Open the windows of the house of Thorbecke

If you want to close the gap between government and citizens, they would need the same information

In dit pand aan de Garenmarkt in Leiden, schreef Johan Rudolph Thorbecke in 1848 de Grondwetsherziening.

A group of mayors, aldermen and city councilors called out ‘Code Orange’. They argue that the gap between citizens and government should be diminished. However, you cannot achieve this only with various experiments, loting and conferences but more importantly by structurally address the information asymmetry between government and citizens.

The House of Thorbecke

When Johan Rudolph Thorbecke, a Dutch politician and statesman of liberal signature and one of the most important Dutch politicians of the 19th century built the administrative center of the Netherlands, he could not foresee what would change the information management of the government with the advent of internet and digitalisation. Although we live in a time where everyone is dependent on (real time) digital information, the windows of the House of Thorbecke, with four tiers and strict ministerial responsibility, is still largely closed.

The public service mission of a municipality is not unique

One cannot continue to say that all public tasks of local governments are unique. This also applies to digital government information. Thorbecke not only built the public administrative house of the Netherlands but also enshrined the right to information in the early constitution. Nowadays, when you want information from all local governments or municipalities, you still need to do a tour of 390 municipalities, various departments, officials and deadlines and you will get a wide variety of answers to the same information request.

An example. Each municipality provides grants or subsidies. In the Netherlands there is only a handful of municipalities that actively share data on grants or subsidies, recipients, projects, policy and amounts. Let alone in an open machine-readable format. If you want to have this information, however, you will need to ask every municipality separately for that information. Each municipality deals differently with this question. Some would send you the information within a week, others take much longer. Some would treat the request as a formal FOIA request. Many municipalities have made it impossible to file such a request electronically.

Governments themselves are the largest re-user of data

It this way, it takes unnecessary time, resources and hassle. It hampers innovations and opportunities to derive social and economic benefits from open data. For scaling up open data on a national level it is really not necessary that each local government has its own open data portal. As governments themselves are the largest re-user of public sector information, much more data from local and regional governments should be accessible. What is important for structured decentralised public information is that the data is standardised, structured and centrally accessible.


There is not an app but a solution for it. In the UK there is something called the ‘single data list‘, a list of all the datasets that local government must submit to central government. Governments, local and regional authorities, agencies and ministries exchange a lot of digital government information. Ministries require data from local governments and regional governments exchange information with municipalities.

Transparency reduces costs

If we are able to make a single decentralised data list, we would not only make more data available and centrally accessible, it would also save a lot of unnessary costs. It’s a list of datasets and public data that governments exchange between eachother, data that could be requested or digital government information every government holds.

The datasets on this list that without limitations can be made public, could be made open immediately. It would be great if such a list could be updated every six months. Re-users, governments and others would know what data is available on a national scale and could influence the list.

It’s a win-win for everyone. In this way, we would save not only a lot of resources but would also bring the digital information House of Thorbecke in order. This is one of the building blocks to reduce the information asymmetry between government and citizens. Because you want to close the gap, you do need a level playing field.