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.