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19/09/11 Civic Technology

Open Data to the next level: WHY and HOW to involve the private sector

The attention of civil society and policy makers is now turning to uncharted lands: open data from the private sector can be mashed-up with governmental data to create new apps and services. The Open Data portal created by Enel – a leading Italian power company – is a step in the right direction

While the open data movement is spreading within public sector – with very interesting initiatives both at local and international level – the attention of civil society and policy makers has turned to an uncharted land, that is the open data from the private sector. The need to involve businesses in the open data movement emerged quite clearly at the first European Digital Agenda Assembly, held in Brussels on 16-17 June 2011. In particular, the European Commission aims at stimulating more private participation in the open data initiatives, and is considering specific actions to promote the re-use of big datasets held by large private sector organizations.

Professor Nigel Shadbolt, a member of the UK Government’s Public Sector Transparency Board, outlines the benefits of an open data strategy in an article published in Think Quarterly. “Open data offers the prospect of instant connectivity between partners, as in open supply chains, where businesses source from places they might never have considered or even suspected could be a source. Open data can reduce integration costs, improve transparency and harness the innovation of others. If you release your data then others will develop applications that make best use of it – providing new services that benefit you directly, like all of those free travel apps that the travel companies didn’t have to write, but which nevertheless drive people onto the transportation network”.

Following the example of other companies such as SimpleGEO from the US, Enel – Italy’s largest power company and a key player in the European market – is now opening up a first set of datasets. The company, which originally launched an open data portal on 23 August under Creative Commons BY NC ND license disallowing commercial re-use, earlier today changed the license to a CC BY, merely requiring re-users to mention Enel as the source of data. Datasets include economic and financial information about the company and “sustainability data”, which comprise data on generation, distribution and sale of electricity and gas.

Raffaele Cirullo, head of New Media unit at Enel, reports on Enel strategies to the Spaghetti Open Data (SOD) mailing list. As a first step, an initiative entitled Enel Sharing was launched in 2008 to harness the power of social media to promote the brand amongst stakeholders and disseminate the cultural initiatives of the company. Then the unit focused on emerging innovations in the field of new media as a way to introduce a new culture of sharing within the group. Open data is of course one of the most interesting paradigm shifts, with major marketing impact within the private sector. These are the main goals of Enel Open Data initiative:

  1. improve the market by fostering competition
  2. increase transparency by increasing participation
  3. favor technological innovation by encouraging the development and spreading of new applications, mash-ups and data visualization systems.

Personally, I very much share the opinion of Lorenzo Benussi – researcher at NEXA Center for Internet & Society of Politecnico di Torino – who jumped in the discussion with a message to the SOD mailing list on the eventual advantages of the diffusion of the open data model in the private sector. First, open financial data on corporate accounting may lead to a more effective control of global markets. Secondly, information on businesses assets, processes and activities is of great interest to the public and can be mashed-up with governmental data on the matter. Some examples: information about natural resources provided by the oil industry, power and communication grids, ships logistics, etc.

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14/09/11 Civic Technology

Open Data up for adoption

“Linea Amica” – the integrated contact center of Italian public administration – is opening up and crowdsourcing a set of data underlying its information services to local communities. Everyone can adopt a record of the dataset and help the government solve major data quality issues.

An interesting initiative, with an unusual marketing approach, was launched last week by FormezPA, an agency of the Italian Government: Linea Amica – the official integrated contact center of Italian Public Administration – is giving the data up for adoption. This is the message displayed on the webpages of RubricaPA, a specific service that allows users to find and locate a public agency by searching among thousands of national, regional and local authorities. The service is now letting the users modify the underlying data by submitting more accurate or updated information on an agency location, telephone number or certified email.

The process is simple. You modify of a set of data through a form, then your suggestion is evaluated by the staff, and, if accepted… you have now adopted that specific data. This means that the staff at the ministry considers yourself somehow responsible of that data and its change over time. Something that may (or may not) create a sort of a personal bond with the data itself. Or even an act of love, quoting from Alberto Cottica’s definition of social network.

RubricaPA started to publish open data on public agencies addresses, fiscal codes and certified emails in October 2010 under the Italian Open Data License v1.0 (which is built on Open Data Commons and Creative Commons BY-SA), a step forward of national government towards open data. But the dataset, created through a matching of data from different sources (official statistics, central registers, old similar projects), is flawed by data quality issues and missing values. Some information is outdated or inaccurate, sometimes conflicting. That is why a little help from the crowd may become crucial. In fact, this is the first time that a central and official service sponsored by the Ministry of Public Administration resorts to crowdsourcing techniques to face major data quality issues.

