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Open Letter Regarding Open Data in Ireland

- February 17, 2015 in Denis Parfenov, DPER, Events, INKEx, insight, OGP Ireland, Open Data, Open Data Ireland, Open Knowledge Ireland, William Beausang

(Originally published here in response on invitation to meet with Department of Public Expenditure and Reform dated 12 February 2015)

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Dear William -

Thank you for your email. Let’s look….

What we have

There are numerous publicly funded data research institutions.

“…INSIGHT [DERI, CLARITY, CLIQUE, 4C, TRIL]  represent an investment in excess of 150,000,000 over the past 10 years, hosting more than 300 researchers, and collaborating with more than 150 industry partners….””…. to create a healthier, safer, more productive world by empowering a data-driven society to enable better decisions by individuals, communities, business and governments…” (here)

Taking into consideration a generous investment of public and private money into data excellence in Ireland, we should be leading in the open data world, right?

Where we are?

Lets have a quick look where is Ireland positioned in the world of open data:

There is hardly any improvement since 2013.

According to both surveys, the UK is the world leader in open data. Peculiarly, Ireland has  pledged at United Nations Assembly last year  “to share best practice, knowledge and expertise with its Northern Ireland counterparts and assist each other in relation to Open Data.” (here)

It’s good that Ireland has a CKAN-driven data.gov.ie. It’s not good that it’s “alfa” since May 2014 and technically speaking hosts no open data.

Talking open data, practicing open washing 

It was great to see Minister Howlin of D/PER launching an open data initiative in London in 2013. It was very disappointing to see the Department of Communications excluding any open alternatives for one of the most valuable dataset: postcodes (Eircode) were excluded from bidding process by error .

“Open Data Ireland: Best Practice Handbook” (July 2014) compiled by Deirdre Lee, Richard Cyganiak, Stefan Decker states “The current Irish PSI license is not considered an Open License, as it places a number of restrictions on re-use and distribution that go beyond the requirements of attribution and share-alike.” Other than your consultant’s change of mind on what is or is not “open data” it is not clear what has changed since then re PSI licensing in the last 6 month. ‘Open washing’, is the term for calling open data what is NOT open data (yet).

Even within your own department, the “Reform Unit” is talking positively about theoretical aspects of open data. When it comes to practice, another unit within your department, is supporting The Irish Nonprofits Project Limited (formerly  INKEx), an organisation which receives public funds to build a privately-held database with an intention to sell it back to the state, relaunched.

Open data and community

I clearly recall the moment when in February 2012, after following ‘open data’ across the world, I came across ‘A Briefing paper’ (here), which was co-authored by D/PER’s current Open Data consultant, Deirdre Lee, with other industry representatives. What struck me then was that, unlike any other open data policy document, the Irish one didn’t contain a single mention of the social benefits of open data for civil society.

Taking this into consideration we (Open Knowledge Ireland) undertook a challenge to progress open data in Ireland by catalyzing interest around it. As you remember, in September 2012, Oireachtas cut the XML feed to kildarestreet.com, the biggest open government data publisher in Ireland. The open data community started to organise regular ‘Open Data Ireland’ meetups.

The idea of of open data meetups was to generate demand for open data through education and collaboration between data holders and data users (under assumption that passion is a stronger motivator than profit). All our events were organised in the evening time or at weekends, in order to accommodate enthusiasts and increase a pool of people who knows more about open data and participate in it’s co-creation.

Prior to our workshop meetup on November 17th, D/PER’s consultant tweeted “It’d be good to discuss how to facilitate broad engagement in #opendataIRL” here.  However the time and date chosen by the consultant is aimed at accommodating those who “work with data”.

We can assume that that the biggest publisher of open data, John Handelaar, based in Cork and Open Street Maps lead in Ireland Dave Corley, based in Galway, do not belong to the consultant’s target group.

The participants of the November 17  workshop discussed 5 projects, which can be turned into real life Irish examples of open data being put in use and we set up a project log here.

However at the follow up meeting with you in D/PER offices, we were informed that the department has a budget for 2015 only for an appointed “consultant”, Deirdre Lee from Derilinx and Deirdre Lee from INSIGHT.

Evidently, D/PER has generous resources for Irish Nonprofits Project Limited / INKEx also…

Taking into consideration that there is a paid “consultant” in place and the fact that none of independent groups cannot compete in tendering processes with quangos which have hundreds of publicly funded researchers at their disposal, our group will not be organising any public engagements in Ireland as long as there is a publicly sponsored consultant.  This is the only logical course.

To summarise, there is still no appreciating for the role of the civic groups in progressing open data in Ireland. There is contradiction between the government’s public commitments and government’s actions.

Thank you for your invitation to meet, but I don’t see any point to participate in creation of an illusion of openness in Ireland.

Best, Denis