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Open Council Data of more than 100 Dutch municipalities reused in app WhereGovernment

- March 7, 2018 in netherlands, open council data, Open Data, Open Geodata, Open Government Data

This blog has been reposted from the Open State Foundation blog. More than a hundred Dutch municipalities release Open Council Data, including all documents of the municipal council – decisions, agendas, motions, amendments and policy documents – easily and collectively accessible. The data is now available for reuse in applications. Recently, the first app that reuses the data, WhereGovernment, was launched. 

Strengthen local democracy

Citizens, entrepreneurs, journalists, civil servants, journalists, scientists and all other interested parties can use Open Council Data to check easily what is going on in municipalities around a specific theme. Rural, regional, by municipality or even by neighborhood. In 2015 Open State Foundation, together with the Ministry of the Interior and five municipalities (Heerde, Oude IJsselstreek, Den Helder, Utrecht and Amstelveen), started a pilot to provide access to information as open data. In cooperation with VNG Realisatie and Argu, work was done on standardisation and upscaling. The goal is to strengthen local democracy.

Reusable local government data

The council information was already public, but only available per municipality and often not easy to find or reuse. Of 102 municipalities – including Amsterdam and Utrecht, but also smaller municipalities such as Binnenmaas and Dongen – all council documents can now be found on the Open Council Information website. These documents are available as open data: standardised and reusable. For example, app builders, websites, media and other parties can use and publish the information quickly and easily.

WhereGovernment app

To explore the possibilities of the Open Council Data, VNG Realisatie organised a competition in 2017 to develop the best app: the App Challenge Open Council Information. The first prize went to the webapp WaarOverheid of developer Qollap, which places council information on the map based on the basis of smart algorithms. This allows residents to see what is going on in their neighbourhood – or in a completely different neighbourhood. The app has been further developed with the prize money. From today – in the run-up to the municipal elections of 21 March 2018 – WaarGovernment can be used by everyone. Everything about the app WaarOverheid can be found on waaroverheid.nl.

Gold mine

Robert van Dijk, council clerk of the municipality of Teylingen and chairman of the advisory group Open Council Information, is enthusiastic about the results: ‘We can continue to talk about the theme of open government, but in order to achieve it we have to take action. The information society is a fact. Citizens can access unimaginable information via digital channels, but the government lags behind. And that while we are sitting on a huge amount of data. Society demands transparency from us, we have to get away from the back rooms. This is the instrument for that. In this way we can very effectively strengthen our democracy and make open government and open accountability possible. I see Open Council information as a gold mine. This standardisation is the starting point for upcoming projects and apps. If all municipalities join in later, nobody will have to use information from 380 islands to know which trends are going on. In short: a wonderful project.’ Open Council Information is part of the Digital Agenda 2020 and the Open Government Action Plan of the Netherlands (action point 6) with the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG) in association with Open State Foundation, the driver of the Open Council Information project, and various local authorities and the Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations.  

Open Council Data of more than 100 Dutch municipalities reused in app WhereGovernment

- March 7, 2018 in netherlands, open council data, Open Data, Open Geodata, Open Government Data

This blog has been reposted from the Open State Foundation blog. More than a hundred Dutch municipalities release Open Council Data, including all documents of the municipal council – decisions, agendas, motions, amendments and policy documents – easily and collectively accessible. The data is now available for reuse in applications. Recently, the first app that reuses the data, WhereGovernment, was launched. 

Strengthen local democracy

Citizens, entrepreneurs, journalists, civil servants, journalists, scientists and all other interested parties can use Open Council Data to check easily what is going on in municipalities around a specific theme. Rural, regional, by municipality or even by neighborhood. In 2015 Open State Foundation, together with the Ministry of the Interior and five municipalities (Heerde, Oude IJsselstreek, Den Helder, Utrecht and Amstelveen), started a pilot to provide access to information as open data. In cooperation with VNG Realisatie and Argu, work was done on standardisation and upscaling. The goal is to strengthen local democracy.

