Open Public Data: Concept and Application
Every day, public institutions collect and produce large amounts of data such as financial, geographical and statistical data, data on economic trends, the legal system and public services, company registers, demographic and cadastre data, and many other types of data, registers and records. These data have great potential to improve the transparency and efficiency of public services, as well as boost innovation, competitiveness and employment. Analysing and combining data from different sources and their innovative use yield new products and services, such as software applications (navigation systems, weather forecasts, tour guides, banking and financial services, etc.), business services, research, journalistic stories, public campaigns, etc.
However, in order to utilise the potentials of public data, it is necessary to ensure that they are open, that is, published in such ways and in such formats as to render them fit for further use. More specifically, this entails the removal of any legal limitations, such as copyrights restricting the use and sharing of data, and their technical openness, which implies publication in formats which allow for machine reading. According to these criteria, open data can be defined as data that anyone may access, use or change for any purpose whatsoever.
In an era of ever faster development of new technologies and the information society, many countries in the world try to ensure greater and greater availability and use of public data which are of use to citizens, the business community, the civil service and civil society. Thus the United States is at the vanguard of the effort to open public data. The government, through various policies and programmes, encourages the broadest possible use of public data, including for the development of commercial products and services. For this purpose, the US government has launched an open data portal which hosts almost 200,000 data bases with data from different sectors, such as economy, education, energy, finance, health, nutrition, civil service, security, science and research.
EU countries have also adopted appropriate public policies regarding public data, following the 2003 adoption of the Directive on the Re-use of Public Sector Information, which lays down minimal rules for making public data open in EU countries. European countries have had several approaches: some have improved their freedom of information acts by recognising the right to re-use, others have adopted separate regulations on re-use, while in some countries this issue has been regulated via a combination of old and new regulations.
Open Data, Civil Service, Public Policies
In most countries, the primary motive for making public data open was the intention to use the economic potential of data to produce commercial digital content and boost the development of entrepreneurship. However, public data have a significant value in the creation of better public policies. An analysis of publicly available data helps policymakers identify the main social and economic challenges and come up with quality solutions based on facts and evidence. Without available data it is not possible to gain insight into the causes and nature of social problems which public policies target, nor is it possible to assess the success and appropriateness of the existing government programmes and policies.
What is more, the very act of making public data open may lead to improvements in some areas of the public sector, whereby there is no need for expending a great deal of resources or passing strict regulations. For instance, Uganda’s central government allocated money for schools for years, via local government structures, yet the quality of the education remained low. Research conducted in the 1990s showed that the schools received a mere 13% of the money earmarked for them, while the rest was embezzled at the local administrative level. The government decided to tackle this problem by publishing the data on each individual remittance for the schools, and the very act of making the data public caused the embezzlement rates to plummet. Similarly, the United Kingdom is the first country in the world to publish the rates of success of heart surgeries in public clinics, which, over the next few years, led to a drastic drop in perioperative mortality rates.
Making public data open improves the efficiency of public services provision, reduces bureaucratic burdens and expedites processes. An Illustration of this is the example of the Dutch Ministry of Education, which decided to publish all education-related data, which reduced the number of telephone enquiries and the work load, and yielded resource savings. Denmark made even more substantial savings by publishing a register of addresses. Before that, local communities charged fees for accessing such registers, while cadastre offices, public companies and commercial courts had to collect addresses for their own purposes themselves. By publishing a unique register of addresses available to all for free use this practice was ended, and the work of many services and businesses that depend on accurate, up-to-date addresses, such as the ambulance service, police, postal and transport services and navigation systems was made easier.
Making public data open makes it possible for extra-institutional actors, such as NGOs, entrepreneurs and programmers, to offer solutions for problems that the public sector has neither the resources nor the know-how to solve. Public data are actively used by the media, civil service organisations, the academic community and research institutes, in order to draw attention to societal problems which the authorities have not recognised or put on the agenda. For that purpose, for instance, crime rate maps have been created, for example the Chicago Crime Map, and Paris Air Report, an app showing air pollution levels. Similarly, many cities have traffic problems, such as excessive traffic jams, public transport delays, bad infrastructure, lack of car parks, etc. To respond to this, a group of activists in Warsaw decided to create an application which informs public transport users every time there has been a delay. Similarly, the app Carambla has been developed in Belgium to help drivers locate, reserve and pay for the nearest and cheapest parking spot.
