1. The federal open data strategy
The cabinet of Minister De Croo introduced a federal open data strategy in 2015 (1), setting out some generic guidelines. Unfortunately, these generic guidelines have had little impact in the following 5 years on the relevant policy domains, not on the Agency for Administrative Simplification (AAS) nor on BOSA Digital Transformation (managing the federal open data platform).(2) The content of the strategy was good and concepts such as ‘open by default’, ‘comply or explain’ as well as the focus on machine readability received the support of our open data community.(3)
Open Knowledge Belgium would like to see concrete actions linked to the guidelines that have been defined. This is politically challenging, because the open data strategy transcends the boundaries of the federal public services. Three examples:
- We have contacted Minister Van Quickenborne in response to the renewal of the website of the Official Gazette.(4) To make this machine-readable, agreements can be made about data models, identifiers used, and annotation of the website with semantic markup.
- FPS Economy manages the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises (CBE). They are an important stakeholder to help shape the data model used to describe legal entities in Belgium.(5) A European standard to describe companies already exists, but it requires expansion with code lists such as the NACEBEL codes.
- SPF Mobility is currently working on the Belgian standard for public transport data and shared mobility (NeTEx Belgium). This should prepare us for Mobility as a Service, which promises to create a level playing field for mobility providers and route planners.
Whether we are looking at a data publication from FPS Justice, FPS Economy or FPS Mobility, we should find the same principles: an approved “open data” license, the use of Linked Data, alignment with the same base registers and the use of the same standardized code lists.
Several European member states have already started working on a single overview of all “LinkedData” models, code lists, base registers, and application profiles in one location, with a steering body that oversees the interoperability between all datasets. Some inspiring examples:
- Open Standards for Linking Organizations (OSLO) in Flanders.(6)
- Finland with government-validated data models (7) and legislation as Linked Data.(8)
- European Commission with ISA² core vocabularies, the SEMIC initiative , ELIs, …
- The Netherlands with the NEN standards.(9)
- France with ETALab publishing base registers.(10)
For Belgium, we also dream of such an overview page and steering body with representatives of the various policy areas. They approve specifications and datasets within the federal “knowledge graph”.
Low hanging fruit is to elevate already existing datasets so that they comply with the data strategy: the list of addresses (BestAdd), the KBO, the Official Gazette, the NACEBEL codes, the list of municipalities and their boundaries (dataset by NGI), mobility data, and so on. This could be done by BOSA DT, where the team of Bart Hanssens already shares this vision.
2. Appeals Committee for the Public Access Act
There has not been an appeals committee to handle requests for Public Access for several years now. The previous government failed to put one in place. An appeals committee must be appointed as soon as possible to adhere to the Royal Decree of April 29, 2008 (11) on the composition and working method of the Committee for access to and reuse of administrative documents (Belgian Official Journal 8 May 2008). This committee must be authorized by Minister Verlinden in consultation with the Digital Agenda. For example, Belgium recently refused – as one of the only European member states – to release its tender figures for the emergency purchases of Covid19 protective equipment, tests and respirators. (12) Nevertheless, everyone is convinced that transparency about spending public funds is a crucial element in creating public support.
3. Open Data at KMI/IRM
Historical weather data are not only key to studying climate change, they are also an interesting basic set to use in correlation with a lot of other data sets. Think for example of train delays or traffic jams due to weather conditions, crowd indicators (also useful in times of COVID-19) or the calibration of sensors in the public domain based on weather conditions (such as e.g., the ‘Telraam’ sensors that were financed by the Smart Mobility fund of Minister François Bellot or the air quality meters of Irceline).
An important barrier to make these data publicly available is the KMI/IRM business model, stating that they should be self-sustaining through the sale of their data. The Cabinet of Demir communicated that this can be remedied by allocating an additional budget of €800.000 per year to the KMI/IRM. (13) We believe that this investment will be lower than the economic benefits for the Belgian economy. State Secretary for science policy, Thomas Dermine, is now responsible for this matter.
4. Open Data at NMBS/SNCB
NMBS/SNCB has a long way to go when it comes to Open Data. A one-off progress was made in 2015, when Minister De Croo obliged them to set up a data sharing scheme. Little has changed since then. For example, we are still waiting for the data on platform changes, or, especially important during COVID-19, the data concerning the crowds on the trains. Political pressure is needed to put this back on the agenda of the board of directors of the NMBS/SNCB.
In the meantime, Infrabel is showing how things can be done. An open data team has been set up, and 78 data sets can already be found on opendata.infrabel.be. FPS Mobility also worked hard to comply with the Intelligent TransportSystems Directive (MMTIS EU 2017/1926) and set up transportdata.be. (14)
5. A Belgian Prototype Fund
Open Knowledge Germany, our sister organization in Germany, has instigated a lot of success stories with the Prototype Fund. (15) We have already invited the organizers of the Prototype Fund Germany to Belgium on multiple occasions to exchange ideas.
Open Knowledge Belgium has plenty of experience when it comes to organizing hackathons as well as open summer of code. The latter is a 4-week summer programme in July, that provides students with the training, network and support necessary to transform open innovation projects into powerful real-world services. Despite the global pandemic, we organized an online edition with more than 80 students in 2020. We believe the Prototype Fund is a sequel to this concept, where professionals with a bright idea can build a prototype faster.
We are keen to establish a Protoype Fund Belgium based on the German example. We believe the Federal Government is the ideal partner to stimulate this kind of Open Innovation during the post-Covid relance.
The Prototype Fund could be an interpretation of what is stated in the coalition agreement as “There will be small-scale test projects on GovTech on which innovative start-ups and scale-ups can work“. However, it can also be approached from the broader social viewpoint of CivicTech, where civic participation and public benefit outweigh the business model. Or as the Swiss version of the Prototype Fund puts it: “Smart Participation as a right to collectively shape our future”. (16)
- https://data.gov.be/nl/news/federale-open-data-strategie -http://digitalbelgium.be/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/compressed_NLStrategisch-dossier.pdf
- The European “core vocabularies” can provide guidance in this case https://ec.europa.eu/isa2/solutions/core-vocabularies_en