Decisions about technical standards for a specific open data initiative are sometimes made within the realm of a general national framework specifically for open data, such as in Spain. Also, policy-field- specific harmonisation initiatives or domain-specific technical standards play a role. Amongst others, European harmonisation in regard to statistics, which established common definitions, and the INSPIRE directive are examples, where – related or unrelated to open data – standards for measures
and formats have been agreed upon. Also attempts to harmonise data exchange nationally for cross- level e-government projects can serve as a basis. Thus, decisions about technical standards are made in a cluttered environment of various standards. Further complexity is caused by the various IT systems in use in a given jurisdiction. These support different – often proprietary – formats, store data in different structures and vocabularies and rarely support open data by default (Hunnius, Krieger, & Schuppan, 2014).
Technical standards on open data are negotiated in a cross-level technical working group on ISP. In these working groups, expertise on technical issues is included from associations such as W3C, from universities and a public enterprise in charge of furthering the information society in Spain, Red.es. The Spanish W3C chapter, an applied research centre, was commissioned to develop and draft the open data-related standards which were subsequently negotiated in the cross-level working groups and finally incorporated into the National Interoperability Framework (NIF). Red.es is attached to the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism. Red.es implemented the Proyecto Aporta and runs the national PSI/open data portal for Spain (datos.gob.es), but is also responsible for a wide range of ICT- related topics. Together with the two involved ministries, it holds regular forums with business associations where these express their needs in regard to PSI re-use and also request specific kinds of data. In an annual event for people engaged with open data in Spain they attempt to further an ecosystem around open data. The organisational affiliation to the Ministry of Industry is emblematic for how open data is taken up in Spain at the national level: Open data is perceived and implemented as an industry topic, its main goals being innovation, growth and job creation. Spain is heavily affected by the financial and subsequent economic crisis since 2009. Therefore, in the national debate the economic value of PSI re-use and open data is strongly emphasised. Transparency legislation in regard to open data only followed subsequently in late 2013. Transparency is thus seen as a sub-topic, by some even considered a distraction.
Red.es is generally relatively well-resourced which puts it in a special position within the Spanish administration in the current financial situation. This gives it the means to pursue and push a topic as well as to incentivise others. Thus, although decision rights are diffused in the quasi-federal Spanish political system, influential actors at the national level took up the topic, framed it from a specific perspective on growth and pushed regulation to facilitate open data throughout the Spanish administration. Thus, coordinating bodies around ICT and e-government massively shape open data implementation in Spain, by not only putting the topic on the political agenda throughout the country, but also making detailed provisions for how to implement it.
As a result, the National Interoperability Framework (NIF) with its Technical Interoperability Standard for the Reuse of Information Resources provides detailed guidelines, i.a. for data selection, standards for data formats and meta data schemes to present data in a unique, reliable, persistent manner. Also, in order to be federated to the national portal – which local and regional portals strive for, because it feeds the European portal – local and regional portals have to meet the NIF specifications. Furthermore, the research centre involved in the development of the national standards for open data consults on numerous endeavours and advocates certain technical decisions which thereby become a quasi-standard. Public administrations themselves seem to have little expertise with open data and thus rarely question recommendations or understand possible implications.
“The interoperability framework in Spain is a legal obligation for all public administrations, so they are forced to do that. If they want to federate, they have to follow the interoperability rules in Spain and that is very important.” (interview participant, national level Spain)
However, so far little cross-level harmonisation around data structures and vocabularies can be observed, which activists strive for. Remarkable is the effort of the network of smart cities in Spain, RECI, which is especially active in open data. It consists of cities (e.g. Barcelona) who are regarded as more advanced in open data and works to establish standards in coordination with red.es and AENOR, the Spanish standardisation body.
