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Let’s defend Open Formats for Public Sector Information in Europe!

Regards Citoyens - December 3, 2012 in Access to Information, Campaigning, Open Data, Open Government Data, Open Standards, Open/Closed, Policy, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data

Following some remarks from Richard Swetenham from the European Commission, we made a few changes relative to the trialogue process and the coming steps: the trialogue will start its meetings on 17th December and it is therefore already very useful to call on our governments to support Open Formats!

When we work on building all these amazing democratic transparency collaborative tools all over the world, all of us, Open Data users and producers, struggle with these incredibly frustrating closed or unexploitable formats under which public data is unfortunately so often released: XLS, PDF, DOC, JPG, completely misformatted tables, and so on.

The EU PSI directive revision is a chance to push for a clear Open Formats definition!

As part of Neelie Kroes’s Digital Agenda, the European Commission recently proposed a revision of the Public Sector Information (PSI) Directive widening the scope of the existing directive to encourage public bodies to open up the data they produce as part of their own activities.

The revision will be discussed at the European Parliament (EP), and this is the citizen’s chance to advocate for a clear definition of the Open Formats under which public sector information (PSI) should be released.

We believe at Regards Citoyens that having a proper definition of Open Formats within the EU PSI directive revision would be a fantastic help to citizens and contribute to economic innovation. We believe such a definition can be summed-up to in two simple rules inspired by the Open Knowledge Foundation’s OpenDefinition principles:

  • being platform independant and machine-readable without any legal, financial or technical restriction;
  • being the result of an openly developped process in which all users can actually be part of the specifications evolution.

Those are the principles we advocated in a policy note on Open Formats we published last week and sent individually to all Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from the committee voting on the revision of the PSI directive last thursday.

Good news: the first rule was adopted! But the second one was not. How did that work?

ITRE vote on Nov 29th: what happened and how?

EP meetingA meeting at the European Parliament

The European parliamentary process first involves a main committee in charge of preparing the debates before the plenary session, in our case the Industry, Research and Energy committee (ITRE). Its members met on 29th November around 10am to vote on the PSI revision amongst other files.

MEPs can propose amendments to the revision beforehand, but, to speed up the process, the European Parliament works with what is called “compromise amendments” (CAs): the committee chooses a rapporteur leading the file in its name and each political group gets a “shadow rapporteur” to work together with the main rapporteur. They all study the proposed amendments together and try to sum them up in a few consensual ones called CAs, hence leading MEPs to pull away some amendments when they consider their concerns met. During the committee meeting, both kinds of amendment are voted on in accordance with predefined voting-list indicating the rapporteur’s recommandations.

Regarding Open Formats, everything relied on a proposition to add to the directive‘s 2nd article a paragraph providing a clear definition of what an Open Format actually is. The rapporteurs work led to a pretty good compromise amendment 18, which speaks pretty much for itself:

« An open format is one that is platform independent, machine readable, and made available to the public without legal, technical or financial restrictions that would impede the re-use of that information. »

This amendment was adopted, meaning this change will be proposed as a new amendment to all MEPs during the plenary debate. Given that it has the support of the rapporteur in the name of the responsible committee, it stands a good chance of being carried.

Regarding the open development process condition, MEP Amelia Andersdotter, shadow rapporteur for the European Parliament Greens group, maintained and adapted to this new definition her amendment 65:

« "open format" means that the format’s specification is maintained by a not-for-profit organisation the membership of which is not contingent on membership fees; its ongoing development occurs on the basis of an open decision-making procedure available to all interested parties; the format specification document is available freely; the intellectual property of the standard is made irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis. »

Even though it also got recommanded for approval by the main rapporteur, unfortunately the ALDE and EPP groups were not ready to support it yet and it got rejected.

Watching the 12 seconds during which the Open Formats issues were voted is a strange experience to anyone not familiar with the European Parliament, since most of the actual debate happens beforehand between the different rapporteurs, the committee meeting mainly consists of a succession of raised hand votes calls, which are occasionally electronically checked. Therefore, there are no public individual votes or records of these discussions available and the vote happens very quickly.

What next? Can we do anything?

