Open Data: The Gold of the Age of Information

06.12.2013 , by Helmut Fallmann    

The process of opening data was always going to start with public sector information (PSI). The paradigm shift concerning open data, seen as revolutionary by many experts of our complex information society, in terms of the full and open availability of public data as well as its unrestricted, universal re-usage and re-distribution has been on the international agenda for a good decade.

With the “Directive on the re-use of public sector information” (Directive 2003/98/EC) from 17.11.2003 the European Parliament and European Council elevated the topic into Europe’s political awareness and summoned member states to implement it into their respective national laws.

The aims behind the initiative were clear: On the one hand, the production of digital content plays a central role in the development of a collective internal information market in the EU, which can free up enormous additional job potential. On the other hand, today’s dominant information and knowledge society determines the social position of each individual as well as their social development perspectives through the prescribed method of access to information and through the possible forms of knowledge acquisition.

At the same time, it’s clear that the public sector especially collects, produces, processes and distributes a wide spectrum of information across many areas. This includes social data, economic data, geographical and weather information, tourism and education offerings and patent and licensing information. Public sector information (PSI) can therefore also be seen as “Big Data”. The opening of this data has both an enormous economic impact and a far-reaching influence on the “data literacy” (“literacy” in terms of the mastering of today’s media technologies) of the population and therefore on the prevention of a “digital divide”.

The directive can be understood as a minimal harmonisation of continent-wide applicable rules for the re-usage of public data. This should gradually release the huge potential of public, non-personal data at member state level and across the entire union.

Austria implemented the PSI directive in national law on 13.12.2006 (BGBI. I S 2913) with the “Law on the re-usage of public information” (Informationsweiterverwendungsgesetz/IWG). A rather weak political will stood behind this primarily legislative act concerning open data “Made in Europe” with its restricted jurisdiction. Data not compiled in the fulfilment of public tasks are not affected by this law. It might be understandable for data protected by intellectual property rights or industrial property rights not to fall under the law. But content under the possession of public service broadcasting, of public education and research establishments and of public service cultural institutions, which don’t belong the IWG, must, from the perspective of the owners i.e. the taxpayers be opened to the public. After all, tax money pays for the creation of this data.

Movement in the open data discussion – in Europe and Austria – came in 2010 and 2011. The EU Commission has permitted the re-usage of documents for commercial and non-commercial purposes as a general rule since 2006, but a far-reaching push for the extension of the initiative was only undertaken in December 2011 with the presentation of an extensive “Open Data Package”.

Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the Commission and responsible for the “Digital Agenda”, summarised the general tone regarding open data in her press conference about the union’s “Open Data Strategy” (released on 12.12.2011): “Data is the new gold, the fertile ground for innovative developments and we believe that releasing this data is the best way to secure its value.” In the future, publicly generated data will automatically be reusable in order to feed the creation of new applications and services.

The EU Commission estimates that PSI currently stimulates economic activities valuing 32 billion euros, which will double to 70 billion euros with the implementation of the impending “Open Data Package”. The European Union has also backed up this statement of intent with actions. For Christmas 2012 the Commission launched its “Open Data Portal” (http://open-data.europa.eu) thereby making the data of the EU institutions and other EU establishments publicly available. In 2013 work continued in the direction of a “Pan European Open Data Portal”, whose development was financed by the CFE (Connecting Facility for Europe).

Furthermore, in 2013 the EU revised their directive on the re-usage of PSI from 2003. The revised version was passed on 26.6.2013 and includes the real open usage of all public data, as long as clearly defined international or national rules governing specific exceptions (e.g. Berner convention for the protection of literary and artistic work, trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) don’t prevent it. The revised directive was extended to apply to the free access to “cultural heritage” (library inventories, including university libraries, museums and archives).

As part of the “Open Data Package” the EU Commission will also be making 100 million euros available as financial support for the research of “Data processing technologies”. In June 2013 the European Union also committed itself to the implementation of the “G8 Open Data Charta”. And with the INSPIRE directive an extensive framework for the standardised access and simplified re-usage of geospatial data was implemented.

Márta Nagy Rothengass, head of the unit “Data Value Chain” at DG CONNECT, highlighted the need for public data at the “Eye on Earth” open data session in Dublin: It’s about extracting the unexploited economic potential in EU27 of 140 billion euros. The transparency of public institutions and higher citizen participation in public processes should also be achieved. Furthermore, Open Data could accelerate scientific progress and address social challenges in public health and environmental issues. Their recommendations focus on a strengthened usage and re-usage of Open Data as part of the big data potential and on a merging of the “Open Data Strategy” measures with activities for shaping a European digital service infrastructure.