Reusable local government data

The council information was already public, but only available per municipality and often not easy to find or reuse. Of 102 municipalities – including Amsterdam and Utrecht, but also smaller municipalities such as Binnenmaas and Dongen – all council documents can now be found on the Open Council Information website. These documents are available as open data: standardised and reusable. For example, app builders, websites, media and other parties can use and publish the information quickly and easily.

WhereGovernment app

To explore the possibilities of the Open Council Data, VNG Realisatie organised a competition in 2017 to develop the best app: the App Challenge Open Council Information. The first prize went to the webapp WaarOverheid of developer Qollap, which places council information on the map based on the basis of smart algorithms. This allows residents to see what is going on in their neighbourhood – or in a completely different neighbourhood. The app has been further developed with the prize money. From today – in the run-up to the municipal elections of 21 March 2018 – WaarGovernment can be used by everyone. Everything about the app WaarOverheid can be found on waaroverheid.nl.

Gold mine

Robert van Dijk, council clerk of the municipality of Teylingen and chairman of the advisory group Open Council Information, is enthusiastic about the results: ‘We can continue to talk about the theme of open government, but in order to achieve it we have to take action. The information society is a fact. Citizens can access unimaginable information via digital channels, but the government lags behind. And that while we are sitting on a huge amount of data. Society demands transparency from us, we have to get away from the back rooms. This is the instrument for that. In this way we can very effectively strengthen our democracy and make open government and open accountability possible. I see Open Council information as a gold mine. This standardisation is the starting point for upcoming projects and apps. If all municipalities join in later, nobody will have to use information from 380 islands to know which trends are going on. In short: a wonderful project.’ Open Council Information is part of the Digital Agenda 2020 and the Open Government Action Plan of the Netherlands (action point 6) with the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG) in association with Open State Foundation, the driver of the Open Council Information project, and various local authorities and the Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations.  

River level data must be open

- February 13, 2014 in Open Geodata, Open Government Data

My home – as you can see – is flooded, for the second time in a month. The mighty Thames is reclaiming its flood-plains, and making humans – especially the UK government’s Environment Agency – look puny and irrelevant. As I wade to and fro, putting sandbags around the doors, carrying valuables upstairs, and adding bricks to the stacks that prop up the heirloom piano, I occasionally check the river level data at the Agency website, and try to estimate how high the water will rise, and when. [IMG: Flooded front door] There are thousands of river monitoring stations across the UK, recording water levels every few minutes. The Agency publishes the resulting data on its website, in pages like this. For each station it shows a graph of the level over the last 24 hours (actually, the 24 hours up to the last reported data: my local station stopped reporting three days ago, presumably overwhelmed by the water), and has some running text giving the current level in metres above a local datum. There’s a small amount of station metadata, and that’s all. No older data, and no tabular data. I can’t:
  • See the levels over the course of a previous flood;
  • Measure how quickly the river typically rises, or how long it typically takes to go down;
  • Compare today’s flood to that four weeks ago (or those in 2011 or 2003);
  • Easily navigate to the data for neighbouring stations up and down river;
  • Get a chart showing the river level, or river level anomalies, along the length of the Thames;
  • Get a chart comparing that longitudinal view of the flood with the situation at any previous time;
  • Make a maps mash-up showing river level anomalies across the Thames catchment;
  • Make a personalised chart by adding my own observations, or critical values (‘electrics cut out’, ‘front garden floods’, ‘water comes into house’, …);
  • Make a crowd-sourced flooding community site combining river level data, maps, pictures, observations, and advice (‘sandbags are now available at the village hall’);
  • Make a mash-up combining river level data with precipitation records;
  • Make a flood forecasting tool by combining historical river level, ground-water, and precipitation records with precipitation forecasts.
Most of these things (not the last!) would be a small matter of programming, if the data were available. The Thames Valley is teeming with programmers who would be interested in bashing together a quick web app; or taking part in a larger open-source project to deliver more detailed, more accessible, and more useful flood data. But if we want to do any of those things, we have to pay a licence fee to access the data, and the licence would apparently then require us to get pre-approval from the Environment Agency before releasing any ‘product’. All this for data which is gathered, curated, and managed by a part of the UK government, nominally for the benefit of all. Admittedly I couldn’t do any of those things this week anyway – too many boxes to carry, too much furniture to prop up. But surely this is a prime example of the need for open data.