Open Public Data in Bosnia and Herzegovina
In Bosnia and Herzegovina the publication of public data has not been regulated. Some institutions do publish data on their web-sites, but these data cannot be considered open, seeing that they are published in formats which do not allow for their further processing (pdf, scans). Closed institutions and unavailable public data thus have serious implications for the development of entrepreneurship, efficient provision of services for citizens and companies, as well as for the creation of evidence-based public policies. In the text that follows we present the main weaknesses of the legal and institutional framework which need to be considered in order to improve this area.
Lack of Proactive Transparency Provisions: The existing state- and entity-level freedom of information acts in BiH do not obligate public bodies proactively to publish information of public interest. The lack of such a provision has a substantial impact on the publishing of public data, seeing that the existing reactive approach obligates institutions to provide information upon request only. This greatly limits the use of public data for the development of products and services which depend crucially on convenient and uninterrupted access to fresh and proactively published data.
Unregulated Data Re-use: In Bosnia and Herzegovina there are no public policies which promote the publication and use of public data without legal, technical or other limitations. In addition, there are no regulations which clearly state that public sector data and information may be used for commercial and non-commercial purposes, which may limit potential users who aim to create value based on public data.
Unclear Competencies in the Field of Public Data: Unlike in the Republika Srpska, where a special institution has been established to conduct activities on making public data open, at the state and the Federation of BiH level it is not clearly defined which institution should lead the initiative to make public data open. In other words, the authority to draft public policy, promote open data standards and principles, provide expertise and technical support to public bodies and organise open public data training for civil servants has not been granted to anyone, which slows down the progress in this area.
No Internet Portal for Open Public Data: In addition to the lack of appropriate open public data policies, there is a lack of open public data internet portals which serve as access hubs. An exception is the portal Open Data, created in 2015 by the Information Society Agency of the Republika Srpska, but it is still in the test phase. No other institution has started to publish its data. On the other hand, there are no initiatives to create open data portals at the state and the Federation of BiH level.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Open public data are an important resource for improving the transparency and accountability of public institutions, job creation and economic development, greater efficiency in the provision of services, as well as for better decision and public policy making.
In spite of the considerable potential and value of open public data, this important area remains unregulated in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Therefore, in order to improve the practices and policies in the field of open public data in BiH, it is necessary to take a number of measures, including, among other things, the following:
- Amend the existing FOI acts in BiH, so as to make it compulsory for public institutions proactively to publish information of public interest;
- Incorporate the concept of open public data into the legal framework by amending the FOI Act BiH or drafting a separate statutory instrument to regulate the right to reuse public data;
- Define the competencies of the state and FBiH level which will be charged with drafting strategic documents and policies in this field and starting and co-ordinating programmes and initiatives for making public data open in public institutions;
- Create an open data internet portal at the state and FBiH level, and publish open public data on the open public data portal of the Republika Srpska.
 A machine-readable document is structured so that software applications can easily recognise it and pull specific data from it. Open Knowledge Foundation, The Open Data Handbook, http://opendatahandbook.org/guide/en/what-is-open-data/
 Open Knowledge Foundation, The Open Data Handbook (Open Knowledge Foundation, 2015).
 Directive 2003/98/EZ of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 November on the re-use of public sector information, Official Journal of the European Union L 345, 31 December 2003.
 European Commission, Implementation of the Public Sector Information Directive. https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/implementation-public-sect...
 World Bank, Uganda – Public Expenditure Tracking Survey (Education), http://econ.worldbank.org/external/default/main?theSitePK=477916&contentMDK=20559515&menuPK=546422&pagePK=64168182&piPK=64168060; Lack of transparency undermining primary education in Africa, Guardian, 23 February 2010.
 Guardian, UK heart operation death rates fall after data published. 29 July 2009.
 Marguerite Clarke, Open Data: What does it really mean for us?, 30 April 2015.
 The Danish Government, Basic Data for Everyone: A Driver for Growth and Efficiency, 2012.
 See, for instance, BiH Statistics Agency data http://www.bhas.ba/, the data on vehicles and personal documents published by the Agency for Identification Documents, Registers and Data Exchange (IDDEEA), http://www.iddeea.gov.ba, and the data on television and radio broadcast licensees by the Communications Regulatory Agency of BiH.
 “Freedom of Information Act of Bosnia and Herzegovina”, Official Gazette of BiH 28/00, 45/06, 102/09, 62/11 and 100/13; “Freedom of Information Act of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina”, Official Gazette of the Federation of BiH 32/01 and 48/11; “Freedom of Information Act of the Republika Srpska”, Official Gazette of the Republika Srpska 20/01.