In response to "The Potential of Open Data" published by Deirdre Lee, at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, NUI Galway (www.insight-centre.org), I offer my opinion on the health of the government's open data efforts to date. Ireland needs to take a page from Sir Francis Maude and not the US. The US open data initiative is an embarrassment. Embrace "Data is the 21st century’s new raw material."
The Beginning of Open Data in Ireland
To be fair, Ireland is just beginning the road to open data after an internal struggle stretching back five years. The Irish Minister of Reform, Brendan Howlin, has also wisely eliminated FOI fees for information requests. This FOI issue has long been a point of political divisiveness in Ireland. Indeed at the Open Government Partnership Summit in Dublin this past year I witnessed street demonstrations against FOI.
Government creates an Open Data Initiative
In late January, a tender was issued by the CIO of Ireland, William Beausang. Mr. Beausang wanted an alpha open data portal and a roadmap for open data in Ireland. Certainly this was issued in good faith and several parties responded.
The Insight Centre won the proposal with the lowest bid. It was unclear to the other respondents what national experience Insight brought to the table. Still, local activists inside Ireland and in the open data community saw the call to action by Beausang as a step in the right direction.
The deadline for completion of the tender was to coincide with the Open Government Partnership Summit later in 2014. My colleagues, +Ian Henshaw, +Denis Parfenov, +Ingo Keck and I attended. We were disappointed that there was no announcement and no alpha portal. the deadline had slipped.
A New Government Commitment
+Karl O'Leary and I met with William Beausang in late June to discuss open data, internal data governance and performance measurement for Ireland. At his Dublin Office Mr. Beausang once again gave his assurances that Ireland would beta an aggressively transparent open data plan centered on data re-use and creating a constructive dialog between the people and government.
This so far has not happened. Ireland has a strong Civil Society Organization made up of citizens from every political party. The CSO organized the night before and attended the OGP Summit. There was vocal and written consternation at the secrecy with which Insight was conducting its work. Most of the CSO members, including myself, felt that the Minister of Expenditure and Reform as well as Ireland's CIO were not given the best advice and have little to show for the money and time spent on open data in Ireland.
Draw your Own Conclusions
I like reading documents and making my own conclusions so I ask you the reader to do the same. Insight has published a set of best practices and guidelines for open data and Ireland here:
From the Irish government website we see the following statement and links:
The Insight research comprises a Best Practice Handbook, a Data Audit Report, a Roadmap for Open Data, an Evaluation Framework and an Open Data Publication Handbook which will provide guidance to public bodies on the publication of data in open format in line with international standards.
- Best Practice Handbook – this is the core document which draws together existing best practice standards for the publication and re-use of Open Data to assist in establishing best practice standards in Ireland
- Data Audit Report – reports on an audit of the Irish public sector datasets available online and aligns the findings with the ‘common high-value datasets’ based on the G8 Open Data Charter categories
- Roadmap – sets out a detailed 3 year plan for the objectives, structure and actions necessary to advance publication of national and regional Open Data for maximum impact
- Evaluation Framework - to assess the current state of readiness for Open Data in Ireland; to monitor and assess the ongoing progress of the initiative, and to measure the actual economic, social and political impact of the initiative.
- Open Data Publication Handbook - a step-by-step guide for public bodies publishing Open Data on the National Open Data Portal (data.gov.ie).
The documents seem to not be labelled in a way that gives their true purpose. The 122 page Best Practice Handbook is technically prescriptive and lacks the general processual and acculturative approach of the OKF's Open Data Handbook. Open data is not about platforms and any strategy document should not be tying a national movement toward openness toward any particular set of platforms. The Best Practice Handbook from Insight is better labelled as a roadmap document. The Roadmap document itself should be the executive summary. Comparing what was produced by Insight in 2014 to what Sir Francis Maude produced in 2011,Unleashing the Potential, there is a clear lack of vision beyond the tired platitudes of "5 star open data".
Sir Francis Maude made a clear call to action and what the government's intentions were with this statement:
"Data is the 21st century’s new raw material. Its value is in holding governments to account; in driving choice and improvements in public services; and in inspiring innovation and enterprise that spurs social and economic growth."
The website does at least encourage citizens to give feedback on what has been published so far. Submissions should be made to the following email firstname.lastname@example.org. Note that we have until September 5th to make our suggestions.
My first suggestion would be to focus on what is the potential for open data in Ireland, What is the real commitment toward giving citizens access to data, data not already available or scraped from existing websites?