Open Data: Where to Start

Open Data: Where to Start

(This is part 4 of the analysis “Open Data for Beginners”, you can find out more here)

How to make data open by default, of high quality, and usable by all?

The EU Directive introduced some rules that support the implementation of open data standards. Although they are binding only for member states, the below principles need to be observed by every institution that wants to open its data.

No charges, or only charges for the marginal costs of data reproduction, provision, and dissemination

Datasets that are in the possession of the public sector are collected and used thanks to the money of taxpayers. There is no reason why citizens should pay twice for the same information — the second time to use it and disseminate it more widely. The zero-cost method is recommended by the European Commission when documents are already digitized and are disseminated electronically. If a public institution is considering a charge for using open data, fees should not exceed

“the cost of collection, production, reproduction and dissemination, together with a reasonable return on investment.[1]

For example, the Slovenian legal framework[2] enables free-of-charge non-commercial reuse of information. In addition, it accepts some free commercial use, such as when the data is reused to ensure the freedom of expression, culture, and art or is reused by news media. The more money a public authority charges, the less people will use the data and, as a result, in the context of the economic value of open data less money will be funneled in the form of taxes to the public budget.

Transparency

Whenever a public agency restricts data access by setting up charges or other conditions that users have to fulfill, the public entity should publish the appropriate information on its website. According to the 8 Principles of Open Government Data,

“government information is a mix of public records, personal information, copyrighted work, and other non-open data; it is important to be clear about what data is available and what licensing, terms of service, and legal restrictions apply. Data for which no restrictions apply should be marked clearly as being in the public domain.” [3]

Polish law provides the norm, stating that if there is no specific contrary statement published on the website, the reuse of released data is not subject to licenses or conditions.[4]

A public authority should not act arbitrarily and without control. Therefore, it should also establish measures to redress decisions and practices that negatively influence those who want to reuse the information. The user should have the right to appeal to an oversight body or to go to court. The exact means are usually based on the local access-to-information legislation. It is also important to make sure that the information about those means is widely disseminated and accessible by everyone.

Nondiscrimination

The EU Directive says that

“any applicable conditions for the re-use of documents shall be non-discriminatory for comparable categories of re-use.

Sometimes conditions are based on whether someone wants to reuse the information for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Commercial use may be more intense and could mean more work for public officials, but generally the reason behind reusing data should not determine how a user is treated. The other important aspect of non-discrimination is a general prohibition of exclusive agreements between a public institution and one or more users that would restrict access to data by anyone who is interested in it. This also concerns other public entities. For example, in Slovenia, if documents are reused by a public agency as input for commercial activities that fall outside the scope of its public tasks, the same charges and other conditions apply to the supply of the documents for those activities as apply to other users.[5]

Tl;dr: Simple Recommendations

 

Do’s Don’ts
Think open! Sharing information with citizens should be considered in every case for all data. Remember to check that there aren’t any legitimate exceptions that protect data from being released. Don’t keep data to yourself. There is wisdom in the collective. Sharing data will increase a public institution’s effectiveness and will allow it to develop evidence-based policies.
Try to collect information about what data is available. Remember to engage citizens to get feedback on what else they need and employees to ask what data will help them to perform their duties. Don’t think that you know the best about what is interesting for citizens and helpful for your colleagues. Discuss what the need is.
Allow others to reuse the data without any restrictions. If copyrights apply, check the most open licensing standard. Don’t charge for the data or impose disproportionate bureaucratic restrictions. If the cost of delivery of the data is significant, charge as little as possible.
Publish information with rich metadata and in open and machine-readable formats. It not only increases the data’s inter-operability, it also increases access for people who are visually impaired. Include the methods that were used to collect the data. Maybe someone will propose more efficient ones for the future. Don’t publish data before making sure that its format will be usable for anything. Scanned documents and non-reusable data will only load your servers.
Create, develop, and evaluate a strategy of opening the data in your institution that will engage a wide range of users and take into account the need to prevent corruption. Don’t think that something is better than nothing. Opening data is a systematic process. You can’t expect that anyone will be happy if you publish random data that is useless for the public. Without a strategic approach, you will never know what people need.

 


[1] A detailed description on how to count costs is available in the European Commission Notice (2014/C 240/01) entitled Guidelines on Recommended Standard Licences, Datasets and Charging for the Re-use of Documents. Available at https://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/news/commission-notice-guidelines-recommended-standard-licences-datasets-and-charging-re-use https://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/news/commission-notice-guidelines-recommended-standard-licences-datasets-and-charging-re-use.

[2] Art 34a of the Access to Public Information Act. Available at https://www.ip-rs.si/index.php?id=324. (Accessed November 25, 2015.)

[3] Available at http://opengovdata.org/. (Accessed October 1, 2015.)

[4] Art 23b of the Access to Public Information Act.

[5] Art 36 of the Access to Public Information Act.

Krzysztof Izdebski