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Overcoming open data barriers in the European Union

Published 01 March 2016

With 10 countries among the Open Data trend setters in Europe, there is still a long way to go for 18 other EU member states. For a successful journey towards better open data maturity, raising awareness is the most important step, say Margriet Nieuwenhuis, Eva van Steenbergen and Wendy Carrara on behalf of the European Data Portal


The maturity of Open Data varies within the European Union (28 countries in total) plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland - further on referred to as the EU28+ countries.

The European Data Portal team conducted an assessment of where European countries stood in 2015 with regard to Open Data. Two key indicators have been selected to measure Open Data maturity; Open Data readiness and the maturity of the national Open Data portal.

The results of the assessment indicate that just 44% of the journey towards achieving full Open Data maturity, has been completed by the EU28+ countries. Does this come as a surprise? The very first countries launched their Open Data portal around 2010, which is only a few years ago. However, most of them haven't completed half of their journey yet.

A lot of barriers are still blocking the way forward.

Barriers have been identified in several areas, including political, legal, technical and financial issues. Luckily, most of the EU28+ countries have expressed plans to address these barriers in the upcoming years. The European Data Portal team shares a number of recommendations to help countries accelerate their Open Data journey.

First of all, countries need an Open Data strategy stating clearly that all data needs an open licence. Open Data is not open if the re-use conditions or restrictions are not provided. This is the cornerstone to the set-up of an Open Data policy.

Furthermore, the strategy should address the importance of a legal background enabling the release of Open data and aspects such as how to guarantee privacy of the individuals included in the datasets. The policy should also enforce the systematic use of metadata - information about the data - accompanying any data.

Technical standards, for example the format of the data, should be incorporated as well to ensure interoperability of the data. The DCAT Application profile for data portals in Europe (DCAT-AP) is a specification based on W3C's Data Catalogue vocabulary (DCAT) for describing metadata of public sector datasets in Europe and its version 1.1 was recently released.

The existence of such standards should be shared more broadly to stimulate the interoperability of datasets. This is also a way of avoiding format lock-in. As strategies are long-term, they should include an approach on the opening of available datasets. Re-users and stakeholders need to be involved in this discussion to indicate which datasets they see as most valuable to their business. This also helps to stimulate re-use of the Open Data portals.

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The availability of feedback functionalities on national Open Data portals was found to be of great importance to re-users of data, as it offers the opportunity to comment on data quality and completeness of the data.

Those comments initiate the first line of communication to align the needs of the data user and the restrictions of the data publisher. By allowing those discussions, the public sector is able to learn and improve. In addition, more technical functionalities as API access enable the re-use of data by developers of mobile applications.

Raising awareness around Open Data, including awareness around the existence of national and regional Open Data portals, is key. Further promotion will give visibility to the portal and the data made available. More government bodies gain interest in sharing their own data too as it stimulates their visibility. This will create a virtuous Open Data publishing cycle - further underlining the benefits of Open Data - increasing awareness of Open Data even more.

Another way to communicate about Open Data is by organising events for citizens, business and civil servants, as governments are in effect one of the biggest re-users of Public Sector Information.

Last but not least, one of the most important barriers to overcome is the lack of political will. When a government puts Open Data on the agenda, resources and funding for Open Data will most likely be made available as a result.

The government will consecutively have more attention for the creation of a legal framework, recommendations around technical standards, and the development of specific policies, for example regarding licensing and privacy. Once those basic requirements for Open Data are set, an Open Data environment is created. Raising awareness will get the Open Data train up to speed.

On a positive note, Europe is fast forwarding on the Open Data track, with dedicated policies and a pan-European Data Portal set up compiling over 400,000 data sets.

Do you want to read the entire report about the status of Open Data in Europe? Please visit the European Data Portal.

Authors: Margriet Nieuwenhuis, Eva van Steenbergen and Wendy Carrara on behalf of the European Data Portal.

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