The rise of Open Data and why it’s important

The current buzz around Open Data all comes back to its high economic potential, with a recent economic study estimating that between 2016 and 2020 the market size of Open Data will increase by 36.9 per cent to €75.7 billion. This economic potential comes from a range of new possibilities - from selling data insights to increasing an organisation’s performance to developing new products and services.

Public sector use of Open Data

The public sector clearly recognises its potential value and is one of the biggest re-users of Open Data. Using it effectively could help save 629 million hours of unnecessary waiting time on the roads in the EU and help reduce energy consumption by 16 per cent. Astonishingly, the accumulated cost savings for public administrations making use of Open Data across the EU28+ in 2020 is predicted to equal €1.7 billion.

Launched during the European Data Forum on November 16th in Luxembourg, The European Data Portal is one central place for all public sector data throughout Europe, harvesting the metadata from national, regional and local Open Data portals. Currently, the portal collects over 295,000 datasets from 34 European countries distributed over thirteen categories. Whether you want to know the weather forecast on your phone or schedule your trip with public transport it is all based on public data. A wide range of data is available, from crime records in Helsinki, labour mobility in the Netherlands, forestry maps in France to the impact of digitisation in Poland.

This means that, instead of asking another department for a required dataset, civil servants are now able to just go online and download the dataset from the portal themselves.

Civil benefits from Open Data

Clearly, there is high potential for economic growth in Europe, but what are the benefits for individual European citizens?

First is the use of the products and services developed by both the public and private sector, such as newly developed mobile applications. These all aim to make our lives a little easier and by using these applications we could have access to real-time information to minimise travel time, for example. They offer better access to information about our neighbourhood, schools, crime rates, utilities, work, and we also have increased transparency in prices and overall government spending.

Making data available on national and European portals makes this data accessible by electronic means. People no longer need to contact administrations one by one – sometimes in written form – to obtain information. Beyond freedom of information, Open Data opens avenues for innovation and increases citizen participation. For example, the portal provides information about governmental spending and election results. This type of data improves transparency. Citizens are able to keep track of the decisions made within Parliament which is not only important to be informed, but provides an opportunity to participate in policy making and civil society in general as well.

Stimulating democracy

It is easy to criticise governments, but it is far more valuable if we are able to keep track of spending behaviour with the ability to start asking questions, backed up by evidence.

The release of politicians’ earnings has led to the resignation of a minister in an Eastern European country. But why is this important? The fundamental aspect of a democracy is that all decisions are made for the greater good. The people are informed when the decisions are made and aware of the impact they may have on their daily lives. Going beyond the decision itself, the decision-making process should be transparent, as well as the motives underpinning the decision.

The release of Open Data enables citizens to be involved in policy-making more actively. Depending on the type of information released, they have the ability to do more background research and are able to comment on decisions with stronger arguments. An important condition for the democratic value of Open Data is that all public sector information is available. Withholding information has an opposite effect and is a characteristic of an all-controlling state with no access to harmful information.

An interesting aspect of the European Data Portal is the possibility of accessing and comparing data from 34 countries. Why would one country spend more on IT contracts than another country? Is the difference also visible in the quality of the services the more IT-focused country offers? Or is this due to a burdensome procurement process? Open Data can also enable the monitoring of which Members of Parliament actually take part in sessions, which committees they are part of and what outputs they deliver.

The availability of more Open Data from other countries offers comparative information which ensures that the data from your own country becomes more meaningful. By having access to so much information, Open Data is helping strengthen European citizens’ abilities to make valuable contributions to society by being better informed.

Wendy Carrara, & Dinand Tinholt, Capgemini

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