Now that the ITRE committee has voted, its report should soon be made available online

As the European institutions work as a tripartite organisation, the text adopted by the ITRE committee will now be transferred to both the European Commission and Council for approval. This includes a trialogue procedure in which a consensus towards a common text must be driven. This is an occasion to call on our respective national governments to push in favor of Open Formats in order toc maintain and improve the definition which the EP already adopted.

The text which comes out of the tripartite debate will be discussed in plenary session, planned at the moment for 11th March 2013. Until noon on the Wednesday preceding the plenary, MEPs will still have the possibility to propose new amendments to be voted on at plenary: they can do so either as a whole political group, or as a group of at least 40 different MEPs from any groups.

Possible next steps to advocate Open Formats could therefore be the following:

  • Call on our national governments to push in favor of Open Formats;
  • Keep up-to-date with documents and procedures from the European Parliament: ParlTrack offers e-mail alerts on the dossier;
  • Whenever the proposition of new amendments towards the plenary debate is opened, we should contact our respective national MEPs from all political groups and urge them to propose amendments requiring Open Formats to be based on an open development process. Having multiple amendments coming from different political groups would certainly help MEPs realize this is not a partisan issue;
  • When the deadline for proposing amendments is reached, we should call on our MEPs by email, phone calls or Tweets to vote for such amendments and possibly against some opposed ones. In order to allow anyone to easily and freely phone their MEPs, we’re thinking about reusing La Quadrature du Net‘s excellent PiPhone tool for EU citizen advocacy.

In any case, contacting MEPs to raise concerns on Open Formats policies can of course always be useful at all times before and after the plenary debates. Policy papers, amendments proposals, vulgarisation documents, blogposts, open-letters, a petititon, tweets, … It can all help!

To conclude, we would like to stress once again that Regards Citoyens is an entirely voluntary organisation without much prior experience with the European Parliament. This means help and expertise is much appreciated! Let’s get all ready to defend Open Formats for European Open Data in a few weeks!

Regards Citoyens — CC-BY-SA

Open Data Portal for Latin America

Caroline Burle - November 6, 2012 in OK Brazil, Open Government Data, Open Knowledge international Local Groups, WG Development, WG Open Government Data

Sharing governmental information in open, accessible and structured formats could substantially increase transparency and accountability in public policy design and implementation. Furthermore, it enables broad social engagement in the process. Hence, opening data and acknowledging the demands of the population that arise from this is key to promoting social equality and effective public administration.

Based on this premise, the project Open Data for Development in Latin America and the Caribbean has been implemented in partnership with W3C Brazil, the European Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), within the scope of the Observatory for the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean (OSILAC) and the International Development and Research Center of Canada (IDRC).

The OD4D has 6 specific objectives:

  • To map out the main initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean for structured economic, social and environmental data sharing and to design a methodological framework to examine the relationship between opening data and the quality of public policies.
  • To study and discuss alternative strategies to foster technical training in governmental agencies and observatories in the region, thus implementing open data repositories for the design, monitoring and assessment of public policies.
  • To support research networks in Latin America and the Caribbean in producing new information and creating innovative applications and services based on open data.
  • To examine the relationship between more inclusive economic development and the opening of data in key economic segments.
  • To raise awareness among the community of public policy makers, public servants and researches of the potential of Open Data and appropriate strategies for its successful implementation.
  • To assess the potential of Open Data strategies in the design and implementation of public policies aimed at promoting economic development and social inclusion in Latin American countries and in the Caribbean.

The Portuguese version of this post is available on the OKF Brazil blog

Towards a public digital infrastructure: why do governments have a responsibility to go open?

Guillermo Moncecchi - November 1, 2012 in Featured, Ideas and musings, Open Government Data, WG Open Government Data

The most common argument in favor of open data is that it enhances transparency, and while the link may not always be causal, it is certainly true that both tend to go hand-in-hand. But there is another, more expansive perspective on open government data: that it is part of an effort to build public infrastructure.

