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Impediments in utilising the public authorities’ open data (2018:6)

The Government of Sweden has assigned Statskontoret, the Swedish Agency for Public Management, the task of analysing the impediments that exist for using or re-using information that public authorities have released as open data. It is also Statskontoret’s assignment to describe what practical impediments exist, such as deficiencies in terms of accessibility, quality, usability or interoperability, for increased use or increased reuse.

Statskontoret has implemented the assignment by reviewing the open data made available on 40 different public authorities’ websites and on the county administrative boards’ geographic geodatabase and shared map services.

Most of the public authorities make their data available in a manner that entails impediments for its usage

In the report, we analyse the public open data maturity of the public authorities. We have also examined as part of our investigation how user-friendly open data actually is for three different user groups: members of the general public interested in access, dataset users, and advanced users. Our results show that almost all the public authorities we have investigated make open data available. However, most of them make the open data available in such a manner that leads to various impediments for users who want to re-use the information.

Several factors impair public open data maturity

The open data maturity of the public authorities is impaired by a number of recurring factors. For example, the public authorities rarely provide metadata that is structured. They do not generally make data available in such a manner that makes it easy for users to locate what they are searching for.

Extensive impediments for programmers and application/service developers

The most extensive impediments exist for advanced users of open data, such as programmers and application/service developers. This is due to the fact that most public authorities do not have an application programming interface (API) or equivalent services. In addition, the public authorities use different standards for data and metadata, which makes it even more difficult for users who want to cross-check data sets from several different public authorities.

Responsive databases and aggregate compiled information would increase the user-friendliness and general usability for the interested public

Our analysis shows that many public authorities do not make open data available in a manner that makes it user-friendly to the public interested in access. This includes, for instance, that databases and data portals are rarely responsive, in other words that they do not adapt to the size of the monitor. It also concerns the fact that many public authorities could become better at compiling information in such a manner that would make it more understandable, even for those who are not familiar with of the matter at issue.

Insufficient data documentation is one example of the impediments that exist for the group users of the data sets

Generally the public authorities are better at fullfilling the needs of users of the data set. However, even for this group there are certain recurring impediments that limit their possibilities to use the public authorities’ open data. Above all, the public authorities do not offer sufficient information about the contents of the data that they make available. For example, many do not make detailed documentation for the various data sources available, and often there is no contact information to any person with relevant knowledge and expertise about the volume of data in question.

Weak incentives and uncertainties hamper the work related to open data

Our analysis shows that the public authorities’ work related to open data is hampered by the fact that the activities are often given lower priority in favour of other issues. Several public authorities also have IT systems that makes it difficult to extract and publish their information as open data.

We also see that there is a concern within the administration prior to making open data available. One explanation to this is the fact that the employees are afraid of making data available that has quality shortcomings or issues with it, or of accidentally making data available that should not be made public. This fear can result in the work related to open data becoming even further deprioritised.

Statskontoret’s recommendations

One ambition with Statskontoret’s report is to provide the public authorities that have been the subject of the review with support for their continued efforts with making open data more accessible. Therefore, in this report we explain what each public authority which are included in the analysis can further develop so that their open data will become more user-friendly. It is Statskontoret’s assessment that many of the impediments we have identified are best dealt with by the public authorities themselves.

In order to reinforce their work with open data, Statskontoret recommends that the public authorities:

  • further develop their work with making open data available based on Statskontoret’s recommendations.

At the same time, it is Statskontoret’s assessment that the Government needs to facilitate public authorities’ work in various ways, along with imposing requirements on the public authorities, if it wants to see a stronger development of the public administration’s open data.

Statskontoret therefore recommends that the Government:

  • provide those public authorities the Government thinks need to further develop their work with open data, the mandates to report back how they work on the issue
  • monitor the public authorities that have gone further in the work with open data via taking up the issue in discussion with the authority
  • assign the forthcoming Authority for the Digitisation of the Public Sector the assignment to decide on and adopted guidelines and standards for open data
  • review the possibility of incorporating some guidelines for open data in the Regulation (2001:100) on Official Statistics and the Regulation (2010:1770) on Geographic Environmental Information
  • assign the forthcoming Authority for the Digitisation of the Public Sector the task to analyse how the public authorities can, in the most effective manner, obtain access to tools in order to make open data available in a manner that fulfils the needs of advanced users
  • promote increased access to open data in using reporting back requirements and initiating pilot projects.

Statskontoret also recommends that the forthcoming Authority for the Digitisation of the Public Sector:

  • develop support for public sector entities who are procuring IT systems, as part of its assignment in promoting the availability of information for re-usage.