Open Data, Open Society: a research project about openness of public data in EU local administrations

Update 2011/01/11: the first report from this project is now available online

As some readers may already know, I regularly follow Open Government and Open Data issues. This month I have started working on a research contract for the Laboratory of Economics and Management (L.E.M.) of the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, in the context of the Dynamics of Institutions and Markets in Europe (DIME) program (1). Here are a synthesis of the goal and scope of this project, and a call for information.

Modern software technologies and data networks make it both possible and relatively inexpensive to publish online tenders, regulations, documents, procedures and many other raw public data, from digital maps to pollution measurements. Making this information really accessible, that is online, in open formats and under open licenses, can both improve transparency in government and foster local economical and cultural activities (see bottom of this page for some examples).

Transparency, that is making accessible and easily reusable the raw data on which decisions are based and the whole decision making process, is necessary to allow voters to evaluate how their representatives are working.

Free availability of raw data that are directly produced, or validated, by Public Administrations with taxpayers money, can also decrease the start-up and maintenance costs of local small and medium businesses (SMB). The possibility to reuse for free official digital maps, for example, would make it possible to run all sorts or location-related businesses at the lowest possible cost.

Scope of this research project

For the reasons above, unrestricted access to raw public data, with the obvious exceptions due to privacy protection, should be a key part of every policy aimed to create an open and competitive digital economy. This specific project will look at the impacts on transparency and economic activities of opening public data by local Public Administrations. The project has three main phases. The first part will produce a report that discusses the role of fully accessible and reusable digital raw data in a truly open society, based on examples both from the European Union and the rest of the world. The second part of the project consists of an online survey to be launched this summer on the L.E.M website, to find out how many EU municipalities and regions are already making their raw data and procedures available in open formats and under open licenses. The final result will be another report, that analyzes the results of the survey and provides some guidelines and best practices for improving full access to public digital data.

I have already started working on this project, collecting lots of data and directly contacting many people and organizations that work on the same issues, but the more the better. I am primarily looking for real world stories of local businesses that:

  • (worldwide) started and are sustainable just because the public data they need was made available by some public administration
  • (preferably, but not only in the EU) cannot start at all, or have higher, unnecessary expenses, just because they need public data that are not publicly available at no cost

but any feedback is welcome: comments, contact info of people or organizations that could provide feedback, whatever. Thanks in advance for forwarding these requests as much as you see fit. Please also write me if you want to receive notifications every month or so on how the project is going (but remember to remove the numbers from my email address!).

Here are some articles I already wrote on the possible (re)uses of public data:

(1) here are the contract announcement, description and assignment (italian only, sorry)