Taxpayer-funded public institutions gather the data - maps, traffic information, and meteorological updates - that make these services feasible. In Singapore, a wide variety of publicly funded data sources enabled Google to launch Google Transit, marrying public transport schedules, traffic updates and intelligent routing with the location-determining capabilities of today's mobile phones. Singaporeans can now answer the question "I am at point A right now: when is the next bus that takes me to point B."
Unfortunately, it is often difficult to get access to this information required to develop such cool, innovative and useful, services. Despite being public, open access to this data is not automatic, and complex licence agreements remain de rigueur. Many obstacles block companies from gaining access to this information, even though many companies including Google have joined together to push for access in the PSI Alliance.
The good news is that the European Union understands the potential for innovation and economic growth that easy access to publicly funded information could unlock. As early as 2003, Ministers and the European Parliament adopted a directive setting the conditions under which public sector bodies should encourage re-use of their information resources. Just this month, ministers responsible for eGovernment policy adopted an important declaration, reaffirming that Member States “will encourage the reuse of public data by third parties to develop enriched services that maximise the value for the public.”
It was also encouraging last week to see the UK government taking an important unilateral first step towards freeing public data: from April next year, a good number of the UK's Ordnance Survey maps will become freely available - and re-usable - online. This represents an important victory for the Guardian newspaper's laudable "Free Our Data" campaign which has been running for the last three years.
The value of open access to publicly funded data extends far beyond geographical or transport-related information. In the Netherlands, for example, we've combined freely available Central Statistics Bureau and European Central Bank information with search trends data to create a barometer for consumer confidence in a variety of industry sectors. And the combination of publicly funded epidemiological data sources with aggregated search query data has enabled us to launch the cutting edge Flu Trends product predicting the spread of an epidemic in 20 countries.
Let’s hope that access to public information will continue to improve and allow innovators everywhere to create cool, useful products.
Posted by Antoine Aubert, European policy manager
Alongside the Ministerial Declaration on eGovernment, we presented in Malmo the Open Declaration, produced collaboratively by 1500 citizens. This declaration emhpasizes as the first policy priority the importance of open reusable data.See http://eups20.wordpress.com
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