European policy analyst David Osimo recently invited me to be on the steering committee of a new ‘Open Declaration on Public Services 2.0’. The background page says:

Every two years, EU Ministers gather to agree on a Ministerial Declaration on e-government, which is the main European strategic document. This is usually accompanied by an Industry declaration.

We feel the urge to add an open declaration, collaboratively built and endorsed by EU citizens who share the view that the web is transforming our society and our governments. We feel e-government policies in Europe could learn from the open, meritocratic, transparent and user-driven culture of the web. We also feel that current web citizens should engage more positively with government to help designing a strategy which is genuinely difficult to adopt in the traditional culture of public administration.

The main question the declaration strives to respond to is:

  • How should governments use the web to improve public services and deliver greater public value for citizens?

I’ve just written a post on the declaration’s blog entitled ‘Reusing, remixing and building on’: the importance of making data legally open, which is reproduced here:

One of the main aims of the Open Declaration on Public Services in the European Union is to encourage innovation with European public services and to allow citizens to play a greater role in public service provision. European public services can be improved by encouraging the public at large to build on them, to make them better. At the Open Knowledge Foundation we call this idea the Many Minds Principle, which says, more or less, that:

The Coolest Thing To Do With Your Data Will Be Thought of By Someone Else

By allowing more people to re-use your material – you increase the probability that someone will come up with something really compelling. For example, Hans Rosling’s Gapminder takes public statistics about international development and makes them easy and intuitive to explore using his beautiful interactive graphics and video presentations. MySociety‘s They Work For You site collates and analyses parliamentary transcripts allowing anyone to easily see the voting record and speeches of any UK member of parliament – as well as receive email notifications every time they speak in parliament. Both of these sites depend on being able to re-use the raw content and data published by public bodies.

As it says in the declaration:

We want the whole spectrum of government information from draft legislation to budget data to be easy for citizens to access, understand, reuse, and remix.

In order to re-use this material, citizens have to have the legal right to do so. Public bodies can allow and encourage the re-use of their material by using a license or legal tool that is compliant with the Open Knowledge Definition to make their content and data open. In this sense transparency – or just putting things online – is not enough. Citizens need to be granted the right to re-use.

European governments are already under an obligation to open up their holdings under European Council Directive 2003/98/EC, “on the re-use of public sector information”. The declaration on public services 2.0 should help to push for real openness, not just accessibility on a website – to help the next generation of web services, for citizens by citizens, flourish.

Furthermore where data is being used to provide public web services, citizens should be allowed to access and re-use data directly in raw form. Rather than just allowing access via web interface, an API or a value added service, official bodies should allow data to be downloaded directly, in bulk, in a format which allows it to be re-used easily. As Open Knowledge Foundation Director Rufus Pollock wrote in 2007 (echoed by Tim Berners-Lee at TED):

We want the data raw, and we want the data now!

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Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at and he tweets at @jwyg.

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