Thursday, 12 May 2011

Preparing the grounds for open data - an area that is moving with exceptional speed

Over the last two days I had the pleasure to attend a most interesting and inspiring workshop on open data. Opening up public sector information (PSI) has been identified by the European Commission as an important way to promote collaborative innovation. And since public data is stored in digital formats this is also a key action item in the Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE).

This workshop was organised jointly by ETSI and W3C within the Share-PSI initiative they both kicked off. IBM had submitted a position paper to the workshop which I had the honour to present. Both the paper and my presentation are available on the PSI website.

The workshop was impressive since it covered an unexpectedly broad spectrum on open data including a number of interesting use cases. There seems to be some focus on working with data in various contexts of urban life and on geographical data. But most notably, the speed with which PSI is gaining attendance and with which new entrepreneurs mushroom and jump on making use of public data in collaborative innovation and provide value-add offerings and services is enormous.

Governments, especially on the local level, seem sometimes to be struggling whether they should open up their data and whether this should be done without asking for fees. But the general tendency seems to be that opening up PSI needs to be seen as a kind of industrial or innovation policy which helps to promote innovation and which will lead to valuable new results beyond of what governments would normally produce. In other words: leveraging the community effect and collaborative innovation will pay back largely the cost that are required for providing the data.

Not surprisingly, my presentation was on the need of open standards and of interoperability for PSI. The internet can be prime example for PSI, as well, of how innovation can be triggered with open standards. Machine readable formats are essential so that the data can be used easily and without encumbrances. There are some standards and technologies available already today. As a next step an inventory should be produced on which standards and specifications are available, functional gaps should be identified and a requirements definition process for the standards and specifications that are to be used should be initiated.

Secondly, a coordinated, pan-European approach should be pursued including providing guidance to national and local governments so that they don't have to re-invent the wheel. Therefore I was very pleased that two speakers from the Commissions ISA programme were speaking at the workshop stressing the need for pan-European interoperability and illustrating how the SEMIC.EU platform works. In my opinion, what is needed for open data is something like a European PSI Framework that addresses all the issues at stake, be it the legal side, the technologies, the standards, etc. 
As a use case from which to draw some experience I mentioned City Forward which is about sharing data from cities and metropolitan areas and which was initiated by IBM. A number of cities world wide already contribute and a good number of results is available, as well.

In parallel to this Share-PSI initiative the Openforum Academy jointly with others initiated the Open Data Challenge which is still running. Another lighthouse initiative around open data.

The next milestone in the debate about open data / PSI is a workshop session at the upcoming Digital Agenda Assembly mid of June. The only point I missed in yesterday's workshop was developing some specific policy advice to be presented at the Digital Agenda Assembly. But perhaps this expectation might have been too high for this first broad workshop on the topic. And by the way, the winners of the Open Data Challenge will also be announced and honoured at the Digital Agenda Assembly.

And later on, in July, a large conference is organised in Marseille called the “Open Data Garage”.

All of this further illustrated the speed – and the enthusiasm – with which this relatively new area is progressing. Hey, there's something really new, important and innovative is going on here. And it's exciting to be involved and be part of it.

For those of you who wish to take a closer look at what was discussed in the Share PSI workshop - collaborative note taking was organised via Etherpad and the hashtag to look for in Twitter is #daa11psi

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