The question is: who should be interested in helping “Linea Amica” improve its information services? The promoters hope to actively involve local public servants and citizens who care about their local community and want a major state-wide service such as Linea Amica help line to use the correct information. “This is my data, I should care”.

We will see if this kind of love is enough to get the right level of participation.

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07/09/11 Research

A strategic balance for open government data publication

A quite long debate on how to publish open government data is still  dividing stakeholders and researchers. Should government develop own tools for data visualization and analysis in order to include non-techically oriented citizens?

 

The debate on how to publish open government data is dividing public servants, open government advocates and researchers into – at least – two main groups.
There’s a first group of civic hackers organizations and – not surprisingly – academic literature that is focusing on the “invisible hand” of private sector or civil society organizations which is able to reuse PSI and to mash up this information with other sources to create new innovative services. In this case the government should only publish hi-quality data in an open, machine-readable format and let the others do all the rest.
Others are pointing to the risks of the so-called “data divide” or, from a public value perspective, think that government should consider different users needs and adopt a more pro-active approach e.g. by elaborating its data on governmental websites:

  • Interesting points on “data divide” or, more generally speaking, on “open data inclusion” for example are raised in Michael Gurstein blog. Moreover, in the comments of this World Bank blog post, Tim Davies highlights the importance of the skills to access, work with and interpret data widely amongst policy makers and local communities.
  • The public value perspective is introduced in this paper from the Center for Technology in Government (CTG), Albany, NY. Basically, this approach suggests that government should consider different users needs and the impact of a set of value generators on different groups of users.

So, what should public agencies do to ensure data inclusion and public value generation?

I recently presented a paper at EGOV 2011 conference entitled “Information strategies for Open Government in Europe: EU Regions opening up the data on Structural Funds”. In the paper I identified three groups of European Public Agencies publishing the data on the beneficiaries of EU Regional Policy:

  1. Agencies that publish the data in PDF with little information and detail on projects and financial data
  2. Agencies that focus on data quality, detail, accessibility and machine-readable formats
  3. Agencies that focus on data visualization, maps, graphs and interactive search, but only a few of them let the user download the underlying raw data

It seems that the second group is following a good strategy from an “invisible hand” point of view, but is lacking actions to include non-technically oriented citizens. The third, even if it can be argued that is not pursuing even an “open” data approach, shows some interest in data inclusion since it’s presenting the data in a “easier” way (maps, etc.) and/or in an aggregated form, which are useful for non-technically oriented citizens.

One conclusion that can be drawn is that both the approaches are necessary. But is it really necessary that every agencies develop their own data visualization tools? How many tools are necessary for the same kind of data (e.g. beneficiaries of EU funding) in EU regions? What is the minimum set of information (metadata, notes from the public administration to suggest a correct interpretation, etc.) required for this kind of data?
For example, in the case of European Common Agricultural Policy: should each State develop geo-referencing tools and maps or let Farmsubsidy.org do all the work?

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25/07/11 Research

US and EU in search of an Open Government R&D agenda: 44 topics in 4 clusters

Open Government is not only changing politics and policies but is also redefining the notion of established research areas such as e-government and e-democracy.  The world of research – with the active participation of practitioners – needs to define an Open Government R&D agenda for the years to come.

In this post – just a note to myself – I list some interesting research topics classified into 4 main areas.

Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and the US Open Government Directive of December 2009 profoundly changed the way governments of the whole world are conceiving the role of ICT in the Public Sector. Obama’s Directive, which directly (and almost immediately) influenced policy making in most OECD countries and also contributed to the growth of bottom-up initiatives, is now impacting the world of research.

Key questions such as the actual impact of open government data on citizens and enterprises remain largely unanswered. It is not just a matter of democratic principles and political messages, or transparency only. The diffusion of web 2.0 technologies and user-driven innovations in the public sector – along with the creation of new business opportunities coming from the re-use of government data by the private sector – is changing the perspective of interdisciplinary but actually quite separated research fields such as e-government (focused on the use of ICT in internal processes and in public services provision) and e-democracy (focused on citizen engagement through technologies such as on line polling and voting, deliberation, consultation). Teresa M. Harrison and her colleagues from the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) at the University of Albany SUNY made this clear in a paper published a few days ago: “Although e-democracy in political and e-government in administrative realms have historically been largely separated, it now appears Open Government brings these two spheres of activity together”. 
On the one hand, the provision of e-government services not only requires technical expertise but also, inevitably, implies political choices. On the other hand, e-government implementation should take advantage of the “power of the crowd” and the opportunities that come from involving the citizen and the private sector in new forms of public-private collaboration.

