About PSI and how can ODN help

Peter Hanecak

One of the main reasons why Open Data Node (ODN) was created is to help public bodies to fulfil goals of PSI directive. In this short article, we will explain what is PSI, shed some light on the difference between PSI, access to documents laws (freedom of information) and Open Data and then look at how ODN can help.

About PSI

Public Service InformationPSI directive is officially known as "The Directive on the re-use of public sector information". Its first version (Directive 2003/98/EC) entered into force in December 2003 and its amended version (Directive 2013/37/EC) is in force since July 2013.

The directive encourages EU member states to make as much information available for re-use as possible, mainly by specifying the principle, that all content that can be accessed under national access to documents laws is in principle re-usable beyond its initial purpose of collection.

In very simplified terms (lawyers should rely on actual laws and directives, not on this summary):

  • Almost all public information should be made available for re-use (except classified information, personal information, etc.)
  • The main motivation is to extract additional economic value from existing information held within public bodies in EU

The economic rationale is, that if data already exists (so that a public body can perform its main functions), it is already paid for (by taxpayers money) and copying it over Internet is very cheap, it can be provided to others for nominal costs or even for free because others might find the information useful and create new products and services based on that information. The potential is even higher if we take into account possibility to combine information from multiple public bodies, which allows 3rd parties to provide truly new products and services which are not possible to be provided by individual public bodies.

Imagine for example a tourist guide applications or applications for navigating people with disabilities which work not just in one city or country, but in whole EU or world. A lot of such applications already exists, some are even provided by public bodies. But those are limited only to certain cities, regions or countries, thus inconveniencing or even limiting people if they travel out of their city. But if the data needed for such applications is publicly available for re-use, 3rd party applications can provide same level of services with same interface to their users no matter which public body provided which portion of data for a particular country, region, city, etc. user is visiting.

Such new services and products then translate also to new jobs, new companies and new tax revenue for governments. So at the end, costs associated with making information available for re-use are an investment which brings benefits to economy, for example:

  • macroeconomic studies like McKinsey estimate benefits at 4.1% of global GDP or
  • microeconomic studies like research in Danish address data values benefits at 60 million € with costs at 0.25 million €

(Examples above are quoted from article "The Economic Impact of Open Data: What Do We Already Know?", many other studies are linked from section "Value and Impact" in "GovLab Index on Open Data – 2016 Edition").

PSI vs. access to document laws

Access to documents laws (also referred to as freedom of information) can be seen as base, as they define what information governments should or have to release to citizens. PSI in turn just extends those laws and specifies additional requirements, mainly already mentioned need to allow the re-use of information.

PSI vs. Open Data

In previous sections, we've quiet freely mixed "public service information" concerned in PSI directive and "Open Data" (based on Open Definition) used often when talking about information provided by governments.

While "public sector information" is not exactly same as Open Data (the main difference being price: PSI allows for charging of nominal fees under certain circumstances, Open Data definition requires free of charge access), usually the most effective way to publish public sector information is in the form of Open Data, i.e. pro-actively and for free. Especially if we account also for access to documents laws (freedom of information) because:

  • processing of data requests and charging of fees requires some additional expenses (lawyers, accountants, technical measures, etc. which may at the end even cost more than the amount charged for data) and also stifles re-use (the need to write a data request, read a custom license, pay a fee, etc. makes creation of new services harder)
  • serving same requests for information several times to different citizens increases costs, thus publishing information just once to all reduces those costs (while also lowering amount of received requests, as citizens wont ask repeatedly for information which they can find themselves on-line)

EUDPThus, given that European Commission and many EU countries already do or plan to fulfil their information obligations by publishing Open Data, we will continue using the term Open Data, given the availability of easy definition (vs. lengthy text of directive).

(Those wishing to explore more details regarding Open Data, Open Government Data and public sector information may read "Open Data in a nutshell" provided by European Data Portal. As a reference for Open Data publication, we recommend reading about “release to one, release to all” policy in Sunlight Foundation's blog post "Connecting freedom of information to open data: How to build a better FOIA.gov".)

How can ODN help

As it was already mentioned, one of the main reasons why Open Data Node (ODN) was created is to help public bodies to fulfill goals of PSI directive. So, how exactly can Open Data Node (ODN) help?

First of all, ODN is accompanied with comprehensive Methodology for Open Data publishing. Methodology helps data owners and publishers (mainly public bodies) by providing guidelines and recommendations for how Open Data should be published. It is a comprehensive document covering various aspects of Open Data publication ranging from technical and legal issues to organizational issues and user engagement. If simplified too much, the key point is, that data publication is a process, not a one-time act of publishing some file on the web, because all published data must be kept up-to-date in order to be fully re-usable. (To learn more about the methodology, you can take a look at "Open Data publication in a nutshell".)

Secondly, ODN helps data owners and publishers to follow best practice by providing means to:

  1. automate publication of information, utilizing ETL for extraction of information from internal systems (where so called master data is kept) and making it available for re-use in efficient and safe manner
  2. have a data catalogue, through which users can easily find and access all published information

And given that data publication is a process (i.e. published information needs to be kept up-to-date), automation is truly the key point, helping to avoid repeated manual operations which are in the long run expensive and error prone.

(To learn more about ODN itself you can take a look at presentation about ODN or and introduction article illustrating how to start using ODN.)

Summary

There is existing access to documents of freedom of information legislature in many countries which mandates the release of government information to citizens and organizations. EU's PSI further encourages this information to be released in a way to allow re-use. In all those cases it makes sense to implement the release of information using Open Data principles and technologies. And in many such cases Open Data Node helps with information publication by providing methodology (guides and recommendations) and tools (for automated publication and for data cataloguing).