I’ve said before that I’m a big fan of open data. Opening up public data will get citizens involved in society and political life, increase the transparency of public administration, and improve public decision making. Those benefits cannot be overestimated. And public data can be used in many unexpected ways, too: as the father of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee, put it: “if people put data onto the web… it will be used by other people to do wonderful things in ways that they never would have imagined”.
There’s a huge amount of money here, and a huge amount of opportunity. I want to see Europe at the forefront of this development. So I’m going to be taking action to open up Europe’s public sector, by promoting creative and innovative re-use of public data.
These days, experts in the ICT field talk about “big data”: big because of the volume and variety of digital data captured, stored, analysed and used every second. Big data means big opportunities. These opportunities can flow from public and private data—or indeed from mixing the two. But a public sector lead can set an example, allowing the same taxpayers who have paid for the data to be gathered to benefit from its wider use. In my opinion, data should be open and available by default and exceptions should be justified – not the other way around as is too often the case still today.
Access to public data also has an important and growing economic significance. Open data can be fuel for innovation, growth and job creation. The overall economic impact across the whole EU could be tens of billions of Euros per year. That’s amazing, of course! But, big data is not just about big money. It promises a host of socially and environmentally beneficial uses too – for example in healthcare, or through the analysis of pollution patterns. It can help make citizens’ lives easier, more informed, more connected.
Whether it’s the weather you are checking online, or GPS data you’re using to find your way – you may not realise it, but chances are you’re using public sector data.
Elsewhere, open data is already used in a wide variety of other specific and creative ways, from helping cyclists find their safest route to work, to planning aid efforts after natural disasters.
Already some ambitious initiatives are underway, notably in the United Kingdom and France. And the biggest ever European open data event is being held right now in Poland—the Open Government Data Camp. (You can see my video address to them above.) These are great examples, but across the EU the huge potential for re-use of public data is still largely untapped. That has to change.
At the moment we are busy working on a number of initiatives which together should result in an ambitious EU Open Data Strategy. Here’s what’s coming up:
- In November I will propose to my fellow Commissioners measures designed to encourage more openness and re-use of public sector data. In particular I will propose an amendment to the Public Sector Information Directive.
- We also need to practise what we preach so the Commission will also be updating the rules for the re-use of its own data. To make these new rules effective, we will launch, by next spring, an Open Data portal for the European Commission to make our own data resources easily available and re-usable.
- And eventually, for 2013, I plan to put in place a pan-European Open Data portal. It will give access to public data across Europe, with coverage gradually expanding to include datasets from public administrations at all levels: European, national, regional and local.
Adapting to this new open environment requires change and new ideas. There will be many obstacles, no doubt about that. But the basic direction is clear: public data are there to be used and if we go for it, we will all benefit.