Open data – that is, publically available data that is free for all to use – is set to have a monumental impact on societies in the next five years. Whether it’s information regarding public transport, city policy or city infrastructures, open data enables public sector bodies, businesses and citizens to make more informed decisions about the things that really matter in their society. In fact, an increasing number of European governments are beginning to publish data openly, developing portals – that offer a single point of access to data published in a country, region or city.
Putting the right policy in place to make data accessible
Open data is more than just putting information into the public sphere via a website and waiting for someone to find it. It requires a robust policy framework to be put in place, that outlines both its goals and a feasible plan of action.
As part of this, so-called ‘open data portals’ need to meet a number of requirements which make them user-friendly and easily navigable for those wanting to source data. One example could be to develop a communications strategy to launch a portal – thus aiding in promoting the availability of the data and encouraging people to use it. What’s more, strategies and monitoring need to be put in place to measure the impact of having open data available – ensuring that it is being used and is actually benefiting citizens.
It’s with all of this in mind that the European Data Portal (EDP) was created, giving EU citizens access to hundreds of thousands of data sets which are freely accessible.
State of the European nation
In its latest report published this month, the EDP has found that European countries are showing marked improvement in their ability to lay the groundwork for open data publishing and reuse – an improvement of around 30% overall. The report further revealed that in 2016, progress has also been made in creating individual policies which help to facilitate open data, with 68% of the countries in Europe having developed policies so far. What’s more, many have been promoting open data by organising hackathons and events such as #NRWhackathon in Germany, Open Geneva in Switzerland, and Nordic Digital Day 2016 held in Estonia.
As well as laying the base for further expansion, European countries have slowly continued to increase the level of data accessible to citizens, up by 4% from last year. While the average usability of all data available stands at 76%, Europe needs to be doing a better job of providing, or at least educating, citizens where local or domain specific areas are.
In addition, EDP’s assessment clusters countries into four categories. Beginners setting up the basics; followers who do have the basics in place but still face a number of limitations; fast trackers who are progressing rapidly but still facing a few shortcomings; and finally trend setters who have advanced policies and sophisticated data portals. The vast majority of countries increased their portal’s framework and, while Spain and France remain in the lead, significant progress was recorded in Ireland, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Open data’s impact
Europe is showing an increased understanding of how open data can impact across areas such as transparency, efficiency, sustainability and the economy at large. Since June 2015, a total of 10 EU countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden) have launched activities to monitor the political impact of open data. In Sweden for example, a council was set up for the digitization of Sweden and serves as a forum for co-ordination between authorities at both national and local level.
EDP shows that the impact open data is having can differ from one country to the next as not all countries have the same focus, nor the same societal challenges to address. In the UK, open data is driving efficiency and effectiveness across a wide range of government policy and service delivery. By improving its infrastructure and the quality of the data the UK government holds and produces, it is able to offer better, more reliable data to citizens.
Increasing portal maturity for the digital age has also been a keen focus area for a number of European countries. Making data available is important, however making it accessible, searchable and readable by machines such as computers, phones and tablets is increasingly necessary as citizens look to access data in the most convenient way for them.
Europe seems to be heading these demands, as portal maturity – the usability of the portal, the re-usability of the data and the spread of data across different domains – has progressed by over 20% in 2016, an achievement owed to the development of more advanced features in country data portals. Where as in 2015 only Bulgaria, Greece and Slovakia provided more than 90% machine-readable datasets, in 2016 an additional 12 countries met these standards. Furthermore, a total of 25 now indicate that datasets are available in different formats, compared to 20 in 2015.
The right direction
As the benefits of open data are becoming increasingly prevalent, governments need to continue pursuing their efforts in implementing the open data policies they have defined; focusing on enhancing their data portals and raising further awareness around how to access them. European countries are certainly heading in the right direction but there is still much work to be done to improve these portals, such as increasing the amount of data available and ensuring the right information is accessible to enable people to use it and enact change.
The future of open data in Europe looks bright, but in order for those European countries hoping to compete with leaders such as the UK, France and Spain, they need to have a clear policy in place. Without it, countries will struggle to understand the impact that open data can really have.