Saturday (5 March) is Open Data Day, and Paul MacDonell calls for EU member states to commit to opening data in the public sector, as the potential benefits are huge.
Paul MacDonnell is the head of European policy at the Center for Data Innovation, a think tank studying the intersection of data, technology, and public policy.
Europe’s public sectors are sitting on a huge untapped resource of data. However, most European countries have yet to demonstrate that they are taking this opportunity seriously.
Fortunately, there is a ready-made solution to make sure EU countries use public sector data to push economic growth and innovation.
Three years ago, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom helped develop five key principles for countries to follow to promote open data. Given the continued importance of open data, all other EU member states should sign on as well.
There are three main benefits to open data. First, data can transform how governments work and how they deliver services—enabling them to adopt more efficient and effective practices. Open data initiatives are predicted to save Europe’s governments €1.7 billion by 2020.
Second, citizens who have free access to government data are in a better position to hold legislators and public officials to account, such as by spotting wasteful spending or inefficient services. Finally innovators in the private sector can use publicly available government data to develop services and solutions that can have widespread economic and social benefits.
Open data is expected to create a market for goods and services worth €75.7 billion in Europe by 2020. Potential applications include retailers using data about population demographics, infrastructure, and traffic to determine where to site their shops and insurance companies using environmental and public health information to better understand and price risks.
Many European countries have made an initial foray into open data. First, member states must follow the directive on the re-use of public sector information, which gives citizens rights to access certain public data. This directive is laudable, but because it leaves it up to member states to determine what information can be made available and in what format, it does not go far enough.
In addition, most EU countries have signed on to the Open Government Declaration, a global open data initiative led by the Open Government Partnership (OGP), an international organisation promoting more open, effective, and accountable governments. However, the OGP’s open data initiative is also not as strong as it could be. In particular, the OGP’s narrow focus on transparency overlooks the significant commercial and efficiency payoff that a broader and deeper commitment to open data could deliver for Europe.
A better model is the G8 Open Data Charter, which, as well as supporting the release of data to promote transparency, is more explicit about the quality and format in which data should be released and, importantly, adds innovation as a reason to release data. While the four EU members of the G8 (now G7)—France, Germany, Italy, and the UK—have all signed up to the charter, and even the EU has endorsed the G8 Open Data Charter for its own institutions, all other European countries should make the same pledge.
Tomorrow, 5 March, is Open Data Day, and policymakers across Europe should take some time to consider whether they can come together on a new voluntary commitment for a European Open Data Charter, modelled on the G8 Open Data Charter. Broadening Europe’s open data commitments to include data innovation will be particularly important for countries that are seeking to thrive in the data economy and take advantage of the economic potential of open data.
Such an initiative should be endorsed by the European Council, the European Commission, and the European Parliament, as well as Member States. If they move quickly, all of Europe will have a reason to celebrate Open Data Day next year.