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Monday, June 23, 2008

Call on the EC to free up public sector information

Recommendations and Supporting Evidence to the EC's 2008 Review of the PSI Re-use Directive.  A draft report from the EC's ePSIplus program.  (Thanks to Michael Cross.)  Excerpt:

4 Access to PSI

The challenge of ensuring that PSI can be discovered (i.e. is made available for discovery by public bodies) in order that it can be re-used remains an area in which progress is slower than it could or should be....

Whole tranches of PSI (perhaps especially data held by local authorities) remain holed up in inaccessible "silos" across every Member State....Gains in free access to information made under national FOI/access legislation and e-Government initiatives do not in general address the need to mine "deep" data held within the public sector.

In part this is a matter of the implementation of the right standards and infrastructure. In part it is also a matter of public sector attitudes and the lack of policy or operational incentives to prioritise the exposure of data on the web in a systematic way, for the purposes of re-users and others.

The solution may in future take a number of forms, including: the creation of national information asset registers with their own portals; creating and maintaining metadata in repositories which can be harvested by any service provider at national or European level; or of ensuring that information is exposed on the web to initiatives such as Google PSI. The potential benefits of newer semantic web and Web 2.0 technologies in enhancing access to and creative re-use of PSI is also a subject of rising interest which deserves attention.

Recommendation 4

4.1 ...Concertation between European bodies and frameworks such as the CEN/ISSS e-Government standards focus group, INSPIRE and the European Digital Library Initiative should be established by the Commission in order to arrive at a suitable set of standards, an infrastructure and an Action Plan which brings about steadily improving discovery of access to the full range of PSI.

4.2 Practical initiatives to create "asset registries" or other PSI infrastructures supporting re-use should be supported at national level and where cross-border in nature, at European level....

It has become macro-economic article of faith that by making PSI freely and easily accessible for re-use (the USA Federal model -- marginal costs pricing plus copyright waiver -- is often cited), the returns from taxation on growing business activity will greatly exceed the revenue expectations of public sector bodies which commercialise their information and data operations.

Studies and initiatives continue to occur sporadically with a view to demonstrating the case (e.g. the "Cambridge Study" into the UK Trading Funds, research initiated by OECD etc.) and continue to support this line upon which is, in essence, the main economic rationale on which the Directive depends.

Where public accounts are available and sufficiently transparent, the evidence suggests that profits from public sector commercialisation are frequently very modest and likewise that high proportions of income generated are made by charging the public sector for information which it provided itself in the first place, at the expense of the same taxpayers....

Recommendation 6

In the view of ePSIplus, no other course of action remains other than to continue and intensify work to establish and disseminate the economic case for low or no charges conclusively. The Commission should seek the support of at least one Member State in which conditions for longitudinal work can be established in at least one PSI sector, in order to create a convincing basis for effective dissemination to others....