Monthly Archives: December 2011

A Christmas Carol 2011, or How the Ghost of Open Data Showed Finland the Future

Institute’s Fellow Antti Halonen writes about open data development in finland and encourages people to use their data wranging skills for the good of society and democracy. 
Last few weeks have been truly remarkable in terms of the development of open data in Finland.
In midst of the on-going discussion in the UK on the necessity and feasibility of Public Data Corporation (or Public Data Group, as it is apparently called nowadays) and potential setbacks that might cause for open data, Finland has taken bold steps towards opening up their data sets.

As noted in our previous post, the National Land Survey of Finland had decided to open up significant amounts of mapping data, a move that would be arguably one of the most progressive open data initiatives in Europe. Ministry of Finance had, however, initially decided to block the move. It alarmingly looked like Scrooge had come up victorious and Tiny Tims of Finland would be left without their Christmas data.

After an aggressive campaign by both open data activists and later the Finnish media, the Finnish government eventually decided to overrule the ministry’s decision and release the data as the Land Survey had originally suggested. The Minister for Agriculture, Mr Jari Koskinen, even stated that “it would be irresponsible not to exploit this opportunity for growth”. Data sets will thus be opened up in May 2012 for a free re-use for all public.

There is a reason to celebrate, but this is only the beginning.

In a wider scale, what we don’t yet really know is how open data is being used. In case of the UK transparency agenda the number of spending data users is lower than expected, and it is often quoted that there needs to be more context in data in order to facilitate better use of data.

Mapping data has exactly that context; it is relevant for citizens’ everyday lives and people can quite easily understand it. Therefore it is crucial that developers really seize the opportunity when the data finally is opened up next year: data has value only in its use.

It is not only developers who should step up and recognise their responsibility in further developing open data ecosystem. The rest of us need to find new ways of measuring the multiple positive impacts of open data on society, if we are to continue evangelising in a credible manner. Economic impacts are widely recognised but much more important is the impact on democracy. How to measure that impact remains relatively unclear.

Moreover, potential data users need to be nudged into fully capitalising their potential of using data for common good. The reality is that the number of data users is still quite low and they tend to use data mostly for personal reasons: they have to have some personal gain from the use. More altruistic motivations need to be supported.  

In order to achieve the expected benefits, some concrete ways of facilitating the use needs to be developed. One potential way to further facilitate open data in Finland might be to start up a comprehensive data catalogue and encourage data providers both from public and private sector to adapt it. Another one might be to provide more education on data and programming skills. Public sector organisations have vast amounts of relevant data and might be willing to open them up, but don’t yet necessarily know how to do it. Likewise, many citizens would be interested in using data, but don’t have sufficient data wrangling skills.

The Ghost of Open Data is a powerful force, but alas, we can’t rely on that for too long. The on-going momentum needs to be capitalised and that means more work and probably more lobbying of public officials and politicians. Most of all, it needs a) someone to download new and shiny data sets and create wonderful services that benefit the whole society and b) someone to tell the rest of us why this is necessary for the society and our democracy.

Not necessarily the smallest of tasks.  

Antti Halonen
Fellow at the Finnish Institute in London

Could European Open Data Strategy be a lever for change in Finland?

Institute’s Fellow Antti Halonen writes about the European Open Data Strategy and the possibility for change in Finland.
 By the time of writing this, the Parliament of Finland is just about to start to discuss the issue of opening up data of the National Land Survey of Finland (Maanmittauslaitos). The on-going debacle has been arguably the most visible case of open data discussion in Finland up to date.

Case has its roots in the current Finnish government programme, which states that government further facilitates the opening up of publicly funded data sets. In November, the Land Survey announced that it would release all their mapping data in an open and freely re-usable format, thus losing 1,5me in annual sales profits. Opening up of these data sets is, however, expected to release significant social and commercial value, which would eventually exceed that immediate financial loss. Moreover, if completed, the move would be unprecedentedly progressive open data initiative in the scale of the whole Europe. The Ministry of Agriculture has already approved this, but one single department of the Ministry of Finance has reportedly decided to block the initiative.

There are couple of interesting points to be made.

Firstly, as i.e. Poikola has argued, is the question of political accountability: elected politicians have decided to support open data, but unelected officials effectively vetoed against it. Moreover, the civil servants from other ministries and even different departments of the Ministry of Finance appear to back the initiative. There is a possibility that this is mostly a question of power and where it lies: in the hands of accountable politicians or a few individual civil servants, who don’t even want their names in public.

Secondly, there is the wider European framework and how this Finnish case fits it. Vice-president of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes, announced recently the new European open data strategy, which includes a complete revision of PSI Directive 2003 and will supposedly further enhance the status of open data in the Union and its member states. So far the Brussels’ whip has not been strong enough and there have been cases where member states have used several loopholes in the Directive and kept data behind closed doors, or behind the paywall, as is the case in Finland.

Further Brussels-led regulation is not particularly popular idea at the moment, but it will be interesting to see whether the Finnish Land Survey vs. Ministry of Finance case could prove to be a testing point for the new European data initiatives, when they eventually are concretised into a new Directive and new regulations.

Back in the Finnish parliament, the Minister of Finance, Jutta Urpilainen, has promised to take the matter into discussion with her ministry, but in reality’s sake, one must bear in mind that the minister probably has her hands full of Eurozone crisis at this time. There is a strong possibility for a nasty scenario, where open data gets buried under a pile of more urgent matters if the case is left for the ministry to handle by itself. Moreover, it very well may be summer already when the European open data initiative concretises into action and Brussels’ watchdogs can start gazing over reluctant member states, albeit the fact that vice-president Kroes explicitly encouraged member states not to wait for legislative changes but to start to release data immediately.

