OpenData

In the last few years, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has taken the lead in developing and driving implementation of a number of Public Service reform initiatives. A lot of the time, these initiatives have focussed on the challenges of economic recovery; and Ireland has made huge strides in this regard. Other initiatives have been developed to build more open, transparent and accountable public governance in Ireland.

One of the key activities regarding the latter category of initiative is “Open Data”. The Open Data Initiative is aligned with the Public Service Reform Plan, the ICT Strategy, the Action Plan for Jobs, and the Civil Service Renewal Plan. It is also a core element of Ireland’s Open Government Partnership (OGP) National Action Plan which was launched last July.

Open Data has gained real traction in recent years, and some countries are far more advanced than others. Ireland’s Open Data Initiative, which was formally launched by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin in July 2014, is making good progress; but we still have a lot of work to do.

A small Unit in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is working closely with a Public Bodies Working Group to develop a technical framework for the publication of Open Data through Ireland’s national Open Data portal, data.gov.ie. This portal currently contains links to 517 datasets, and we are working with public bodies to increase this number, while ensuring that datasets published via the portal are of high value and meet international best practices for publication.

We are also looking at potential improvements to the look and feel of the portal. This is important because I would like data.gov.ie to be the sort of portal where data scientists come to play with data; and where the potential benefits of using and re-using data start to be realised.

It will take some time before this happens, but interesting things are happening.

The process of auditing datasets in public bodies is underway, with the first audit taking place in D/PER. Further audits will follow during 2015. The purpose of these audits is to understand what datasets are held in public bodies with a view to preparing these for publication.

Work on the Open Data technical framework is progressing, which will allow public bodies to adopt a consistent approach to how datasets are published. These processes are taking full account of international experience and best practices.

In terms of what is already on the portal, there has been some criticism of how datasets on the portal are licensed, because many of these are associated with the Public Sector Information licence which is not considered truly open because it places some restrictions on re-use of data. To address this, the Minister launched a public consultation on Open Data Licences which runs until 18 March.

We are also focussing on the need to collaborate and engage with any citizen, business or public servant with ideas on what steps should be taken to progress the Open Data Initiative.   The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is committed to this engagement and is holding a series of consultative events with Data producers and Data users. A number have already taken place, with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform opening an Industry Consultation on 3 March to look at how the Open Data Initiative can maximise the commercial potential offered by Open Data. All other interest groups will be similarly engaged in what will be an ongoing and real engagement process which will feed in to the development and implementation of a national Open Data Strategy.

Observations on the policy paper may be submitted online at opendata@per.gov.ie before the closing date, 18th March 2015.  More details can be found at http://www.per.gov.ie/open-data-licensing

Robert Watt

Secretary General, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform

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