The Norwegian approach to and experience with re-use of public data

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There is little debate about the potential of exploitation of public sector information (PSI) which has been catalyzed by digital technology. This potential has many aspects -social, democratic and/orr financial. In light of the current economic situation in Europe, it is no wonder that the Commission is eager to point to the figure of 28 billion EURO as an estimate of the economic potential for Europe. Although Norway is not a member of the EU, we are a member of the EEA, and thus in a close relationship with different sides of the Single Market. Ever since the implementation of the PSI Directive of 2003,, the Ministry of Government Administration, Reform and Church Affairs (GAR), has had the responsibility for the legal framework, paving the way for further dissemination and re-use of public sector information.

The Ministry and the Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (Difi) are working hard to realize the potential of PSI. I will use my 6000 within this document/short paper will focus on how we in the public sector can start with ourselves.

There are four apparent reasons for working for the proliferation of open public data:

  • Efficiency and Innovation: Through open data, knowledge is shared both within and across the public and private sectors. Sharing public data to facilitate more coordination and creativity.
  • Private sector: freely available data creates a new market in terms of new applications and new services based on public information.
  • Democratization: Open data allows citizens easier access to the basis for decisions and priorities in the public sector. An open culture may include a larger audience in the political processes.
  • Transparency: Open data allows for a broader understanding of public processes. This can help to boost confidence in the public sector and the political system.

Re-use can have a disciplining effect on the public sector. If data is open and available, citizens will have an opportunity to see how their tax money is being spent. At the same time, and in accordance with what is mentioned above, this public data can be seen as the new soil and oil for the digital economy. It forms the basis for the development of new and innovative services based on re-use of the content produced, (and already paid for!) by the public sector. As public data has been stored in analog form and on a much smaller scale than today, the values have been minimal, and not very accessible. This changes drastically as they exist in digital format.

Despite the fact that re-use of public sector information has been a focus area since early 2000, a lot of information and data sets are still not made available for re-use. The reasons given from different public sector bodies not to comply with the implemented directive are many and diverse. However the primary reason is that this represents a totally new regime for the public sector entities. To assist them GAR and Difi have developed different tools to smoothen the processes and relieve the  bodies from any potential uncertainty they may have, be that legal, technical or administrative.

Amongst the tools that are provided, are:

  • Guidelines which give an directions on why and how to PSI accessible
  • A standardized license that is intended for use when public entities distribute data and other relevant content for further use by business and industry as well as civilian society.
  • A Data Hotel, which is a free service from Difi, where data owners are able to publish their data without having to invest in new infrastructure or software

We also see the value of data owners and user getting together, and have twice set them up in a competitive context. Our Hackathon in December 2011 released data sets for the day, and had prizes for up to EUR6000. The apps4Norway-competition that started February 1st this year with a prize fund of 20,000 euros, is expected to stimulate and spur even more innovation.

As we prepare for the revised PSI directive, which is in its final procedural stages as the moment, we see that the highest demand is for geographic information, while at the same time it is the least accessible data. We have reason to believe that this data has a very high commercial value potential. At the same time, in many countries, this data represents an income to the public entity responsible for its production and maintenance. We have to recognize this, and find solutions that acknowledge both sides. Even though we are seeing important and welcomed changes from the Norwegian Mapping Authority and its owner, the Ministry of the Environment, we still have a way to go. We merely need to look to Denmark, which is making all geo data freely available for its private enterprises, citizens and other public sector entities. The Danish have calculated a 100 Mill DKR gain (~13.415.000eur) every year from private enterprises. In addition, they expect a social gain of 800 mill DKR (~107.320.000eur)

It is our ambition that in this election year in Norway, we will be able to take new strides towards a reality where access to public data is mainstreamed, so that developers are inspired and users are offered solutions and services that makes their lives easier and better.

After all, that is what digitization is all about!


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Thomas Nortvedt is a lawyer, specializing in copyright and information right. He is working as a senior adviser within the Norwegian Ministry of Government, Reform and Church Affairs, department of ICT policy and public sector reform

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