Open data without Germany: The G7 Summit and the bumpy road to transparency

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(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

While the G7 (previously G8) countries pledged to make data “open by default” and “usable by all” in the summer of 2013, efforts surrounding open data in some of the G7 countries clearly illustrate hesitation to achieve these goals, as well as difficulty in implementing the principles of the Open Data Charter, which was designed to guarantee that high quality data will be available from participating countries by the end of 2015.

G7 leaders agreed to follow five open data principles and publish their own national action plans detailing how they intended to implement the charter. However, four countries failed to launch their action plans by the October 2013 deadline and Germany released its plan a year late, in the end of 2014. And, even though this year’s summit is chaired by Germany, data and openness still seem to be low priorities for the Merkel administration.

In a newly released paper, Open Knowledge Foundation Germany and the stiftung neue verantwortung (“Foundation for a New Responsibility,” SNV) argue that by not addressing the topic at the ongoing G7 Summit, Germany has again failed to gain the momentum necessary to catch up with the other G7 countries in government openness. German watchdogs suggest that by joining the International Open Data Charter as well as the Open Government Partnership, Germany would be on a faster road toward greater transparency. Last Friday, in cooperation with Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, the SNV published a new position paper (so far available in German only) outlining the G7’s current state of affairs and possible steps forward.

Thus far, the political signals are discouraging. In terms of progress towards the Open Data Charter principles, Germany is currently ranked in last place among the G7 countries, according to a recent analysis published by the Center for Data Innovation. And while the public community partnership process and the participation platform for the country’s action plan are positive signs overall, both resources and a commitment to the process are lacking.

As German watchdogs point out, this is especially discouraging. Other nations have not only recognized new opportunities to open up data, but have already achieved great progress in implementation. Even countries like Italy, France and Japan — all newcomers to the open data field — can boast substantial achievements., for instance, uses data published by the Italian government to compare the financial status and living standards of communities. The French government has set up an Open Data Task Force, making public transport data (among other datasets) available to encourage innovation for a more efficient infrastructure. These are just a few of the many examples.

In order to keep up with other nations, German transparency watchdogs urge their government to commit to greater openness through further work on the G7 Open Data Charter, as well as to participate in the development and implementation of the International Open Data Charter. A stronger international commitment — for example, in the Open Government Partnership or at the International Open Data Conference 2016 in Madrid — is imperative to close the gap. Efforts in other countries demonstrate that Germany can only succeed if open data is made a political priority, provided with the necessary resources and given a clear timeline for implementation.

The Sunlight Foundation strongly supports German transparency activists in their efforts to create a culture of openness and urges the German government to make open data a priority.