Open Data is at its beginnings in Serbia. A National open data portal was recently established and currently hosts 29 datasets from few public institutions. There is an insufficient understanding of the open data concept and its transformative potential among public institutions and the community of users also lack the skills for its effective use, leading to poor use of open data and very little real impact made. That’s the reason why we have launched Open Data Serbia, an organisation fully dedicated to the advocacy of open data principles and fostering the use of open data in Serbia.

The first reason – open data as a tool to make politicians accountable

CRTA is a group of activists and journalists who engage with both citizens and institutions in an effort for higher institutional and public officials accountability in Serbia through monitoring and oversight of their work. We need data to be able to hold politicians and institutions to account.

We initially did not have access to data in open formats which are very important to our work so we created one called Data Center. It is an open online platform that provides easy access to datasets of various public information at the national and local level in Serbia. It was piloted in 2015, with the aim to provide anyone of interest with useful and applicable data. We created what we needed and have made it available to others, by manually liberating local budgetary and election data and making it available through APIs.

The similar “opening processes” were done three more times. Firstly, with data from National Parliament through the Open Parliament initiative. Secondly, by developing a Report platform that presents annual reports of independent institutions in an open format, enabling easy access and review of their recommendations, efforts and implemented measures over the years. And thirdly, with the opening of election results through Citizens on Watch initiative.

Open Data Serbia as a force for Openness in Serbia

There is a lack of awareness, knowledge, skills and the understanding of open data in Serbia which is needed for an open data ecosystem to emerge. That’s where we see our “acceleration” role.

Open Data Serbia is an organisation that advocates open data principles, liberates data, organises innovative educational programs related to open data and creates its own digital solutions based on available data in open formats. We do this by coding, research, writings, community building and advocacy.

So far we have participated in the organisation of #HackingPolitics hackathon, the first ever political hackathon in Serbia. Developers and activists worked together for 48 hours to create digital tools for transparent, open and more inviting politics – using available open data. They were mostly prepared and made useful for developers by CRTA.

Our educational activities start with learning by doing “Open Data Transformation” workshop designed for social researchers, activists, journalists, entrepreneurs and government employees. Participants with little or no technical skills were introduced to the power of open data by transforming data found online into an open data through a manually step by step process; making it ready for reuse. The workshop is part of Smart Cities festival held in Belgrade so all the data would be related to Serbian capital.

In order to power up the different set of individuals and organisations with skills to enrich their work with open data, we plan to organise different tailor-made innovative educational programs.

Open Data Serbia website – ideas and experiences for better understanding of open data potential in Serbia

We have launched our website a few days back to tell WHY-s, WHAT-s, HOW-s and WOW-s of open data.

How it all started and how the world got hooked? How activists, civil society organisations and civic hackers are using it to make governments more transparent and accountable? Researchers for gaining new insights? Decision makers for smarter and more effective decisions? Entrepreneurs for creating new or improving existing businesses and making our lives better? Also, how about machine learning algorithms that create magic with it? Someone needs to tell these stories in Serbia!

Our plan with the website, aside from using it to inform the public about activities we are organising, is to generate inspiring and educational content that would transform our readers into passionate open data advocates. If anyone of you readers of this article is willing to share a story with us and people in Serbia – you can write to us at office[at]opendatasrbija[dot]rs. We would be more than grateful!

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Filip is the Coordinator of Open Data Serbia and the Founder and Lead of Serbian Techfugees chapter. An activist with an entrepreneurial spirit, he has founded, co-founded and developed different civil society organisations, in fields ranging from entrepreneurship to public policy. Filip is primarily interested in the intersection between the internet, digital technologies and politics.