As boundaries between research domains are blurring, time has come to define an Open Government holistic framework and a global Open Government R&D agenda.

In Europe, the CROSSROAD project, a Support Action funded by the European Commission, has produced a Research Roadmap for “ICT for governance and policy modeling”, as defined by the objective 7.3 of the EU Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) 2009-2010. A white paper published in December 2010 and edited by Fenareti Lampathaki, Sotiris Koussouris, Yannis Charalabidis and Dimitris Askounis (National Technical University of Athens) identifies five main research themes and a three-level taxonomy. As the point of view is the broader concept of ICT for governance and policy making, a set of useful tools and research domains that are not usually considered in the current debate on Open Government are included here. This is the case of public opinion mining tools, which could be used to find out, for example, what types of citizens care about which type of government information. Another examples are the technologies that the EU classifies into the “Future Internet” studies, some of which (e.g. the Internet of Services) are based on government linked data availability.

In the US, the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) highlighted the importance of establishing an R&D agenda for open government in a report issued in December 2010. The Open Government Research & Development Summit was hosted on March 21-22nd, 2011 by the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program. The summit brought together government leaders and researchers to explore the needs of the community, and was organized by the office of the U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, while Beth Noveck – law professor at the New York Law School – was one of the prime movers on getting the meeting to happen.
Building on this first event, a workshop organized by the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) in Albany, New York on April 27-28th gathered a number of academics, practitioners and, moreover, hundreds of research questions still unanswered. These questions were then clustered into omogeneous groups such as “the value / ecosystem of Open Government”, “What do citizens want?”, “Government capabilities”, etc. As a second step, research questions were considered by four lenses: 1) law and policy, 2) management, 3) technology and 4) cross-cutting. Professor Ines Mergel reported on this in her blog: day one and day two. Furthermore, a full list of all the questions is now available in a CTG report prepared by Meghan Cook and M. Alexander Jurkat, which also include an interesting list of the biggest challenges faced in Open Government as perceived by the participants.

EU CROSSROAD project and US CTG workshop came up with quite similar research themes and questions, with CTG themes mainly comprised in the first section of CROSSROAD taxonomy “Open government Information and Intelligence for transparency”. Other CROSSROAD areas partially in common with the US approach are, for example, “Social computing, citizen engagement and inclusion” and “Identity management and trust in governance”.

In the following table I try to combine some of the most interesting aspects of the CROSSROAD and CTG exercises, that is a robust identification of research clusters and the use of “lens” corresponding to different disciplines.
Questions and themes are grouped together on the basis of data and information flows from government to citizens and back from citizens and businesses to government. With reference to the figure:

  1. Open / linked data “supply side”: how to foster meaningful and useful government data publication? What implications / impact within the government agencies?
  2. Open / linked data “demand side”: how to meet citizen and businesses needs? How to support data use and re-use?
  3. Social computing: How to involve the citizen in collaboration projects / activities?
  4. Citizen engagement: How to involve the citizen in democracy?
    For each combination of cluster / research theme vs. lens / research discipline I list some examples of questions and topics particularly interesting to me.

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18/03/11 Research

Towards EU Benchmarking 2.0 – Transparency and Open Data on Structural Funds in Europe

The first output of a web‐based survey shows that the European Cohesion Policy is only halfway to accomplishing a paradigm shift to open data, with differences in performance both between and ‐ in some cases ‐ within European Countries.
Low scores are attributed to the formats the authorities are choosing when publishing their data on the web, while other indicators such as the level of granularity are positively influenced by the requirements of current regulations.

Availability of Open Data on projects and beneficiaries of the European Cohesion Policy (or Regional Policy) – which is the second-biggest EU policy after agriculture with a budget of EUR 347 billion for the period 2007-13 – can surely help foster transparency in the use of public money in Europe.