In the past few years in Austria a number of milestones were set concerning Open Data. In July 2011 the federal chancellery and the city councils of Vienna, Linz, Salzburg and Graz founded the “Cooperation Open Government Data Österreich” (OGD). The “Open Knowledge Foundation Austria” belongs to the cooperation as an advisory member. The BKA forms the connection to the “Kompetenzzentrum Internetgesellschaft – centre of excellence internet community” (KIG) and to the platform “Digitales Österreich – Digital Austria”. The OGD runs the open Austrian data portal (www.data.gv.at), which, as a central “Austria Catalogue”, assimilates the metadata of the de-central data catalogues of the federal government, counties, city councils and municipalities, the federal environment agency and the federal data centre and keeps it manually and automatically accessible. The portal currently lists approximately 950 raw data records, from which 150 applications have arisen Austria-wide.

Between 2010 and 2011 Austria also achieved wider public awareness for open government data with key stakeholders through the “Semantic Web Company” (www.semantic-web.at) with the “OGD Series 2010 – 2011”, financially supported by the “Technologieagentur der Stadt Wien GmbH – city of Vienna’s technology agency” (ZIT) and laid the foundations for the publishing of the “Open Government Whitepaper”. This paper consists of a demand analysis and corresponding guidelines for OGD in Austria.

The “Open Knowledge Foundation Austria” is the umbrella organisation for the publication, usage and re-usage of open knowledge in Austria. Within its ranks the OKF-AT combines interdisciplinary expertise from academia, civil society, business and public administration and drives the work on new technologies which guarantee a greater transparency of public life and more citizen participation, i.e. which ultimately lead to an open community. Their work groups are organised around the topic blocks of Open Data: Alongside Open Government Data these are Open Science, Open GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums), Open Budget, the freedom of information law (in Austria a wider public discussion on the duty of disclosure and the constitutional ranking of state secrecy was only started in 2013) and data literacy (key skills for the understanding of and participation in the community).

Following the example of the British Open Knowledge Foundation the OKF-AT set itself the goal of conveying knowledge on handling open data with a “School of Data”, which is available to everyone but particularly aimed at public administration employees, app developers, data journalists and the entire data economy. Alongside the basics of Open Data, the “School of Data” introduces tools for data handling and points out possibilities for applications. As a member of the international Open Knowledge Foundation family OKF-AT is also the national point of contact for the use of CKAN, the worldwide Open Source Data Portal software and for access to the “Datahub”, the OKF’s open and powerful data management platform based on CKAN software.

For “Open Government Data” the city of Vienna’s platform “For an open city open government Vienna” (https://open.wien.at/site) with 110 applications and 196 data catalogue entries in the meta initiative “Smart City Vienna” and the city of Linz’s platform (http://www.data.linz.gv.at) with 140 data records and a real-time interface to the LINZ AG LINIEN (company responsible for operating Linz’s public transport network), launched by the Upper Austrian capital in 2011 as part of the project “Open Commons Region Linz”, are internationally recognisable applications. With their offering of reusable information from all urban areas of life they are on a level with open data portals from cities such as Bologna (dati.comune.bologna.it), Nantes (data.nantes.fr) and Barcelona (opendata.bcn.cat/opendata). Bologna and Barcelona are also integrated into the “Open Cities” network.

The development of Open Data in the last two years shows a clear upward trend both in Austria and at a European level. However, an international comparison at city level and at the level of national open data portals in Austria demonstrates that there is still a lot of work to be done. In Paris (opendata.paris.fr), for example, information suppliers already cover the entire city demand (citizen participation, urbanism, institutions, services, environment, culture and economy).

At country level France (data.gouv.fr) and the UK’s (data.gov.uk) portals are among the most advanced European platforms leveraging an open data policy. The French portal includes not only data records of all ministries but also of all other state institutions such as the national library (Bibliothèque Nationale de la France), the IGN (Institut National de l’Indormation Géographique et Forestière), RATP (Régie Autonome des Transportes Parisiens) – the world’s fifth largest transport system and the SNCF (Société Nationale de Chemins de Fer). In the UK the “National Action Plan for Open Government Partnership” is connected with the creation of a “National Information Infrastructure”.