Does making a shapefile available with all Montevideo’s traffic lights make Montevideo’s government more transparent? We don’t think so. But one of our duties as civil servants is building the city infrastructure. And we should understand that data is mainly infrastructure. People do things on it, as they do things on roads, bridges or parks. For money, for amusement, for philanthropy, there are myriads of uses for infrastructure: we should not try to determine or even guess which those uses are. We must just provide the infrastructure and ensure it will be available. Open data should be seen as a component of an effort to build a public digital infrastructure, where people could, within the law, do whatever they want. Exactly as they do with roads.

When you see open data in this light, several decisions become easier. Should we ask people for identification to give them our data? Answer: do you ask them for an identification to use the street? No, you don’t – then no, you shouldn’t. Why should we use open, non proprietary standards for publishing data? For the same reason you do not build a street where only certain car brands can pass. What happens if there are problems with my data, which causes problems for the users? Well, you will be liable, if the law decides that … but, would you avoid demands for accidents caused by pavement problems by not building streets? Of course you are responsible for your data: you are paid to create it, as you are paid for building bridges. Every question about open data we can imagine has already been answered for traditional infrastructure.

But of course the infrastructure required to enable people to create an information society goes beyond data. We will give you four examples.

The most direct infrastructure component is hardware and communications. The Uruguayan government recognises this, and is planning to have each home connected with fibre by then end of 2015, with 1 Gb traffic for free for everybody with a phone line. Meanwhile since 2007, every public school child gets an OLPC laptop and internet connection. This programme should be understood as being primarily about infrastructure: education encompasses much more than laptops, but infrastructure enables the development of new education paths.

Secondly, services. Sometimes it’s better to provide services than to provide data. Besides publishing cartography data, in Montevideo we provide WMS and WFS services to retrieve a map just using a URL. Services, as data, should be open: no registration, no access limit. Open services allow developers to use not only government data, but also government computation power, and, of course, government knowledge: the knowledge needed to, say, estimate the arrival time of a bus.

Thirdly, sometimes services are not enough, and we have to develop complete software components to enable public servants to do their work. Sometimes these software components should also be part of the public digital infrastructure. The people of Brazil are very clear on this: in 2007 they developed the Portal do Software Publico Brasileiro, where applications developed by or for the government are publicly available. Of course, this is not a new concept: its general version is called open source software. We believe that within this framework of public infrastructure, the discussion between open source and privative software makes no sense. Nobody would let a company be the owner of a street. If is public, it should be open.

Finally, there is knowledge. We, as the government, must tell the people what we are doing, and how we are doing it. Our knowledge should be open. We have the duty to publish our knowledge and to let others use it, so that we can participate actively in communities, propose changes, and act as an innovation factor in every task we face. Because we are paid for that: for building knowledge infrastructure.

We do not think government should let others do its work: on the contrary, we want a strong government, building the blocks of infrastructure to achieve its tasks, and making this infrastructure available to people to do whatever they want, within the law.

Exactly the same thing they do with streets.

US Congress data opened

Theodora Middleton - October 9, 2012 in External, Featured Project, Open Government Data, WG Open Government Data

Exciting news on open legislative data from the US. Eric Mills (from the Sunlight Foundation), Josh Tauberer (of and Derek Willis have been beavering away on a public domain scraper and dataset from, the official source for legislative information for the US Congress. They’ve just hit a key milestone – the incorporation of everything that THOMAS has on Bills going back to 1973 when its records began!

Eric says:

We’ve published and documented all of this data in bulk, and I’ve worked it into Sunlight’s pipeline, so that searches for bills in Scout use data collected directly from this effort.

The data and code are all hosted on Github on a “unitedstates” organization, which is right now co-owned by me, Josh, and Derek – the intent is to have this all exist in a common space. To the extent that the code needs a license at all, I’m using a public domain “unlicense” that should at least be sufficient for the US (other suggestions welcome).

There’s other great stuff in this organization, too – Josh made an amazing donation of his legislator dataset, and converted it to YAML for easy reuse. I’ve worked that dataset into Sunlight’s products already as well. I’ve also moved my legal citation extractor into this organization — and my colleague Thom Neale has an in-progress parser for the US Code, to convert it from binary typesetting codes into JSON.

Github’s organization structure actually makes possible a very neat commons. I’m hoping this model proves useful, both for us and for the public.