US government to release open data using OKF’s CKAN platform

- February 1, 2013 in ckan, News, Open Geodata, Open Government Data

You may have seen hints of it before, but the US government data portal, data.gov, has just announced officially that its next iteration – “data.gov 2.0″ – will incorporate CKAN, the open-source data management system whose development is led and co-ordinated by the Open Knowledge Foundation. The OKF itself is one of the organisations helping to implement the upgrade. Like all governments, the US collects vast amounts of data in the course of its work. Because of its commitment to Open Data tens of thousands of datasets are openly published through data.gov. The new-look data.gov will be a major enhancement, and will for the first time bring together geospatial data with other kinds of data in one place. CKAN is fast becoming an industry standard, and the US will become the latest to benefit from its powerful user interface for searching and browsing, rich metadata support, harvesting systems to help ingest data from existing government IT systems, and machine interface, helping developers to find and re-use the data. The partnership is also excellent news for CKAN, which is being improved with enhancements to its features for ingesting and handling geodata. As it happens, CKAN itself is also moving towards a version 2.0. In fact, after months of hard work, the beta-version of CKAN 2.0 will hopefully be released in a couple of weeks. To keep up to date with developments, follow the CKAN blog or follow @CKANproject on Twitter.

Can Open Data help conflict prevention?

- April 11, 2012 in External, Featured Project, Open Data, Open Geodata, Open Government Data, WG Development, WG Open Government Data

We’re in the planning stages of a conflict prevention project called PAX and open data perspectives have fed into our thinking in its processes and structures. PAX aims to provide early warnings of emerging violent conflict, through an online collaborative system of data sharing and analysis. We’re still in the early stages of exploration and experiment, but the principle is that open data could help provide warnings of emerging violent conflict, enabling governments, NGOs and citizens to take action to prevent it escalating. PAX’s premise is that by collaborating on timely analysis of data, we may be able to ring the alarm on emerging situations much faster than with yesterday’s closed and hierarchical systems. Openness permeates PAX’s approach, from data to processes to software. Our sources would include everything that we can get governments, NGOs and corporations to share, in addition to the direct voice of conflict-affected people – through citizen reporting, mobiles, social media and so on. We’re looking at using open source software for sharing and reporting, with Ushahidi’s original mapping platform and their soon-to-be released revamped SwiftRiver platform. SwiftRiver is a platform for sorting through huge flows (rivers) of information in times of crisis. It uses crowdsourcing methods not only to gather information, but also in the process of sorting and analysis. Those with local knowledge and local language are invited to join a transparent conversation about the value of any one piece of data – Is it of questionable authenticity? Could it be false information put out by the perpetrators of violence? Is it out of date? What’s the location? With the results of that analysis, citizens can hold their governments to account on their efforts to prevent conflict. We hope to provide a new lever with which to ask governments to fulfil their responsibility to protect where populations are in danger. The #Kony2012 campaign from Invisible Children demonstrated the power of a population calling on their government to take action to prevent Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) atrocities. But the information they presented to their public was widely criticised for being inaccurate and out of date. Wouldn’t this type of call to action be more powerful where the information on perpetrators of violence against civilians was more accurate and timely, through online verification, amplifying the voices of affected people? Opening up direct communication with conflict-affected people could enable them to ask for the kind of action and resources they really want. Less well-known is the Invisible Children’s LRA Tracker project (a collaboration with Resolve) which uses mapping and realtime reporting (including reports from people affected in the region) to shine a light on LRA attacks throughout the remote border area between Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic. The pressure for openness, more information, transparency and the existence of many non-governmental projects seeking to open up satellite imagery to the wider public, is contributing to an environment where the governments are increasingly willing to share their own government data on conflict regions. Following a stream of satellite imagery projects to document human rights abuses (see George Clooney’s Satellite Sentinel project, and Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch among others), a number of declassified images of Homs in Syria were publicly released by the US government (through US Ambassador Ford’s Facebook page), in a new move to expose atrocities there. Some of the most interesting projects have got stuck in early on, so that they are prepared and proactive when it comes to gathering and analysing realtime data. The Syria Tracker crisismapping deployment launched shortly after the protests began and is now the longest running mapping project covering the violence across the country. Working with volunteers both within and outside Syria, they are systematically recording information, mapping it, and creating a vital record of atrocities by the Syrian government. Here we have civilians collecting and publishing data which governments are certainly not publishing, and may not even be collecting. This form of openness by citizens puts pressure on governments to improve their own documentation and publication – and we hope it may also encourage them to respond to events in the way that the people on the ground want them to. We’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on the project, you can find out more at http://www.paxreports.org/.