The European Union lacks common initiatives such as the US Recovery.gov or USA spending.gov to track government spending and improve transparency of public policies. In particular, in the case of Structural Funds, there is no single point of access to the data, since each single EU Region and National agency acting as Managing Authority of the Funds is responsible for publishing data on the beneficiaries and the amount of public funding received.  This implies that hundreds of Managing Authorities are following different paths and implementing different information strategies when opening up their data. Many databases (often simple PDF lists) are now uploaded to regional or national institutional websites, showing huge variation not only in the way they can be accessed (formats, search masks, data visualization etc.) but also in content and quality of data provided (detail level, granularity, description, etc.).

Last summer, after a first analysis on the prevailing formats, I started to design an independent web-based survey on the overall quality of data published by each Managing Authority responsible for the 434 Operational Programmes approved in July 2009. Data was collected in October 2010 by me and Chiara Assunta Ricci, a brilliant PhD student in Economics at La Sapienza University of Rome. We were inspired by what people at the fantastic project Farmsubsidy.org had been able to do with the data from the other big EU policy, the Common Agricultural Policy. While their greatest achievement is having gathered the PDF documents every State has to publish on line in one real database, they also provide an evaluation of the lists of projects they have used by a transparency composite indicator. The same exercise could be applied to Structural Funds.

The first output of the survey was published a few days ago in the European Journal of ePractice. Here you can download the paper and here the full issue “The Openness of Government”. The paper is based on David Osimo’s seminal proposal for a “Benchmarking 2.0” and represents a pilot of a measurement framework for comparing governments’ efforts to make data available.

This exercise could represent a first step for improving current ‘traditional’ EU e-Government benchmarking. In fact, the new edition “Digitizing Public Services in Europe: Putting ambition into action – 9th Benchmark Measurement” (page 19 and 137) confirms the importance of updating and expanding the scope of the analysis by including new metrics on “Transparent and Open Government” .
The evaluation scheme is based on the Eight principles of Open Government Data, which are considered as a key reference and a worldwide de facto standard. This scheme is meant to be flexible and could be applied to other kinds of Government Data. Gianfranco Andriola, one of the promoters of the Italian Open Data Licence, helped me define the methodological approach for the principles “format” and “licence”. I must also thank the “man behind the curtain” of Spaghetti Open Data initiative, Matteo Brunati aka Dagoneye, for his suggestions about open formats, and Sergio Scicchitano for his many advices and support.

Results can be summarized as follows:

  1. The European Cohesion Policy is only halfway to accomplishing a paradigm shift to open data, with differences in performance both between and – in some cases – within European countries. Best performing countries such as the Czech Republic and Finland obtain a score of 71%, while the worst performing Member State is Latvia with 25%. Countries from the eastern Europe often appear in the first half of the chart.
  2. Very low scores are attributed to the formats the authorities are choosing when publishing their data on the web, while other indicators such as the level of granularity are positively influenced by the requirements of current regulations.
  3. A considerable difference in performance is shown when comparing datasets that are shared and centralized at national level with those which are managed by a single regional authority. This variation is also statistically significant with regard to all the indicators examined, and is probably due to the fact that a centrally managed programme has the advantage that information flows are easier to manage and local actions are more easily coordinated.
  4. The use of open, machine-processable and linked-data formats have unexpected advantages in terms of transparency and re-use of the data by the public and private sector. The application of these technical principles does not need extra budget or major changes in government organization and information management; nor does it require the update of existing software and infrastructures. What is needed today is the promotion among national and local authorities of the culture of transparency and the raising of awareness of the benefits that could derive from opening up existing data and information in a re-usable way.

 

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27/12/10 Open Policy

Regional Policy financing e-government in Southern Italy

The last issue of Italian magazine “eGov” includes an article on e-government projects co-funded by European Cohesion Policy which I wrote after the release of a number of official reports on the implementation of Regional Operative Programmes in Italy.
In this article – available in Italian only, sorry – I try to provide a clearer view of financial resources dedicated to e-government development and diffusion in Southern Italy in 2000-06 and 2007-13 programming periods, as well as of main co-funded projects. These are some of the conclusions I came to:

  • financial resources dedicated to e-government and information society in Southern Italy are huge compared to its actual absorptive capacity;
  • from a “governance” point of view, after a political phase dominated by a well-publicized “shared vision”, low investment from the national government increased the role of regional policies in the whole implementation of e-government in Italy. This caused, especially in the South, a stronger role of Regional Cohesion Policy in defining strategies and policy priorities.
  • Since national government – for many reasons – can no longer play the role of coordination center of local actions, interregional coordination and collaboration is becoming essential. The DPS project I wrote about in the past is one possible and still experimental solution.
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15/12/10 Open Policy , Research

