This report is the first output of a research project about openness of public data in EU local administrations. The full report was finished in October 2010, is released under a Creative Commons cc-by license and can be freely downloaded from the web site of the DIME project or from Sant’Anna school. The report is also integrally republished here, split in separate pages with comments open to anonymous readers, in order to facilitate as much as possible feedback and discussion on each single part (but please do check the notes to readers first!).

This page only contains the introduction to the report. Please follow the links in the Table of Contents below to reach the other pages.

Goals and structure of this report

The report discusses the current and potential role, in a truly open society, of raw Public Sector Information (PSI) that is really open, that is fully accessible and reusable by everybody. The general characteristics of PSI and the conclusions are based on previous studies and on the analysis of current examples both from the European Union and the rest of the world.

Generation, management and usage of data constituting what is normally called PSI is a very large topic. This report only focuses on some parts of it. First of all, we only look here at really “public” PSI, that is information (from maps to aggregate health data) that is not tied to any single individual and whose publication, therefore, raises no privacy issues.

It is also important to distinguish between actual raw data (basic elements of information like numbers, names, dates, single geographical features like the shape of a lake, addresses…), their results (more or less complex documents, policies, laws…) and the procedures and chains of command followed to generate and use such results, that is to vote or, inside Public Administrations, to take or implement decisions.

So far, discussion and research on Open Data at national level has had relatively more coverage, even if much of the PSI that has the most direct impact on the life of most citizens is the one that is generated, managed and used by local, not central, administrations and end users (citizens, businesses or other organizations). Creation of wealth and jobs can be easier, faster and cheaper to stimulate, especially in times of economic crisis, at the local level. Finally, open access to public data is much more necessary for small businesses that for big corporations, since the latter can afford to pay for access to data anyway (and high prices of data may also protect them from competition from smaller companies).

For all these reasons, the main focus of this report will be on the raw data that constitute “public” PSI as defined above. This is the reason why in this report the terms “raw data” and “PSI” are practically interchangeable. We will also focus on the local dimension of Open PSI, that is raw data directly produced by, or directly relevant for, local communities (City and Regions), and on their direct impact on local government and local economy.

Chapters 2 and 3 summarize the importance of data in the modern society and some recent developments on the Open Data front in Europe. Chapter 4 explains why raw PSI should be open, while Chapter 5 shows the potential of such data with a few real world examples from several (mostly EU) countries. Chapter 6 looks at some dangers that should not be ignored when promoting Open Data and Chapter 7 proposes some general practices to follow for getting the most out of them.

Table of Contents of the Open Data, Open Society report