These “leading edge” countries haven’t intensified their activities regarding Open Data without good reason. The Graham Vickery report “Review of Recent Studies on PSI Re-Use and Related Market Developments” from Information Economics Paris, assumes a rather conservative yearly market volume estimation of approximately 140 billion euros for EU27 for the direct and indirect economic impact of PSI re-use. The latest report from MGI (McKinsey Global Institute) estimates the yearly Open Data potential through the making available of “liquid information” in seven domains (education, transportation, consumer products, electricity, oil and gas, healthcare and consumer finance) at 3 billion US dollars. 900 billion of this is accounted for by Europe.

For the opening of science the “Houghton Study” from 2009 calculated that for an estimated return on R&D of 20% and an increase of accessibility to research results and thereby an improvement in efficiency via the free usage of scientific discoveries of 5% the recurring revenues from yearly EU27 R&D expenditures would lie at approximately 6 billion euros or 2% of the public research expenditures. 4.8 billion of this would come from government expenditures (GERD) and 1.1 billion from higher education expenditures (HERD).

One last example: France and the UK are also progressing quickly in Open GLAM. On 11.11.2013 the French minister for culture and communication Aurélie Filippetti announced a cooperation with the Open Knowledge Foundation France and with Wikipedia France as part of the event “Transmission of Culture in the Digital Age”, in order to capture and map the cultural heritage of the nation with the help of the to-be-developed “Public Domain Calculator”. At the same time talks took place with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the British Library in London to sound out potential activities for the re-usage of Open Data and open digital copies.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the worldwide public service television and radio organisation with its headquarters in London, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on 25.11.2013 with the Cambridge-based Open Knowledge Foundation in order to make audio-visual heritage (archive contents and assets) universally available within the United Kingdom and to define the necessary management processes concerning digital rights management, the saving and further distribution of archive material involved in this project. The primary goals are the establishment of a world-class infrastructure for digital content in the UK, the strengthening of the national knowledge economy and the efficient usage of public sector resources. Furthermore, the BBC has also signed cooperation agreements with the European Foundation (Europe’s Digital Library, Archive and Museum), the Open Data Institute (British catalyser for the evolution of an open network culture, financially supported by the Technology Strategy Board) and with the Mozilla Foundation (Promotion of openness, innovation and opportunities on the web) for the support of free and open broadband technologies.

Meet-up on Open Transport Data
Given the enormous economic and strategic importance of Open Data and its embedding in current ICT business value paradigms such as Big Data, semantic web and cloud computing, for Fabasoft AG in Linz, as an innovative developer of European B2B cloud solutions, it was an integral part of the company philosophy to maintain intensive contact with the Open Knowledge Foundation Austria and to look for possibilities for a meaningful cooperation. As an example of this collaboration, on 14.11.2013 we hosted the meet-up on the topic of Open Transport Data at our office in Vienna, where experts of the Open Data community reported on the knowledge, transparency and participation of an open community. This was followed by insiders from Vienna and Linz revealing details about the development of their respective transport data projects. A glance in the direction of developing countries, their transport issues and possible improvements through Open Data rounded off the event. You can find further information here.

Open Transport Data, in solidarity with advanced solutions in driver assistance systems and the implementation of eCall by 2015, will gather further important momentum. The optimisation of mathematical graph models for the display of movement flows and the integration of this information in an all-encompassing network that can map all infrastructures and all movements of different transport participants (on foot, by bike, car or public transport) on one single platform will also trigger further activities around the topic of Open Transport Data. Moreover, we can expect more stimuli for future “Smart Ticketing” to emerge from technological advances. The only blot on an otherwise bright copybook: In spring next year there will be a digital and open transport information portal (VAO) for the whole of Austria, listing metadata from infrastructure operator ASFINAG, transport carrier ÖBB, transport systems and driver interest association ÖAMTC. However, the platform won’t start with the INSPIRE standard.

In conclusion, we must use the thrust generated by Open Data for the further development of the knowledge society for the realisation of a collective digital European market. This includes nationwide ultrafast broadband and 4G, European cloud computing infrastructures and solutions, a roaming-free mobile communications market in Europe and barrier-free online shopping across the continent…not forgetting the protection of privacy.

Open Data, Open Knowledge, Public Sector Information, Open Data Strategy, Open Data Package, Open Transport Data

 

 

 

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