European regions financing public e-services: the case of structural funds

As reported in one of the papers underlying Barca Report on the future of European Cohesion Policy, “In the 2007-2013 planning period the share of Structural Funds of the European Union allocated to Research and Innovation received the largest increase, in absolute and relative terms. It is no exaggeration to claim that, for many countries, the entire Lisbon Agenda rests on Structural Funds”.
This is particularly true for the lagging regions of the “Convergence” objective, where structural funds are by far the main source of funding for innovation in general and for e-services in particular. A specific “category of expenditure” is in fact dedicated to public e-services such as e-health, e-government, e-learning, e-inclusion, etc. which are named “services and application for the citizen” (Regulation no. 1828/2006).

Using European Commission data on programmed resources for the 2007-13 period, it is possible to explore the amount of total resources dedicated to this topic by each single Operational Programme (OP). 
The map above shows the amount of resources programmed by all types of OPs (regional, but also national and interregional), with regional disaggregation (NUTS2). Regions from Slovack Republic have planned high investments in e-services (more than 189 million euros); Campania (147,5 million euros), Andalucia (Spain) and Attiki (Greece) also belong to the cluster of Regions showing the highest absolute values.

Moreover, considering the percentage of the resources not only for e-services but also for the other categories of expenditure dedicated to Information Society, it is possible to analyze the strategy each region implemented when allocating public funds to public e-services, broadband, ICT diffusion among enterprises or infrastructural services.
In the “Convergence” Regions, a specific “public e-services strategy” emerges. That means that Regions investing in public e-services tend to exclude the other matters; they concentrate available resources to e-government or e-health, and very low percentage of total funding is dedicated to the other categories such as broadband or infrastructural services. For example, while funds dedicated to ICT diffusion among enterprises are always accompanied by measures for broadband penetration, resources for e-services “stand alone”, and show low correlation with the other components of Information Society funding. 
This fact, if confirmed, seems not really positive, since the development of e-services should come along with the diffusion of the necessary pre-conditions.
Another interesting question is: what determine this strategic choice? is it possible to isolate context-specific factors or the choice is based only on political criteria?

Preliminary results of this study are included in the presentation embedded below, which Sergio Scicchitano and I have prepared for the first public meeting of Technology Adoption and Innovation in Public Services (TAIPS) research project at University of Urbino, Italy. The project is funded by Eiburs – European Investment Bank University Research Sponsorship Programme. In the presentation you can find graphs and other figures showing the allocation of resources at national and regional level, and the details of the principal component analysis.

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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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14/09/10 Civic Technology

A chat with HAL VARIAN on Open Data and Gov 2.0

A chat with HAL VARIAN on Open Data and Gov 2.0

Professor Hal Varian is one of my personal idols. As a student, I studied microeconomics from his famous manual which is used in almost every University in the world. Recently, I usedMicroeconomic Analysis again in my own Economics course at La Sapienza University in Rome, and I rediscovered the clarity and rigor of this text.
But my life literally changed after reading Information Rules, a groundbreaking book he wrote with Carl Shapiro in 1999. This book led me to study innovation and technology and to make the study of innovation a profession.

Many of you might know he is now Chief Economist at Google, and his job is analyzing economic trends by exploiting the potential of Google Trends and the tons of queries people make every day. A very exiting job indeed. He is certainly the master of web 2.0 data.

Professor Varian is now touring Europe for a series of meetings that will culminate with the WTO Forum in Geneva tomorrow. Last Thursday he was over in Rome to meet the Italian Minister of Labour Maurizio Sacconi at a public meeting organized by the lobbying and media company Reti entitled “Web Economy: Internet for economic development”.
How could I have passed up the opportunity of being there and asking him a couple of questions about open data and gov 2.0?

Professor Varian, what do you think about this kind of global fever for open data and Gov 2.0? Is it all hype or does have a future?

I think that this model is very attractive. You can think of the government as the wholesaler of data, that puts it up in bulk form. Then this data can be downloaded, refined and improved for retail and distribution. There are a lot of reasons to think that that model might be attractive, because the role that the Government would play would be quite specifically defined: make the raw data available. Then people can extract from that what they want, and polish it, beautify it, crack it and a lot of other things. So that is a model which I think could be attractive to Italy, the US and the other Countries. The problem of managing the data from end to end is that it’s very expensive and a very big challenge. The most important step is to make the data available even if it’s in a raw and unfinished form.