Looking at the development in open government data in Germany, right from the outset the GovData portal was designed as a joint project. Hence, the project partners – the national and state governments – have equal rights regarding the design of GovData. This also means that the federal government as main project leader cannot direct by itself the conditions under which the portal is operated. Furthermore, through the implementation of a public beta version, the federal government decided to publish an unfinished, premature model. Taking this course of action, it initially focussed on a rapid development of the portal’s content regardless of any strict standardisation issues. Also, through less rules and standardisation, the Federal Ministry of the Interior hopes to motivate other institutions, i.a. other ministries at the federal level and their agencies, to participate in the GovData project. Therefore, they kept the barriers for participation as low as possible.
As the GovData Portal is mainly considered to be a cross-level, nationwide project, it is supposed to be a central and consistent gateway to Open Data in Germany. Hence, as various interests are involved, negotiations and also disagreements on the advancement of the portal are inevitable. What complicates the situation even further is that the federal government and the other partners have progressed very differently regarding open data. While some states already run open data portals, others have not yet taken any measures and steps towards an open data policy. Thus, the structures of GovData are solely designed for the operation of the portal and the coordination of Open Government Data in Germany. The federal government, or more precisely a unit within the Federal Ministry of the Interior, is currently in charge of operating GovData centrally and coordinating the nationwide endeavours around open government data. These tasks include: the formation of a strategy and basic principles, (technical) development, communication and marketing, etc. However, the central unit is not in charge of the allocation or the storage of the data. It solely holds available a meta data catalogue and federates the data from decentralised providers, i.e. it provides links to open data on different portals. This also implies that the providers of open data gather, edit and prepare the data themselves. As a consequence, those who already run open data infrastructures and portals by themselves do this according to their own standards.
This makes the publication of open data on the GovData portal easy, but causes potential ramifications for the use. Especially as GovData functions mainly as gateway to decentralised data, difficulties regarding a harmonised approach arise.
There is not a common modus operandi concerning the licensing of the data. Every data provider can decide on its own, which license is applicable. However, in order to attenuate this problem and to enable uniformity on the portal, it was decided to provide another license, which is recommended for use on GovData. This “Datenlizenz Deutschland” is specifically developed for the German legal regime and data by the government and the public administration. Two versions of the “Datenlizenz Deutschland” exist: “Datenlizenz Deutschland – Attribution (BY) – Version 1.0” and “Datenlizenz Deutschland – Attribution (BY) – non-commerical (NC) – Version 1.0”. Whereas the first license is “open” by definition, the latter does not conform to Open Data standards and should only be used in exceptional cases. Regardless of this attempt to foster a harmonisation on GovData, the spectrum of licenses in use is quite broad: Next to the two “Datenlizenz Deutschland”-licenses, the Creative Commons licenses are the most common on GovData. The move to develop a discrete license caused significant uproar among open data activists who put pressure on the federal government. Several activists and associations expressed their disappointment and distanced themselves from the federal project, even setting up a web page http://not-your-govdata.de/.
A closely related topic concerning the establishment of an Open Data portal is the characteristics of the data sets themselves. Even though the portal’s main goal is the publication of open data, i.e. openly available, usable and machine-readable data (raw data), a rapid development regarding the number of data sets on the portal was given priority. As a consequence, GovData also allows data that is not machine-readable (e.g. PDF-documents) or comes with fees. That way, the government hopes to lower the barriers for a fast progress of the portal with regard to the content. Furthermore, it is argued that the portal should also cater for the needs of those citizens who are not interested in raw data, but in simple document researches. As a consequence of these approaches, there are more than 40 different data formats accessible on GovData, some of them not “open” as per definition.
Even though licenses or data formats are not standardised, data needs to be sufficiently specified meta data in order to be published on the portal. Especially as GovData functions as a central nationwide gateway with a meta data catalogue as its main asset, the description of the data is essential. In this context, a meta data structure based on CKAN was developed. The OGD meta data structure covers, i.a. title, identifier, a description of the data, persons in charge, license, and data resources. Next to the endeavours to spread and test the OGD meta data structure on national level, the federal government also strives for an international harmonisation, i.a. with Austria.
