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04/11/10 Civic Technology

Open data italy: the bottom-up approach

Open data italy: the bottom-up approach

Two websites by two different groups of Italian civic hackers are creating bottom-up national open government portals. But, for now, the best results are still at regional level.

Italy does not have a national open data portal yet. Some people believe that no one even plans to create it, though Mr. Renato Brunetta, Italian Minister for Innovation and Public Administration, in an interview with Wired Italy in June, promised that a “Data.gov.it” will be launched by the end of 2010 following the example of data.gov and data.gov.uk.

Evidently, Italian “civic hackers” did not believe him or simply could not wait. So yesterday they launched their own open data public portal with a tiny budget and lots of enthusiasm. Well, to be precise, not one but two different open government portals appeared on the web on exactly the same day.

The first, datagov.it, is promoted by the brand new Italian Association for Open Government, a small group mainly composed of independent consultants working for national agencies or institutions such as Formez (a public agency for training courses dedicated to central public administrations) or ForumPA (a leading company in organizing major events and exhibits for public administrations), or connected to the network InnovatoriPA (Italian Innovators in the Public Administration).
Their main objective is to publish a manifesto for open government in Italy, the draft of which is now available for public consultation and will be finally released on November 30, 2010. The manifesto seems not to be linked to any particular action or event, as it was the Open Declaration on European Public Services, which was conceived to influence the Ministerial Declaration on e-government. This website also has a page containing a list of publicly available datasets – very small for now (only 8 listed), but growing.
The second website is ironically entitled “Spaghetti Open Data”. Rather than a declaration or a manifesto, the portal focuses on the available datasets by listing and classify them in a rigorous way. The group of volunteers behind this effort is composed of key civil servants and information holders in Italian Regional and National Government which were supported by a team of very efficient developers.

This is how Alberto Cottica, one of the promoters, commented on yesterday’s launch on his blog:
“We aggregated 32 databases; not bad when you consider that data.gov, with all the firepower of the Obama administration, had 47 at launch.
It’s only a small thing, but it feels right for various reasons.
Firstly, it is a concrete achievement. I have had enough of complaining about the idle government, the backwardness of Italian culture, the financial crisis, bad luck. I have precious little time to spare, and I would like to invest it on projects that pay me back by yielding some kind of result. The Spaghetti Open Data group has put in some work, and in a few weeks it produced something which is actually there, and it works. If you want to build something with Italian open data you can, right now, without having to wait for structural change or a new generation in government. All it took is some voluntary work and 41 euro for hosting.

Secondly, it is intellectually rigorous. We had to ask ourselves the same questions that I imagine confronted the people in charge of data.gov and data.gov.uk. Are statistic data open data? (Apparently not) Does it make sense for statistical and open data to be collected in the same place? (Apparently it does, so that citizens can correlate the ones with the others) How to organize metadata? (We went for compatibility with CKAN, as in data.gov.uk) we have mapped a possible way for Italian open data, and future legitimate websites of open data have an all-Italian benchmark that they can consider, or even copy.

Finally, it is the expression of a small community of about fifty bloggers and civil servants that worked together towards a common goal, across their considerable cultural differences, showing mutual respect along the way. I have also had enough of bashing bureaucrats as stupid or evil. Some are just that, others are wonderful people and great war buddies. Most are reasonably clever, well-meaning people who happen to be very different from me: collaborating requires investing a little time and effort to come to understand each other. It is almost always worth it”.

That said, while the national open data portal is somehow being created, as always happens the best things are happening at regional level. Same thing with open data: good efforts to open up public data and to create open data portals are from the Regional Authorities. Above all:

• Piemonte Region is leading the way with its open data portal dati.piemonte.it, being active from May 2010.
• Toscana Region has set up a webpage full of datasets, and has provided itself with a regional law on the re-use of public information.

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