Two days ago, at Gov 2.0 Summit 2010 in Washington DC Ellen Miller of Sunlight Foundation strongly criticized the availability and quality of the data published on USAspending.gov and Data.gov. It seems that this revolution is actually not happening yet.

Well, I think that in the Obama administration, for example, they are making a lot of more patent data available, FCC (Federal Communications Commission) data available, and so on. So it is happening, it’s just not as rapid as one might think, because it’s a difficult problem. But I think there’s enough momentum behind this effort, and we will see progress. As they say “pazienza”! (he laughs).

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09/09/10 Open Policy

Open data On Structural Funds at the european parliament – the long way towards transparency

A study presented at the European Parliament in July 2010 explores the open data on European Structural Funds made available in March 2009. The European Transparency Initiative is pushing the transparency agenda in most EU Countries.

As I wrote in one of my previous posts, European Cohesion Policy is well on its way towards greater transparency in managing Structural Funds. Member states and EU Regions are responsible for publishing data on the beneficiaries of the policy and the corresponding amount of public funding received.

Although the set of minimum information that the European Commission and Member States agreed on in the COCOF of 23rd April 2008 is still relatively small (it only includes the name of the beneficiary, the project and the amount of public funding), the European Transparency Initiative of the European Commission certainly represents a breakthrough innovation in the way most European Countries implement public policy. In the last few years the policy framework and strict regulation of Structural Funds have played a crucial role in pushing the transparency agenda in those areas of Europe where administrative culture and capacity is traditionally low.
A study on current availability of open data on Structural Funds was presented at the European Parliament during the public hearing Transparency in Structural Funds – recipients and beneficiaries held by the President of the Budget Control Committee, Luigi de Magistris (one of the aims of the hearing was to learn from the US website Recovery.gov, which was presented by Earl E. Devaney, Chairman of the US government’s Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board).
The report, entitled “The Data Transparency Initiative and its Impact on Cohesion Policy” (full report), evaluates the implementation of the European Transparency Initiative by providing some data and four case studies: Finland, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland. The study was carried out by the Centre for Industrial Studies (CSIL) in Milan, Italy and financed by the European Parliament’s Committee on Regional Development.
As stated in the blog Space for Transparency, the situation reported in the study “results in incomparable, often not machine readable and in some countries almost unusable data in different EU languages and different currencies”.

The results of the study are indeed not so encouraging. Only 78% of the European Regions managing an ERDF Operational Programme provide the minimum information required. 19% provide a description of the operations, 41% a location of the projects, 27% the amount of national co-funding. Moreover, while 44% of EU Regions publish data on the total amount of funding, only 32% of available datasets specify the amount of public money actually paid out. 
PDF is confirmed as the prevailing format in which data are released (52%), followed by XLS (27%) and HTML (21%); a situation that did not change one year later (March 2010). See the table I included in my post Open data and structural funds.
As expected, these different approaches seem to reflect differences both in administrative capacities and cultural administrative traditions. In addition, the report argues that centralization vs. decentralization issues play also a role. Obviously, a centrally managed Programme has the advantage that information flows are easier to manage and local actions are more easily coordinated.
The report draws some final recommendations:
• to provide additional essential information, such as contact details, localization, project summaries, description of project partners, etc.
• to make databases fully searchable and compatible, so as to make possible an EU-wide outlook of the data
• to describe the data in English and not only in the local language

Some personal remarks:
1) The study is the first attempt to evaluate the availability and quality of open data on Structural Funds provided by a diverse and complex set of National and Regional Authorities. The statistics provided are a useful starting point for any further research in the field. Moreover, the report provides a valuable contextualization and interpretation of results, along with a detailed description of the European Transparency Initiative.
2) The analysis dates back to March 2009 and should be updated. Since then the number of EU Regions providing at least a minimum set of information has grown and have now reached 100%, as reported in the map of InfoRegio website; though I guess the indicators on quality have not significantly improved.
3) The survey, which seems to be conducted starting from the links that were available on the InfoRegio map at the time, does not consider other important types of Operational Programmes such as the National Programmes and Interregional Programmes or the cross-border co-operation Programmes.
4) Data on quality of the open datasets are presented only in an aggregate way, so it is impossible to compare different nations or regions.

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