After Open Source, Open Data is trendy. Governments are revamping their public service information policies, robust and commonly accepted standards of data emerge, results blossom.
As a said in a previous post, the public service is at the forefront, not the private sector. The two major reasons are financial – it is an opportunity to get more revenues from PSI – and ideological – governments in democracies come from and work for the people so they should be as transparent as they can.
A review of the initiatives, particularly the UK that is the most visible and probably the most systematic one, shows that the work so far has been on:
- Re-evaluating charging policies
- Re-viewing copyrights
- Favoring the standardization of data via a single format, at least per type of content (text, image, video …)
Let’s review them in details.
The re-evaluation of charging policies
It is the result of balancing 1) the incentivisation of clients for a higher consumption of the data and 2) the respect of the cost of production as well as the competition landscape. Between free of charge, marginal cost, cost recovery and full cost, the UK opts for the marginal cost approach, following a recommendation by Cambridge experts. However, not everyone is on the same page despite strong incentives by the European Commission. For instance, there are some voices that advocate for cost recovery or full cost in France, while the UK introduced earlier this year a process that opens doors to exceptions.
The review of copyright
It is meant to make it simpler to understand and access. A consequence is for instance that *by default* public service information is public and not restricted. As restriction becomes the exception, people are encouraged to look at available data as they have higher chance to effectively use them. The UK recently released an OS OpenData license.
The standardization of data formats
The adoption and promotion of certain standards, particularly RDF, facilitate the use and circulation of data. Skills and tools are clear, there is no hurdle to translate the formats so that it is faster and of higher quality. Most importantly those format help Internet services, particularly search engines, to reference, display, re-use, remix the data and combine it with existing data. The World Wide Web is comforted in its central position of digital commons.
The construction of a Market of Data
Those three concurrent initiatives are forming a new market. What happens behind the open data and the reforms of public service information is the creation of a market of data, with a global reach and a centralized place with the data.gov websites. Market is here to be understood in the pure classical sense coming from political economy.
- The re-evaluation of charging policies is the economical side of market creation. The purpose is to provide pricing transparency so that transactions are fairer and transaction costs reduced.
- The review of copyright is the legal side of market creation. The purpose is to set a common framework within which transactions can happen securely.
- The adoption and promotion of data standards is the technical side of market creation, like weights and measures. The purpose is to set a common framework so that people can better benchmark between items.
What see forming now is similar to what Dutch and Britons (later the rest of Europeans) have witnessed 4 centuries ago for physical goods. This systematic approach is very positive. The construction of the European single market can be a good illustration of the results of a systematic approach. In fact the US experience is more interesting. Several US agencies have already been releasing freely, with a user friendly copyright a lot of data 10+ years ago. However the absence of political momentum and co-ordinated and systematic approach kept those initiatives non-visible.
With the current setting, what the UK OPSI report shows is an effective growth in volumes and revenues of the Click-Use Licence market as well as the appearance of individuals. The growth in volumes is the result of increased delivery on the supply side, while the growth in revenues is the result of new players on the demand side. These new players are mostly individuals and they account for one third of the consumer base. From there one can assume that the work done concurrently at economical, legal and technical levels, is effectively reducing the barrier of entrance to the market. Rather than creating a market, they are re-creating a market by lowering its barriers.
source: The United Kingdom Report on the Re-use of Public Sector Information 2009, page 54, Crown copyright.
Beyond building the market, structuring it
Now that being said, the emergence of such Lilliputian actors is creating a new deal on that market. Before the market was pretty oligopolistic given the lesser transparency on the economical and technical levels, and stronger complexity on the legal level. Only big organizations could afford being on that market. They have their own structures, skills, processes, budgets to deal routinely with that. All the transaction costs are internalized (Coase). On the contrary these new players don’t have that backend organization.
So, how do we deal with that? How do you secure their presence on the long term so that the market does not get back to its previous oligopolistic state and consequently the expected benefits don’t show up? As far as I can see, nobody is looking at the matter right now. They all are busy creating the market of data so that no one really pays attention to structuring that market to make sure that that market is fair, fluid and conducive of wealth creation on the long term.
That is where knowledge management can play a role. By knowledge management, I do not refer to the popular and limited understanding that confuses managing knowledge and managing documents. Documents are containers of knowledge, not knowledge. I refer to managing insights and experiences, which is relational and people oriented.
The web has demonstrated that it was possible to build powerful, yet user-friendly, knowledge sharing platforms. The mechanisms of knowledge sharing can be used to structure the market of data. This would help individuals connect to data automatically, saving them the hassle of looking for the data. This would help individuals find similar or complementary profiles so that they can combine forces and grow to form real organizations. Implementing a platform like this would help individuals, by reducing quite a number of transaction costs. It is a way to structure the market to contribute to fairness, fluidity and wealth creation.
As we can see there is yet some work to be done. data.gov.uk, for instance, has to go far beyond the simplistic, non-connected Drupal profiles it offers now. How the market of data is going to be structured is the key to its sustainability.