmer, policy coordinator at Creative Commons. It has been adapted from his post on the same subject over on the COMMUNIA International Association blog. Creative Commons and the Open Knowledge Foundation are institutional members of COMMUNIA. The mission of COMMUNIA is to educate about, advocate for, offer expertise and research about the public domain in the digital age within society and with policymakers.

The European Commission Public Sector Information Directive, which describes the conditions under which European public sector information (PSI) should be made available for reuse by the public, has been in place since 2003. PSI ranges from digital maps to weather data to traffic statistics, and there’s a lot of potential value in making PSI available for reuse for commercial and non-commercial purposes – up to €140bn. The EC says that increasing the reuse of PSI can generate new businesses and jobs – and to this end is planning to update its nine-year-old Directive. COMMUNIA International Association last week released a short policy document in reaction to the to the European Commission’s (EC) proposals, which the OKF’s Daniel Dietrich presented at the LAPSI conference in Brussells to a positive and interested audience.

To give a bit of background: in December 2011 the EC published a proposal to update the PSI Directive. The Open Knowledge Foundation already covered the basics of the Commission announcement. The COMMUNIA document draws attention to two areas where these proposals still need improvement: firstly regarding the conditions for re-use of public sector information that falls within the scope of the Directive; and secondly regarding public domain content that is held by libraries, museums and archives.

Conditions for re-use of public sector information


From the perspective of COMMUNIA, the way the amended Directive addresses licensing of public sector content remains underdeveloped and as such has the potential to create diverging and potentially incompatible implementations among the Member states. The article of the amended Directive dealing with licensing mentions “standard licenses,” but does not sufficiently clarify what should be considered to be a standard license, and encourages the development of open government licenses. Instead of recommending the use and creation of more licenses, COMMUNIA suggests that the Commission should consider advocating the use of a single open license that can be applied across the entire European Union. Such licenses (stewarded by the Open Knowledge Foundation and Creative Commons) already exist and are widely used by a broad spectrum of data and content providers.

Public Domain Content held by libraries, museums and archives


COMMUNIA is supportive of the Commission’s suggested change to include cultural heritage institutions into the scope of the amended Directive. Access to and re-use of PSI has been one of the issues that has featured prominently in the work of COMMUNIA. For instance, the EC’s amendments to the Directive are aligned with COMMUNIA’s January 2011 policy recommendation #13, which states, “The PSI Directive needs to be broadened, by increasing its scope to include publicly funded memory organisations – such as museums or galleries – and strengthened by mandating that Public Sector Information will be made freely available for all to use and re-use without restriction.”

The South Prospect of the Cathedral of St. Pauls / nationale de France / Public Domain

Including such content under the purview of the Directive will improve citizens’ access to our shared knowledge and culture and should increase the amount of digitized cultural heritage that is available online. But, while the amended Directive makes it clear that documents held by cultural heritage institutions in which there are no third party intellectual property rights will be re-usable for commercial or noncommercial purposes, it does not address the largest category of works held by cultural heritage institutions — those that are not covered by intellectual property rights at all because those works are in the public domain. COMMUNIA thinks that explicitly including public domain content held by libraries, museums and archives in the re-use obligation of the amended PSI Directive will strengthen the Commission’s position with regard to access and re-use of public domain content.

The full COMMUNIA association reaction to the EC’s proposal to amend Directive 2003/98/EC on re-use of public sector information can be downloaded here.

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