Can Crowdsourcing Improve Open Data?

- May 23, 2011 in Featured Project, Guest post, Open Geodata, WG Open Government Data

The following guest post is from Tom Chance (@tom_chance), founder of OpenEcoMaps. This post is cross posted from the London Datastore blog with permission from the author. What happens when open data is wrong? Can crowdsourcing improve it? Often, open data enthusiasts assume that the next step after the release of some government data is a smart phone app or cool visualisation. I’m more interested in collaborating on the data itself.
 
I’ve been working on a project called OpenEcoMaps and I’ve made use of open data releases, for which I’m very grateful. But the project is really focused on improving the data for London and making it useful for groups who don’t have access to smartphone developers with hip haircuts.
 
Take the Datastore entry on allotments, for example. The data was collected from boroughs by a London Assembly committee a few years back, and while it seems fairly comprehensive it only has midpoints rather than the shape of each allotment, and being a few years old it includes allotments that no longer exist. It also doesn’t include any community growing spaces, such as the thousands in the new Capital Growth network.
 
It turns out Capital Growth don’t have a very good dataset, either. They’ve got a great “wow factor” map but many locations are very vague and they don’t know the size of the growing spaces.
 
Councils don’t really know what’s out there either, though some such as Southwark (where I live) have commissioned organisations to map food projects for them.
 
I found a similar situation looking at renewable energy generators for a project local to me called Peckham Power. DECC have a map with barely anything on it; councils don’t keep a list of operating equipment from planning applications or their own estate; the GLA group have at least been slowly adding their renewables data to the Datastore following a request from the people at Peckham Power.
 
What obviously this calls for is open data collaboration. As it’s geodata I’m using OpenStreetMap to store the data – it’s a semi-mature technology in wide use, and it makes it reasonably easy for geeks to enter data and to pull it out for use in web apps, GIS software, etc.
 
OpenEcoMaps is basically a frontend, making the data in OpenStreetMap easy for people to use and contribute to. The idea is to make the data useful enough for a wide variety of organisations – public sector, charities, community groups, maybe even companies – to feel it’s worth collaborating on gathering and improving the data.
 
You can browse the maps, embed them on your web sites, use the KML files on a map you already have, and use a customised editor to contribute.
 
It’s not quite ready for use by your average local community group, but we’ve already got people using it in towns across the UK. It shows what you can do with open technology and data.
 
I’ve been meeting with the people behind London’s food strategy, Capital Growth, Southwark’s food strategy and various community food projects in my own neighbourhood to pilot OpenEcoMaps outside the map geek bubble.
 
Right now I really need help improving the code, so please spread the word. Over the next couple of years my hope is that this will spur growing interest amongst data hoarders in data collaboration rather than plain old data dumps.