Open data: Five recommendations for government and parliament

On the eve of the beginning of the parliamentary year in the Netherlands, Open State Foundation has five recommendations for the government.

A healthy democracy can not exist without informed citizens. Transparency is essential for citizens’ involvement in the community, especially at a time when the government requires more and more of people. An important aspect of transparency and open government is open data. Governments collect and possess a wealth of information. This includes data collected with public funds for public purposes. The unlocking of public sector information delivers value for the whole society. A variety of tools and applications can be created that use this data. It creates new economic opportunities from which the government and society can benefit.

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In the Netherlands alone, the benefits of only commercial reuse of open data has been estimated at `‚¬ 200 million per year. Many studies show that open data, the machine readable provision of (public sector) information, has both social and economic benefits. It improves efficiency and public service delivery, which provides cost and time savings. Knowledge is shared and it can give new insights, leading to innovation and new opportunities through reuse. This requires that government information by default becomes available in an accessible machine-readable format.

1. Open data as part of the primary process of government

What this development needs is a government that propagates its value and acts accordingly. We still find that open data, unlocking government information, is not part of the primary work at both the national government and various administrative bodies and local authorities. Our plea for more digital transparency is urgent. In the field of active disclosure Netherlands lags behind countries such as the U.S. and the UK but also countries like Denmark and Norway. The Netherlands falls behind on the digital agenda. We would like to see change. There are plenty of studies that have shown the value of open data and transparency can can deliver and have already delivered. The business community, from Dutch corporations and multinationals to the smallest start-ups, have seen the value of open data and what innovations it can bring.

2. Legislation

Although active disclosure is already part of the existing Freedom of Information Act (Wet Openbaarheid van Bestuur), we see that without a new law has come been agreed upon in parliament, the current outdated law is further weakened. The absence of new legislation requiring public sector information in a machine readable format slows down economic development. In 2013 a new European Public Sector Information directive was established. EU Member States must implement the Directive into their own legislation by 2015. A new and modernized Freedom of Information Act offers the right opportunity.

3. Make data inventories public

We ask all government departments and underlying administrative bodies covered by the current Freedom of Information Act to do a data inventory of both already open and still closed datasets. It is important that this inventory of datasets is made `€‹`€‹public. For citizens, businesses and civil society have little insight into what information governments collect and manage. By making such a data inventory public they can see which datasets governments possess, and governments can prioritize to unlock datasets on the basis of demand.

4 Schemes and deadlines for opening up data

We ask government departments to make schemes for unlocking public sector information that can be made easily accessible. By making these schemes and deadlines known, networks and communities of re-users can prepare themselves and create applications, which creates value instantly. It also helps, through feedback loops, to improve the quality of government information. In the US and the UK schemes have already been used effectively.

5. Openspending becomes the norm for government

The financial crises and budget cuts have stirred the need for financial openess. Financial government transparency needs to become the norm. Not only information about budgets, actual spending but also data on subsidies and procurement should be made accessible in an open data format. The disclosure of this type of data gives important insights (for example decentralization issues), strengthens oversight, supports parliamentarians and local council members to hold governments to account and helps to turn the lack of trust of citizens in institutions.