Public data – an introduction to opening the information resources

Cover Image: TaxTree by Peter Tattersall

Public data - an introduction to opening the information resources (Poikola, Kola, Hintikka 2010). Cover Image: TaxTree by Peter Tattersall

Great week for open data in Finland: The Finnish open government data guidebook (see my earlier blog post and ePSIplatform announcement) was published on Thursday 25.3.2010 and on Friday 26.3.2010 about 400 people participated in Aalto University seminar “Linked Open Data in Finland“.

The guidebook is in finnish, but we are currently looking for resources to translate it into english since big part of the content could be useful for other European countries as well. The title in english is: Public data – an introduction to opening the information resources.

The book can be downloaded from (julkinen means public) or directly from the site of the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

Executive Summary

The Information collected, produced and held by the public sector have recently been under close attention both in Finland and in European Union in general. During 2010, several govenmental working groups in Finland have been set up and high level statements made on reviewing the current legislation and practices related to public sector information (PSI).

The current public sector position regarding PSI is based on the act on charging for public sector goods and services (1992), which stipulates that in many cases there is a charge for the use of public sector data. The act was passed before the Internet emerged. Nowadays, thanks to the Internet, the cost of providing data is drastically smaller than in those days.

The availability of public sector data free of charge would be beneficial for the Finnish business, civil society and for increasing the productivity of the public administration. There are no accurate economical calculations on this, but according to several studies and reports, the majority of income from public sector data currently comes from the public sector itself. This guide maintains that opening the public sector data for reuse free of charge would be economically more beneficial than the current practice.

The guide describes on a practical and general level the process of opening public sector data for general use free of charge. In the United States and in the UK, opening the public sector data is a part of policies and strategies. The guide presents the opening of public sector data also in a broader societal framework.

Opening the data should begin with an evaluation of the data of the organisation. Depending on the size and nature of the organisation, this may be an extensive process, but there is no need to complete everything at once. The data can be opened in stages, learning on the way, starting from the easier datasets. An inventory of the data may reveal data that individual departments of the organisation that produced the data were not even aware of or could not make use of.

Based on the inventory of the data, organisations can formulate their strategies and objectives regarding the utilisation of the data. The benefits may include the discovery of new use of data, new partners or development of the role of the organisation. This guide offers a toolbox for assessing the openness of the data. Once the inventory has been made, the data should be into machine-readable. Increasingly, data is used in internet and mobile applications that offer users better value than having him or her find the same data on the internet.  Finland has produced very good quality data resources, but in many cases, the data is published only e.g. in pdf format, which is not easy to refine further.

A number of laws, directives and recommendations apply to public sector information and to publishing it. These include the act on the openness of government activities, privacy protection legislation, the act on the criteria for charging for public sector goods and services, copyright law, international recommendations, competition law and EU directives. None of these laws prevents opening of data, but to open the data in a controlled way, knowledge of these laws is required.

Opening of data can be seen as an interactive process, because the best uses are often found outside the organisation. The guide sees opening of data as an ecosystem, where various actors offer data, and the data is used without reciprocity in a way that benefits all actors. The data can be also seen as part of the infrastructure. Open data can be seen as an enabler and content that form a part of the infrastructure like the streets and electricity.

The guide presents some proposals for the process of opening the Finnish public sector data resources for reuse free of charge.

1)      Creating the basic infrastructure for open data
2)      Revising the legislation and ensuring national management of the process
3)      Making internal practices of the administration support open data
4)      Diffusing the benefits of open public sector data
5)      Making Finland an international pioneer and enabling the necessary mindset for change

In Finland, there is no public sector organisation for coordinating the opening of data as in the UK. For coordination of the process, and for making it easier for individual organisations, a clearing house of open public sector data could be created. The clearing house could coordinate practical issues, advise government agencies and would assist in resolving problem situations using the Consumer Agency as a model. In addition, a central data catalogue could be developed for Finland, that would act as a one stop shop for information on all public sector data.

2 responses to “Public data – an introduction to opening the information resources

  1. Pingback: buscatcher: Never miss another tram | Maemo Nokia N900

  2. Pingback: Public data guidebook – English translation out now! | apoikola

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