Amendments Liberated: new features for Parltrack

Rufus Pollock - October 1, 2012 in Featured Project, Open Government Data, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data

The following guest post is by Stef.

The European Parliament is one of the most notoriously impenetrable institutions that governs our lives. Shining a light into the murky corridors of Brussels and Strasbourg becomes increasingly vital as the reach of the Parliament grows. Opening up the EU to greater citizen scrutiny will help to improve understanding, participation, and democratic legitimary. Parltrack is one of a number of initiatives seeking to make different aspects of the European Union more digestible, in this case focussing on the legislative process.

Parltrack is a website that republishes detailed information of the European law-making process. It combines dossiers, MEPs, vote results and committee agendas into a unique database and allows the tracking of dossiers using email and RSS. Some of the data – like results of votes – comes from hard-to-process PDF documents. Recently two projects – the European Parliament’s own AT4AM and the German bundesgit – showed the need to have access to the amendments to legislative proposals in an easier to use format. Parltrack now offers this information. The newly added data allows Parltrack to display all the amendments a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) has made in the current parliamentiary term. Such a listing was unavailable to the public until now. Similarly new is the listing of all amendments for a certain law propsoal. Surprisingly, the new feature most warmly welcomed by Parltrack’s users is the ability to send direct links to amendments. This not only allows more direct discussion of the text, but also tweeting.

Parltrack also offers tracking of events concerning any legislative proposal. Users can sign up to get notifications if a proposal is scheduled on a committee, or if amendments are attached to it.

It’s important to note that this data contains errors. Current estimates are around 1%, which come from the fact that the PDFs sometimes themselves contain spelling and formatting errors – in one case the English version contains French text. So this is an informational source – anything serious should be cross-checked with the source PDF which is always linked.

Parltrack currently contains 171612 amendments starting from 14th of July, 2009. Included in this are 976 amended dossiers, and 775 amending MEPs. Some more statistics on the data:

Top 3 most amending MEPS:

  1. Olle SCHMIDT: 2038 amendments
  2. Philippe LAMBERTS: 1974 amendments
  3. Silvia-Adriana ŢICĂU: 1610 amendments

Top 3 dossiers with the most amendments:

  1. 3075: Structural instruments: common provisions for ERDF, ESF, Cohesion Fund, EAFRD and EMFF; general provisions applicable to ERDF, ESF and Cohesion Fund (2011/0276(COD))
  2. 2482: Common Fisheries Policy (2011/0195(COD))
  3. 2310: Public procurement (2011/0438(COD))

Come and check it out!

Call for research proposals: open data in developing countries

Tim Davies - August 10, 2012 in Open Data, Open Government Data, WG Development, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data

The Web Foundation and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) are looking to fund case study research on the emerging impacts of open data in developing countries.

Open data policies are spreading across the world: but how does open data play out on the ground in different settings? What is needed for the potential transparency and accountability, innovation and enterprise, and social inclusion benefits of open data to be realised? How are different actors using open data to support good governance, better decision making, and better development outcomes? Those are just a few of the questions that were explored at the ‘Critical Development Perspectives on Open Government Data’ workshop held in Brasilia just before the 2012 Open Government Partnership conference this April, where the Open Data Research network was initially established.

Building on that workshop, the Web Foundation and IDRC call is looking for researchers and research institutions based in the global south to develop detailed case studies of where open data is interacting with different governance and development issues – from setting and monitoring budgets, to developing smart city infrastructures, or improving the use of funds for agricultural improvement. Selected cases will form part of a research network over 2013, coming together to look at cross cutting themes highlighted by the different case studies.

The project will fund a series of detailed case studies that examine the emerging impacts of specific on-going open data initiatives that address key development themes. Potential cases include:

  • Open data in local and national budgeting processes
  • Open data for legislation processes and elections
  • Open data in judicial systems
  • Open data for smarter cities
  • Open data for the delivery of privately provided public services
  • Open data for the regulation of markets (e.g. extractive industries)
  • Open data for the welfare and empowerment of marginalized groups and communities (e.g. data for small farmers)
  • Open data and international development

Funding of between USD$25,000 and USD$75,000 per case is available, and the application deadline is 10th September. Find the full call and more details at

‘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

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