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March 31, 2012

Italian Open Data Is Not So Open

Open data is more than just transparency, open data is not just the latest buzzword, but the most democratic and meritocratic business opportunity. In many countries open data has turned into an effective anti-crisis measure because information freely available to everyone can become the raw material for the production of services for the digital world. Public information is like gold for makers. If governments provide open data then anyone who has an innovative idea can try to develop it and build a business model around it.

Even Italy has awoken, and AppsForItaly – the Italian Open Data competition – is the proof of this. Apps4Italy is a competition open to European citizens, associations, developer communities and firms willing to develop innovative applications based on the re-use of datasets published by Public Sector bodies and capable of showing how relevant is the economic and social potential of public information.

@tweelog and I have decided to participate with an engaging mobile application to allow citizens to have a concrete idea of the costs of the “Auto Blu” (government cars used for official business). It’s a hot issue in the Italian public opinion because represents the symbol of government waste and privilege politics. In 2011 Formez PA has conducted a nationwide survey on behalf of the Ministry of Public Administration to make a census of the car fleet and the data has been explicitly published as Open Data.

✓ Idea
✓ Data
We started working on the idea, defining the screen flow, making mockups, but then we realized (naively too late) that the CSV file of the open data does not include all the information that you can find on the web page where you can do a search among the public bodies which participated in the monitoring and view the responses of the questionnaire. The CSV file contains only a subset of these responses. Some missing information, as address, can be derived while others not so much, as the number of km driven per year. The latter is an essential piece of information that allows to weigh the value of the annual expense necessary for the maintenance of the cars. They provide a data source on the “Auto Blu” expenses without conveying one of the two key elements to evaluate them. What’s the meaning of this? So what’s this for?

I wrote an email to Formez PA and had a response:

Sorry, but it’s not possible at the moment to update the CSV file that, as you rightly note, does not contain all the data collected from the monitoring

Open data? You’re doing it wrong.
Just putting some data online is not enough, data must be significant, reliable and regularly updated.

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