A few notes from the 2011 Brazilian ICT meeting

Last October I was at the 2nd Brazilian Information Technology Meeting to speak about the current state of Open Data in European Union countries. Due to some hardware-related problems, I couldn’t publish anything about this conference earlier, but several reports are online anyway. A small part of the notes I took back then, however, may still be of general interest, so here they are.

One point worth noting is not news, but the confirmation, even during this conference, of the Brazilian interest for Public Software. Ministress Míriam Belchior defined Public Software as a big step towards giving everybody access to ICT, noting that avoiding vendor lock-in is good especially for small municipalities. Renato Martini, President of the National Institute of IT added that localized open software based and built on Brazilian experience, that is designed to “do things our way”, offers more services, is a stimulus to the Brazilian economy and gives Brazil both intelligence and autonomy.

Brazil and Open Data

The specific event for which I was invited to Brasilia was the First Brazilian Open Data Meeting. I already summarized in another post what I heard about Open Data for crime prevention.

During the meeting, several high-level representatives of the Federal Government and of national public agencies and companies (re)stated official support for Open Data. Mario Spinelli, Secretary for Corruption Prevention, said he is aware of the importance of Open Data for his mission.

Hesley Py of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics said as a reason to open data, that “There are series of demands I have no idea they exist. Disseminating data allows populations to satisfy these demands. [Consequently...] opening data must not only be a (current) government policy. It must be a policy of the State”. Later on, other panelist rightly compared Open Data to electricity: “when it was invented you couldn’t have predicted how it would have been used”.

Karen Gross Lopes, of the the public data processing company in Rio Grande do Sul PROCERGS, noted that her State is focusing on Open Data-based mobile services, since Citizen wants mobility and 24/access and PROCERGS “understands that best uses of our data will be done by others… the Government is no more the translator of needs”.

This said, the most common strategy emerging from the conference is not to publish everything immediately, or as soon as possible, but only following specific requests. “Demand is greater than our capacity to disseminate” says Py.

The Brazilian plan for Open Data presented at the conference includes such actions as:

  • restructuring the Brazilian Transparency Portal

  • opening the data of the Resource Transfer Agreements and Contracts System (SICONV)

  • creation of a national infrastructure for Open Data (INDA) with a national portal that will contain practical, technical examples and be a meeting point for everybody willing to collaborate

Practical problems are the same seen in other countries, as these quotes selected from my notes show:

  • “in past years we didn’t even know that data existed: the ministries in two decades have done duplicated work due to not open data”

  • “we’ve heard many times the same story: we don’t have access to info and/or it is not compatible…”

  • the main challenges (especially at the regional level) are cultural (a city major in another panel gave me the creeps when he said (as many of his Italian colleagues…) “I will only give data to “responsible journalists”"

  • participation of institutions to create Open Data is small

  • “now we must train people to use data”

  • regulations that actually force public managers to make data available in the right way will only come later on

During the second day Augusto Herrmann, Christian Miranda, Heverson Carmo and Nitai Silva presented structure, goals and usage directives of the brazilian National Infrastructure for Open Data (INDA). INDA is a group of policies and procedures to facilitate publication and access of government Open Data, whose main tasks and goals include:

  • writing specifications on how to publish Open Data

  • promote their consumption, not just within society (because “We don’t have enough people well trained to analyze the data”), but within the government itself

  • carry on capacity building initiatives, to stimulate the public to use the data (“If the data is indeed consumed, it would be hard to remove them afterwards”)

  • making available to citizen the data they need the most, starting dialogs with activists groups to get feedback if possible

  • making those data available in reusable formats and guarantee their continuous availability

Finally, thanks to…

Augusto, Christian, Heverson and Nitai, first for inviting me to speak to the meeting and learn lots of things, and then (above all) for their work with INDA. Opening data is a huge task, but what they are doing should make it a bit easier in Brazil.