EU Open Data Efforts Only Halfway There, Study says

11 February 2016

More political will is necessary in Europe to advance access to open government data, according to a new report prepared for the European Data Portal project.

The existing national data portals in EU countries are falling well short of their potential, according to detailed research by Capgemini Consulting in the report entitled “Open Data Maturity in Europe 2015.”

“The most important barrier to overcome remains the lack of political will,” the report concludes.

It states further:

Having an Open Data Strategy in place is necessary to overcome this barrier. It will set the foundation of the work as well as key roles and responsibilities across government. However, this may not prove to be sufficient. A continuous political foundation is necessary to guarantee cooperation between public sector bodies to create more and better quality data sets together. To achieve this goal, countries should expand their internal support base, creating a network between all public sector bodies. As a result, data could be collected in a systematic way. This should lead to the release of more data on the portal.

Measuring “Open Data Maturity”

“The EU28+ countries completed close to 45% of the Open Data journey, with 87% of the countries having a national Open Data portal in place,” according to the report, based on a multi-factor “open data readiness indicator.”

“Almost two-thirds of the EU28+ countries [59%] have integrated a dedicated Open Data policy,” according to the report, but when digging into performance, the researchers saw disparities and weaknesses.

The researchers developed an “Open Data Maturity Assessment” looking at the usability and the re-usability of the portal, as well as the spread of data across domains. The report says: “The EU28+ countries score on average 40.8%. Overall, the EU28+ countries score 50% on usability, 33% on re-usability, and 42% on the spread of data across domains.”

The report recommends:

In addition to an Open Data strategy, countries need to extend the functionalities on their portals, raise awareness around Open Data, offer further training and national guidelines to support local initiatives. Finally, measuring the success of an Open Data initiative can help identify benefits more clearly, as well as further room for improvement.

After evaluating national open data sites and policies, the researchers report that “a gap remains between the ambition and guidelines set forward, and the reality of what is witnessed when assessing countries’ Open Data portal.” The report continues:

Luckily, these gaps remain minor, as can be seen when exploring the different measurements assessing licensing for instance, or the machine accessibility of portals. Our conclusions indeed highlight gaps that are mainly due to the time-lapse between implementation and the plans elaborated. Nonetheless, as European countries develop their portals, they need to develop more user-friendly functionalities and ensure their portals are systematically accessible via API.

Multiple Barriers Addressed

The report discusses a variety of “barriers,” such as political, legal, technical and economic.

On the political side, the researchers point to “scattered” responsibility for open data policy and a need for better coordination. One observation: “Civil servants see Open Data as a ‘nice thing to have’ instead of a requirement to stimulate the economy.”

“One legal barrier is that a strong legal framework focusing on privacy makes the publication of some data sets difficult,” according to the report. It also says: “Law inconsistencies make it more difficult to create clear regulations. In some countries, a legal framework that obliges public sector bodies to publish data proactively in machine-readable format is yet to be approved.”

On the technical side, the report says: “The interoperability of the data sources is an important issue in some countries, which needs to be solved before a widespread use is possible. Data is too often not available in open format and the conversion of those data sets takes a huge effort.”

The potential loss of income is an inhibiting factor, according to the report. “Multiple countries indicate that financial barriers cause a problem for the further publication of Open Data. Some governmental departments are afraid of the loss of income by making the data available free of charge.”

A “lack of awareness” by the public about open data is another issue raised.

The report does not tally the number of datasets available, but does discuss which are most popular, with the list topped by “statistics.”

Amusingly, the report says, “The citizens in Greece, on the one hand, are most interested in the ‘Fuel prices’, whereas in France the ‘Official postal code database’ is most popular.”

The report does not include individual country scores “[F]or the sake of offering a safe learning environment.”

For a look at data portals across European countries, see the European Data Portal.

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