Opening contracted data in the public sector

Public sector sucks at making applications. Look at what applications it creates and look at what applications are created in the private sector, such as e-banking. The difference is huge. A common argument in favour of open government data follows this line of reasoning. Public sector is not able to create useful applications in a cost-efficient way, therefore it should openly publish its data and the applications will flow, produced by the members of public, for free.

See, the problem is that the public sector also sucks at making some data. Some types of data, such as geographical data or extensive surveys are quite difficult to gather by the means available to the public sector. The solution is to sign a contract with company that produces the requested data. By outsourcing acquisition of some types of data the public sector gets what it needs for its functioning. No problem so far.

The problem starts to appear in cases when the companies (often unlike the public sector) see the possibilites for reuse of the data. The companies producing the data are well aware of the ways in which their product can be reused by businesses to generate revenue. It would be stupid of the company to provide the public sector with an exclusive rights for the contracted data when it can be re-selled to other companies. For example, a company producing geospatial data for the cadaster may sell the same data to businesses producing maps. Of course, the public sector might want to get a licence permitting to re-distribute the data, but a contract containing such requirement would get a much higher pricing from the supplier, due to the fact that the supplier would be deprived of the additional income from re-selling the data. Opening highly reusable data might be pricey.

It leaves me with a lot of questions, wondering what is the best answer for opening data acquired by the public sector from a commercial supplier that is conscious of the real value of data and reflects it in the price.

At the beginning of #opendata film Tom Steinberg from MySociety says:

Open Government Data is any information the Government collects, by and large for their own purposes, that it then makes available for other people to use for their purposes.

The definition of open government data concerns the data that are collected by the government. However, it is not clear if it only covers data produced by the government itself or, if it includes data provisioned to the government by a third-party as well. Does the definition of open government data apply even for data that are a result of a public contract? If this is a correct interpretation, is it nevertheless the responsibility of the public sector to contract data in a way that allows to release the data as open data, even though it might significantly raise the price of the contract? Spending government's finance on this would certainly lower the barrier for starting a business based on such data. And, given its financial constraints, can the public sector afford to contract data in this way?

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Jáchym ??epický for bringing this point to our seminar Open Data and Public Sector: applying Austrian experience in Czech Republic.

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