Open Government Data in Italy: it's time to act!

The Italian way to "data liberation" between anomalies and some pleasant surprises

As is often done in the world of technologies, names change: what was once called transparency is now called Open Government and Open Data. And as often happens in our country, we are not even capable of copying the right names: Open Government Data is the right name, but in Italy we are now talking about open data.

Let's try starting from the beginning, because we're very good at this too: as often happens, we started regulating them before anyone else in the world, even if not exactly how they were then declined. Already in March 2005, Legislative Decree 82, the so-called Digital Administration Code or CAD, was published which, in article 50 "Availability of public administration data" stated:

“The data of public administrations are formed, collected, stored, made available and accessible with the use of information technologies… Any data processed by a public administration… is made accessible and usable by other administrations.”

Article 68 of the CAD also defined the open format as a "data format made public and exhaustively documented", indicating that the CNIPA (the current DigitPA) would establish and update annually, "a repertoire of open formats that can be used in public administrations and the methods of transferring formats". But above all, article 68 envisaged that the PAs, in preparing or acquiring IT programs, should adopt IT solutions to ensure interoperability and application cooperation, and allow the representation of data and documents in multiple formats, of which at least one open type.

What exactly does that mean?
Basically two things: that the PA must make its data usable by other administrations and that the PAs are required to adopt solutions that allow the data to be represented in at least one open format.

Therefore, the last piece is missing: the obligation for the PA to make the data usable also by third parties. And here we come to another all-Italian anomaly: while in other countries, everything concerning Open Data Government has been activated directly by local and/or national governments, in Italy various groups have arisen on the Web made up of computer scientists, professors university students, ICT operators, jurists, experts in the public data sector, PA operators, ordinary citizens, who advocate the adoption of Open Data policies in our country. And so the first excellence in the Piedmont Region was born with the portal in which it published a great deal of data in an open and accessible format and following this experience, also driven by the aforementioned movement, the government, with the then Minister of Public Administration, Renato Brunetta, launched the site downstream of which, in December 2011 it was also published

Are we there then? Yes and no.
Yes, because Open Data has finally been cleared through customs both locally and nationally and because the legislation partially supports the PA in its opening choices. No because there is not yet a stringent obligation and above all not because the concept of openness has not yet really been acquired either by the political class or by PA executives.

So what to do?
A further step was taken in the publication of the "contest" Apps4Italy which will end in April 2012 and which has opened a competition to propose ideas and solutions in the field of Open Data and which has therefore increased awareness on the subject. Other pushes, we are sure, will come from below, because public data should be open and there are basically three reasons:

  1. for transparency: in a democratic society citizens have the right to know what their government is doing; for this to be possible, access to government data and information must be free and citizens must be able to share this heritage among themselves. Transparency does not only concern access to data but also their sharing and reuse of the same;
  2. for their social and commercial value. In the digital age, data is the main resource for commercial and social activities. From finding your postcode to building a search engine, you require access to data that is mostly created or maintained by the government. By opening up this data, the PA favors the creation and development of innovative activities and services that produce social and commercial value;
  3. to achieve full and comprehensive participatory governance. Citizens usually come into contact with their government every 4 or 5 years through general elections, while by freeing public data they can be better informed and involved in the life of their country and in the national decision-making process. All this is more than simple transparency: it is the construction of a participatory society and a co-production process that fully involves the state and the administered. It is the latest and most complete form of Open Government, its final landing.

This last point leads us to what is called Citizensourcing, a neologism forged on the concept of Crowdsourcing extended to citizens, which describes a new relationship between the government and citizens, based on a series of emerging practices and principles borrowed from the private sector: citizens they take part in government thanks to the new principles of integration, motivation and organization.
Open data therefore for a new policy: from taxation to participatory! Open data for new citizens: from subjects to protagonists!

article that appeared in the February 2012 issue of Beltel
flickr image: opensourceway

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