Open data in Finland – Part I

Bottom up and middle out, but not yet from top down

European Public Sector Information Platform Topic Report No.12 (originally published 15 July 2010 at http://www.epsiplatform.eu/topic_reports/ )


Abstract

The re-use of public sector information or open government data, whichever term is used, has recently been under close attention both in Finland and in the European Union in general. This topic report summarises the state of debate and the state of actions, and briefly discusses some legal and practical issues in the area of making government data available for re-use in Finland.

Introduction

More has happened in the last four months [in terms of change in attitudes towards opening up the public sector data resources] than I believed would happen in four years”

Jyrki J. Kasvi (Feb. 2010) – Member of the Finnish parliament

The general atmosphere for opening Public Sector Information (PSI) resources for re-users is positive in Finland. The discussion has become more coherent and integrated into the mainstream discussion on the development of the information society. Most importantly, it is starting to reach also the top level decision makers.

In spite of the general positive atmosphere and even some high level statements, progress in identifying PSI resources, opening new datasets and promoting – re-use is rather slow in Finland.

Most activity in this area is connected to the implementation of the Infrastructure for Spatial Information (INSPIRE) Directive 2007/2/EC. Other initiatives in the area of PSI re-use include the Apps for Democracy -innovation contests and ongoing data catalogue projects

A number of laws, directives and recommendations apply to public sector information and to publishing it. These include the freedom of information (FOI) legislation, privacy protection legislation, the act on the criteria for charging for public sector goods and services, copyright law, international recommendations and competition law.

None of these laws explicitly prevents opening up and re-using of government data, but unfortunately the current interpretation and practice doesn’t support it either.

State of the debate: Reaching for high level political attention

The benefits of distributing government data resources more openly can roughly be divided into three categories: 1) transparency and democracy, 2) innovation and business and 3) efficiency within the administration (the public sector is the biggest re-user of public data). These benefit areas are widely accepted, but still the actual progress in opening the data resources has been painfully slow in Finland.

The Public Sector Information (PSI) directive 2003/98/EC had minimal effect in Finland[2]. In 2005, a working group under the Ministry of Finance came to the conclusion that the existing national legislation in Finland already met the framework set out in the Directive. At that time, the political discussion about the re-use of public sector information resources was not very active.

However, the public debate around the topic has gained a lot of power during 2009 and 2010. The current situation in Finland reflects the developments driven by the global “open data” movement with visible initiatives like the data catalogues and application contests. The current movement could be named as a second wave in the discussion that has been going on for quite some time.

Characteristics of this second wave include enhanced public visibility of the topic and wider interest of civic groups and so called open data advocates. Even the terminology used in the debate is changing.

Public Sector Information (PSI) means information resources collected, produced and held by the public sector. Recently in the discussion, the term open data is increasingly used to underline the machine readability of those information resources. For many re-users, the term open data also carries the notion of the data being made available completely free of charge and easily accessible without any signed contracts even by individual programmers.

Traditional PSI re-use lobbyists representing established industries are often not so enthusiastic about these requests of “free of charge” and “no signed contracts”. For existing companies, it is often crucial to have contracts that guarantee the continuity of the data service and they think that it is ok to pay a reasonable price for that.

In Finland there has not been strong organized lobbying from the data re-use industry. The earlier PSI related debate has taken place mostly between public administrations and a few individual companies. It has also focused mostly on better internal information management within the public administration and potential economic benefits of the larger information markets. Recently, also the first mentioned argument “transparency and democracy” has gained more attention.

Now both the civil society and the private sector are seen as potential innovators and re-users of government data – civic groups, active individuals, scientific researchers, industry associations and some politicians are joining the second wave of the debate.

At the national level during 2009 and 2010, several governmental working groups were set up and high level statements made on reviewing the current legislation and practices related to public sector information.

  • Ministry of Education and Culture – PSI in scientific research – a cross-sectoral project (May 2009 – December 2010)[3]
  • Ministry of Transport and Communications – Enhancing access to public information with focus on general framework conditions and the demand side – a working group (February 2010 – December 2010)[4]
  • Ministry of Finance – Access to public sector information and promotion of re-use with focus on public sector IT architecture and the supply side – a working group (February 2010 – December 2011)[5]
  • Ministry of Finance – Interfaces to public sector base registries – a working group (February 2010 – December 2011)[6]

The National Audit Office has criticised that this many working groups under various ministries may be an inefficient way to deal with the topic.[7] The functions and responsibilities related to public sector information of the various ministries seem to be unclear. Also the above mentioned three benefit areas have different importance in different ministries.

Hopefully the criticism proves to be wrong and the working groups manage to come up with strong policy recommendations also on harder technical, financial, legal and practical issues related to PSI re-use.

One strong message about the political will is an action point included in the Government’s statement to the Parliament on the Government’s programme – when the Prime Minister changed in June 2010.

“Information systems used in public administration will be harmonised as quickly as possible. ICT management in the public sector will be centralised and strengthened. The Government will give decisions which provide for the opening and availability of data in the possession of the public sector without compromising data security.”

Statement from the Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi’s Government Programme[8]

The national level debate is one thing, but of course, the real action towards opening the data sources takes place inside individual public organisations. The regional and local administrations have a very important role since significant amounts of public sector information is produced at this level of government. In the level of knowledge, awareness and attitudes related to PSI re-use, the variation between the individual organisations is immense.

Continue reading Part II ->

[1] Poikola, A., Kola, P., & Hintikka, K. A. (2010). Julkinen data. Publication of the Ministry of Transport and Communications. http://www.julkinendata.fi/.

[2] Corbin, C. (2008). Finland National Meeting http://www.epsiplatform.eu/content/download/14947/187104/file/ePSIplusNationalMeeting_Finland_V1.pdf

[3] Ministry of Education and Culture (2010). Press release: Access to the national information resources should enhanced…. http://www.minedu.fi/OPM/Tiedotteet/2010/03/Tutkimuksen_tietoaineistot.html

[4] Ministry of Transport and Communications (2010). Press release: Political decision is needed for opening public information resources. http://www.lvm.fi/web/fi/tiedote/view/1166185

[5] Ministry of Finance (2010). Project register entry: Access to public sector information and promotion of re-use. http://www.hare.vn.fi/mHankePerusSelaus.asp?h_iId=14220

[6] Ministry of Finance (2010). Project register entry: Interfaces to public sector base registries. http://www.hare.vn.fi/mHankePerusSelaus.asp?h_iId=15360

[7] National Audit Office (2010). Tarkastuskertomus 158/2008 Alueellisten tietoyhteiskuntahankkeiden toteutus. http://www.vtv.fi/files/2310/Jalkiseurantaraportti_tietoyhteiskuntahankkeet_julkaisu.pdf.

[8] Government Agenda (2010). Finland towards a consistent path to growth, employment and stability. Government Programme of Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi’s Government. http://www.valtioneuvosto.fi/hallitus/hallitusohjelma/pdf/en.pdf

One response to “Open data in Finland – Part I

  1. Pingback: Open data in Finland – Part II « apoikola

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