As the federal portal is an entryway to Open Data on various governmental levels, the question of how to technically integrate the data arises. Most of the data sets are imported automatically through so-called harvesters. Basically, there are four different possibilities to harvest information from decentralised portals: JSON-Import, CKAN-CKAN-Harvesting, CSW-ISO19115-Harvesting and CKAN-REST-API. Mainly the first three ways are in use.
Looking at a specific instance of a local open data project, it becomes evident that decisions about licensing, formats etc. are largely made independently with little reference to national practice. This might be preliminary, however, since the GovData portal itself is still in a development phase and a lot of issues remain unresolved. This means that some states and municipalities are still waiting for the normal operation of the GovData portal to begin in order to devise an open government data policy for themselves. One example in this context is the State of Brandenburg. The state government basically decided to await the end of the testing phase of the GovData portal in order to be able to use its infrastructure for its own data. Nevertheless, generally most of the portals created so far on state and municipal level were established independently of the national open data project.
The city of Munich was initially one of the early adopters when its central ICT strategy unit took up open data in 2009. As a part of a citizen’s e-participation initiative it also hosted a programming contest for which it made available a limited number of data sets. Because it was one of the first open data attempts in Germany, it received nation-wide media attention and won an e-government award. Also, the city council came on board and all factions filed motions in support of the idea. The project had initially received a far-reaching exemptions from ICT-related rules in the city, to set up a separate infrastructure (server, wiki), even though reservations existed.
“It [drive for open data] comes from the politicians. […] XYZ as a city presents itself to the citizens, shows itself as a service provider, […] as attractive and thus modernity always plays a role. E-participation is also a topic – everywhere en vogue – […] around the elections. A topic that you can catch attention with.” (interview participant, local level Germany)
However, a subsequent attempt to formalise the process of data publication, establish an open data catalogue and involve all city departments could not be implemented. Firstly, administrative departments faced the idea of open data with reservations right from the outset. Furthermore, the initial project had a budget of only about 25k€. When the follow-up project requested an additional 125k€, discussions dragged on. In addition, various extensive legal reservations were raised by legal experts in the departments and the central legal department. These legal discussions, around liabilities, third-party copyrights and licenses, subsequently dominated and halted the project.
An additional distraction was caused by a comprehensive IT-reorganisation programme in the city administration to centralise infrastructure and reorganise departmental ICT tasks, what absorbed resources and attention. Nevertheless, the city’s central IT strategy and controlling unit, STRAC, pressed on and finally, in 2013, received the nod when it included open data as part of a resolution on e-government and open government.
Subsequently, STRAC entrusted a private technology consultancy to develop a functional specification and later on set up a platform. Lacking a national framework or nationwide established practice, the project started from scratch when proposing a meta data model and licenses, describing roles and designing processes. These far-reaching specifications were largely decided autonomously within the project and are currently not yet generally agreed upon. So far these seemingly technical decisions do not appear to cause major discussions, as seen elsewhere (see Courmont, 2012). It remains unclear whether the implications for the other actors are fully understood or simply do not affect their interests.
|Organisations in charge of furthering the information society; central IT strategy and controlling units; coordinating bodies around ICT and e-government||Motivate governmental organisations to make open data available; influence character of adoption|
|Applied research centres||Shape governmental technology policy, showcase technological potentials|
|Associations of government organisations, e.g. network of smart cities, EUROCITIES||Raise efficiency and innovation among members and develop shared concepts, standards etc.|
|Standardisation bodies||Develop and enforce widely shared standards|
|Administrative departments||Conform with government policies, while at the same time retain professional independence|
|Legal experts in the departments and the central legal department||Develop policies and guidelines that conform with the legal framework and stand the tests in court|
|Private technology consultancies||Consult public administrations on technology governance and management|
References can be found here: OpenDataMonitor Project – Shared References