From Open Data to GovData: why the OGP matters in Germany

The following post is by Maria Schröder and Christian Heise from the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany. It is cross-posted (and slightly shortened) from the Open Government Partnership blog.

Germany’s official policy on transparency and accountability is lacking commitment and leadership. Disappointed by the political elites, the community is continuously trying to make the case for true open government as a means to achieving digital democracy. The Open Government Partnership (OGP) could be one part of the solution.

##The road so far: German government screws up open data

Last year, the German government commissioned a study on Open Government Data. In the summer, the Interior Ministry announced it would take up one of the study’s core recommendations, and started preparing an open government data portal.

But weeks before Germany’s Interior Minister Friedrich plans to officially unveil the portal, it has become clear that the portal lacks two of the most important things for an open data portal: A coherent and compatible licensing policy, and interesting, politically relevant data sets. In other words: govdata.de is not going to be an open portal, according to the 10 principles for opening government information. Consequently, the government removed the word “open” from its title. In the words of politicians:

In order to make the portal’s priorities regarding its content even more explicit, the “Open Government Portal Gemrnay” will from now on be operated under the name “GovData – the Data Portal for Germany”

(Source: govdata.de)

##The reaction of the open data community: Dropping the word ‘open’ from the national portal’s name and concept cannot be the solution

The community’s representatives issued a joint declaration on not-your-govdata.de, outlining why the German GovData platform is not acceptable in its currently planned form (even if the government is at least not “open-washing”, a lovely apt term derived from greenwashing).

The reasons for community criticism are as follows:

a. the chosen license models do not conform to internationally recognized standards

b. the portal, as seen so far, is lacking provisions for usability and security

c. there are no visible efforts to motivate users to reuse the data provided

d. the data provided is boring

One week later, more than 300 people from various backgrounds have signed the statement (http://not-your-govdata.de/en/ – come co-sign!). Considering that the open data community in Germany is still small, the signature rate is quite impressive.

##Germany needs the Open Government Partnership, the Open Government Partnership needs Germany

After the first countries joined to the OGP in September 2011, an open working group on OGP Germany consisting of German NGOs and enthusiastic individuals started working to get the German government to join.

However, the German government put a unambiguous dampener on the working group’s endeavours, denying the necessity of the OGP for Germany. They claim that co-commitments on a European and national level are more important than on the global level. An open government data initiative between Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Lichtenstein (DACHLi) is meant to distract from these countries’ reluctance to join an international, US-driven knowledge exchange.

We believe that the OGP needs Germany, too. Looking at Germany’s role in the EU, a decision by Germany to join would probably have a great effect on neighbouring countries, and could add a lot of value to the initiative, increasing the opportunities for information sharing, public participation, and collaboration.

As members of the community, we are tired of being patient. Open (government) data is an essential part of government transparency, efficiency, accountability and citizen participation – topics which hundreds of thousands of Germans find critically important. Given the lack of political will from the government, it is in the community’s hands to connect these dots better.

From our point of view, the latest events have re-emphasised that Germany needs to sign the OGP declaration in order to promote true open government from the highest political level.

Image: Dodoïste on Wikimedia