State of the art on Open Data in Spain

This article was first published in Spanish.

Last week we assisted to a new edition of the Open Data initiatives meeting in Spain in which the state of openness of information in the country was discussed through a travel across the existing initiatives.

Government Envision

In similar way to the conclusions of the recent European Digital Agenda meeting, it was made quite clear that Open Data is an important area of future, since reuse is considered one of the principal axes on the road to an efficient and top-quality Public Management and for a more democratic management through which citizens get reconnected with.

Sharing data with citizens and businesses is also a tool for transparency and to foster economic activity, as well as a logical exercise in which the focus of information management will go back to the citizens, who are the natural owners. Thanks to the promotion of the future Spanish Law on Transparency, cost savings, an improved transparency and increased competitiveness are also expected, as well as the creation of new services.

Return of Investment

The debate opened with the question of why we are not reaching yet the economic return predicted by the MEPSIR and other similar studies. The conclusion seems to be that it is necessary to stimulate the market, which at times seems somewhat lethargic, and put more emphasis on citizens’ needs when prioritizing what must be opened first.

It is considered that a number of sensitive data (crime, health, etc.), to whose publication might be more reluctant the Administration, might be precisely those that have greater potential for value creation, however it is estimated that turnover for the data already available, such as cadastral records, official bulletins and more, is currently around 200 million Euros.

The Figures of Open Data in Spain

Data from the 2012 infomediary sector characterization study in Spain that will be published by ONTSI in the next days show us a universe of 150 companies that generate between 3,700 and 4,000 skilled and quality jobs.

With a total turnover of between 330 and 550 million € and the cultural sector contributing 10% of total, if we also consider the potential synergies between Open Data and the digital content industry, business figures could reach € 50,000 million, that is 5% of GDP in Spain.

Another interesting fact is that 87% of the data reused by businesses comes from Central Government and 45% from dedicated Open Data portals, being those confirmed as a useful mechanism to encourage reuse. From these figures one can conclude that there is still much room for growth, not only with the release of new data, but also by adding other regional and local Government initiatives.

Social Value and the Culture of Data

General sensation is that social value of Open Data is low at present due to the type of data that is being opened, but we must also take into account that barriers between social and economic value is rather diffuse.

One of the greatest barriers for the penetration of Open Data in society that has been detected on a recurring basis is the poor culture of data in the country.

To overcome this barrier the Open Data should be a natural part of the administrative procedure itself. The information should be reusable by default and that should be its natural state, giving public information back to the society which is its natural owner. The opening of data should be considered as a normal, everyday act and not an exception. That would be the best way to create a real culture of data.

The most open is not who more data publish, but who closes the least – Ivan Sanchez.

Citizens should be able to use the data that is necessary to generate value in a day-to-day basis, but require that information and make good use of it is also a citizenship responsibility. You need to create a continuous cycle of awareness, training and release of data, together with closer actions that make possible to generate true stories from data.

On the other hand, if you do not know about the existence of some data, the need is likely to never come. So, you also have to be proactive in publishing, or at least make an exercise of make an inventory of the data and publish the results, as in the case of Navarre. To give more visibility to data also helps.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses – Henry Ford.

Open Data Community in Spain

Spain can also be considered one of the leading European Open Data countries with a large number of initiatives underway and a very active community. Proof of this is the intense online debate that took place in a complementary way to the meeting. There are also some interesting initiatives emerging from the Spanish community that have had great success, as the Open Data Decalogue. However, there is a general feeling of weak organization, slow advance and the existence of different tendencies.

You could say that, compared with the rest of Europe, Spain is not misplaced, so we should not be alarmist. But, given the current position of the country, the aim should be to aspire to be part of the leadership. For that we need to improve the community weaknesses and unify initiatives, a big challenge that remains unresolved also at the European level.

Standardization and normalization

Although the technology component is not the most important within an Open Data initiative, it is a recurrent topic every year, which is logical because we must not forget that Internet has been the facilitator of Open Data, and that the previous openness and participation initiatives have failed due to lack of sustainability.

We wouldn’t be talking about Open Data without the open platform that bring us Internet.

It is considered that we still miss the right tools to manage data properly and that right now current initiatives are too focused on open data portals exclusively. The origin of the problem might be that Public Services have not been planned to share data efficiently, although there are some initiatives, like the case of GenCat which, in a similar way to the new U.S. openness policy, are making good progress towards an ideal open-by-default model through a policy of unified APIs open to the public.

Standardization is also key to progress. Collaboration mechanisms between the Administration, Private Businesses and Citizens should be enabled to create or adopt common standards in areas such as vocabularies, access methods or data sets priorities. In this normalization process interoperability is a key factor, so the use of standards to ensure technological neutrality is essential.

We need also to stress again the importance of metadata, as the whole Open Data idea is based on the possibility of a suitable automated information processing. When data is not being well described its value will be much more limited. Special mention in this field for the simple, creative and functional approach of the Canarian Institute of Statistics that use their own metadata to provide information on user profiles potentially interested in the information.

Legislation is also making progress, but slowly, and although the approval of the PSI Royal Decree has implied a real improvement, and excessive bureaucracy and unclear legislation is still perceived and must also keep evolving.

A final nice thought to keep in mind:

Data are the raw material of the Information Society, we live in a Society of Information and sharing Open Data in this context equals to spread welfare – Marc Garriga

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