Summary of online and face-to-face discussions, presented to #DAA12 plenary
I gave a short presentation during the #daa12 plenary on Friday 22 June.
I had three minutes in which to summarise the THREE main challenges, plus a set of 3-5 tangible actions.
The notes I used are included, below. A longer and more detailed report will be delivered to the Commission in the next few weeks, and they will no doubt disseminate this in due course.
Data Workshop report-back
Workshop covered wide range of issues. Everything from the efforts of Member States to make government data freely available for reuse, to encouraging the growth of European companies like SAP that make money extracting insights from unimaginably vast quantities of so-called Big Data.
Discussion wide-ranging, so difficult to summarise here.
So, three big challenges.
First, Open Data. Recent initiatives in member states and at a European level to make public sector information freely available for use and reuse. Educational use, civil use, and commercial use. Scope for companies to create viable businesses on top of data paid for by European tax payers.
Open Data is A Good Thing. But there are costs in the system. It costs money to collect data. It costs money to maintain and update data. It costs money to quality assure data. But Open data leads to economic activity and therefore increased tax-revenues. These revenues will be far higher than the direct income the public bodies generate by selling their data. There is an issue of redistribution, though. The key is with the Ministries of Finance to ensure that high quality data paid for by tax-revenues can continue to be produced.There is a real challenge to work out how best to make sure that Open Data efforts are sustainable. And it was clearly stated several times that we cannot simply assume government will pay the entire bill.
Second... balance. Discussion online and in person was often polarised. One camp wanted data to be open, no matter what. Another wanted to cover costs, discover viable business models, or even make a profit. One camp wanted to protect citizens from evil corporations at all costs. Another wanted to extract insights from customer data in order to deliver better services. Arguments can be philosophical. Often, they become almost religious. It will be a real ongoing challenge to steer a path that encourages exploitation and profit, whilst protecting the rights of Europeans. Neither extreme is wholly correct. Open Data is only one part of the European data market. Also, we need to ensure that laws and regulations do not inadvertently block the creation of new business models. Those laws and regulations must also avoid unfairly sustaining old - dead - business models.
Third, language. We're surrounded by translation booths here, and they represent only a fraction of the languages spoken across Europe. How do we take that diversity, and turn it from stifling Europe-wide innovation to become an asset that strengthens our role in the global market? We heard examples to suggest that language technologies are ripe for delivering real and lasting benefits here.
How do these turn into tangible and measurable actions? Plenty more in workshop report when it arrives. But to pick four easy ones...
1. Identify and Share Open Data Success Stories - dogmatism only gets you so far. The enthusiasts are already enthused. How do we move from early adopters to late majority? Rather than just say "Open Data is Good," we need to demonstrate HOW it's good, and WHY it's good. The European Commission and Member States should provide a small amount of funding to identify European Open Data success stories, and to ensure that these are persuasively shared. The number of RDF triples is irrelevant. The software that was chosen almost doesn't matter. What value was unlocked? What lives were changed? These examples exist. We need to share them. Now.
2. Continue to support European Data Forum - first meeting of the European Data Forum was in Copenhagen this month. Next one scheduled for Dublin in April 2013. It's a forum in which business actors including large number of SMEs and other stakeholders can come together to work out what a data economy looks like. And how to work best towards it's realisation. The European Commission forsterd and supported the event. This is one of the ways to facilitate SME engagement.
3. Investigate requirement for a European Data License - there are lots of licenses used to describe what people can and cannot do with data. Popular ones include Creative Commons and the Open Data Commons. Member States also produce their own. If we want to encourage use and reuse of data across European borders, do we need a single license that also crosses those borders? Will one of the existing licenses do the job, or do we need a new one? The EC should fund work to understand whether or not we really need such a license. If we do need a license, is there an obvious choice, or is something new required? The initial scoping study should be short and straightforward. The negotiation to draft any new license that's required may prove more difficult.
4. Identify and evangelise Open release of Core Reference Data - European member states already have vast quantities of high value data. Basic national mapping data. Detailed transport timetables. Core attributes of companies and their interconnections. And more. Some of this is now becoming freely available, but too much of it remains locked up behind odd rules and unsustainable cost-recovery models. The Commission should fund work to identify a relatively small set of Core Reference Data... and should then work with Member States to encourage its release under Open Data licenses. Early examples suggest that national taxation systems will earn more revenue from all the new data-powered businesses than national treasuries lost through not charging for the data any more.
Quote... It was suggested that I should copy Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web. He got attendees at the famous TED conference in California to stand and shout "Raw Data Now." Maybe not. But could I at least ask you to whisper it to yourself?