As civil society actors, we should be able to find potential solutions on how to influence the ministry in this matter, if we truly find open data important enough objective to pursue. It is quite likely that the Land Survey case will be the test of strength for the Finnish Open Knowledge community, which has begun to find itself of late.

Antti Halonen
Fellow at the Finnish Institute in London

Open Data Monthly Review 11/2011

A review of latest news and blog posts in the field of open data.


HP and CA Technologies Join Data Center Organization Open Data Center Alliance
Data center industry organization Open Data Center Alliance announced on Thursday that HP and CA Technologies have joined the organization. Now, ODCA now includes representation from more than 90 percent of the virtualization software market and more than two-thirds of the server hardware market, according to the report.

Monmouthshire council uses open government licence
Monmouthshire council has opened up data on its website to allow the public to create “useful apps” and re-use its information freely. The council has decided to adopt the UK government’s open government licence, which provides for the re-use of public sector information with a number of conditions attached.

Next week is ‘Open Data Week’
The Irish Internet Association will next week hold an “Open Data Roundtable for Open Government” at the National Library of Ireland as part of Open Data Week, which will also include a series of events in Dublin, Cork and Limerick.

Top user companies accelerating cloud adoption, says user group
Year-old Open Data Center Alliance includes firms that represent $100B-plus in annual IT spending. The Wild West era of cloud computing is ending. So says cloud computing’s new sheriff, a user group called the Open Data Center Alliance.

Open Data initiative moves into the world of consumers’ personal data
The Open Data initiative took another huge step forward on Thursday 3 November with the launch of a new initiative that will enable consumers to gain unprecedented access to personal data from banks, utilities, telecoms providers and a range of other companies.

Open data ‘new way of operating’, says Francis Maude
Transparency is a new way of operating and the public sector is now more accountable to the public, aided by the release of more than 7,500 datasets, including 800 plus geographical linked datasets via, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has said.

App-lying open data
Interested in the city’s budget process? There’ll soon be an app for that.
The City of London in partnership with UnLondon kicked-off a contest Thursday night at APK Live downtown that will see Londoners design a digital engagement tool to help others follow the 2012 budget process.

€27bn public data opportunity highlighted
The Obama administration, the British cabinet office and four Dublin local authorities are the “poster children” of a growing worldwide movement to unlock public data, according to researchers at NUI Galway.

The Open Data Center Alliance aligns with other alliances
The Alliance partners with Cloud Security Alliance and The Green Grid to tackle cloud and next-gen computing and data center models.

Open data used to defraud the government – report
Criminals are using open government data to defraud local councils, according to a new report from the Audit Commission. Local councils are obliged to publish details of any expenditure worth over £500. According to the Audit Commission’s report, that data was used to defraud local councils to the tune of £7 million last year.

Digital Realty Trust to Integrate Open Compute Designs for Multi-tenant Data Centers
Data center developer Digital Realty Trust announced on Friday it has joined Facebook’s Open Compute project, where it is adapting its multi-tenant data center designs so that customers are able to choose certain elements of the Open Compute designs, according to a report by Data Center Knowledge.

Students win government open data competition
Downing Street has awarded prizes to university students in a competition to design apps based on newly released government datasets. The winning applications developed tools to help citizens to choose schools, report local eyesores and find local hospitals with the shortest accident and emergency waiting times.

Cameron and Maude praise students’ use of open data to create apps
Students who have used government data on areas including health, education and the environment to create “revolutionary” applications have been praised by David Cameron at a Downing Street event.

Commission will adopt measures for an open data strategy
The European Commission will adopt on the 29 November an Open Data Strategy which means a set of measures aimed at increasing government transparency and creating a €32 billion a year market for public data.

Ireland unveils open data and eGovernment plan
he Irish government plans to embrace open government by increasing public access to government information, creating an open-data portal and improving data sharing across government agencies, it says in a Public Service Reform Plan published Nov. 17.

Open Data Institute to be built near Silicon Roundabout
Having scrapped the Institute of Web Science promised by Gordon Brown, government gives Berners-Lee and Shadbolt an open data research centre
The government will announce a number of open data initiatives tomorrow, including a new Open Data Institute near ‘Silicon Roundabout’.

EU takes step toward open data
Civil Liberties Committee backs amendment demanding open access to EU documents, written by Labour MEP for West Midlands.

Ministry of Justice praised for opening up court data
An unbarred access to court data is a great leap forward for transparency in the UK, say campaigners.

UNDP opens financial data to public   
Members of the public can now access financial data on the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) development activities for the most recent fiscal period, thanks to a new open data portal.

IN THE BLOGS: International Open Data Hackathon Updates and Apps

The Guardian: All about Open Data and Open data: it’s all in the app and The vital role of local councils in embracing open data

Open Enterprise: Of Open Data Startups and Open Businesses

Open Knowledge Foundation Blog: Finland Joins our Global Open Data Community and Open Data Day – a project I’d like to be doing and Scaling the Open Data Ecosystem The state of open data 2011

Ushahidi: Democratizing ICT for Development with DIY Innovation and Open Data


Angela Guess: An Open Data Ecosystem

Alexander Howard: Apps for Entrepreneurs Looks to Accelerate Startups With Open Data

Nick Judd: Here’s One Way Open Data Could Just Cost You More Money

Charles Leadbeater: Social media, open data and the future of government

Patti Prairie: Open Data for Real People

Mark Say: More carrot and stick needed for open data

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