On February 13th we attended the first meeting of the OGP Club (Open Government Partnership), an event organized by the Department for Online Services and Design in the Romanian Government. This is a very dynamic and interesting unit led by Radu Puchiu, whom we interviewed recently. The purpose of the meeting was to get together civil society, academia and public institutions in order to come up with ideas and suggestions regarding the new Action Plan (July 2014 – June 2016) to implement Romania’s commitments as part of its participation in the Open Government Partnership. The Open Government Partnership is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. Romania joined the initiative in 2012 when we also committed ourselves to follow and implement the 2012-2014 National Plan. You can find here an independent review of the commitments taken by Romania and the way in which they were finalized or not.
If you are wondering what exactly are open data, it is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share alike (OpenDefinition.org). The principles usually underlying this type of data are: they can be processed automatically, they are offered in an open format which is not controlled by any entity and benefits from an open licence, which means that it can be used freely, including for commercial gains.
In 2013, 17 ministries in Romania appointed people responsible for reviewing available date and publishing them in an open format. This led to the set up of the data.gov.ro portal, a centralized website where any Romanian citizen can find information about the activity and data of ministries, agencies and other public authorities. As an example, one can find information about Romanian military participation in international missions, a national catalog for prices of medicine which are authorized to be sold on the market and even the status of hospitals and cliniques and number of bed available in a given county.
There are 102 data sets at the moment (a far cry from the +9,000 data sets offered by the British Government for instance) but this is still work in progress, the coordinators tell us. And the work is not that easy as there are still institutions which don’t understand or are not willing to open their data just yet. However, in a short time frame, Puchiu’s Online Services Unit managed to raise awareness about the issue, get all central administration on board, launch an open data portal and ensure that is populated with some data to begin with. That’s quite an accomplishment for a 5 members team, as he was telling us a while back!
The task ahead is huge and Romania is barely starting to understand what open data are how it may benefit from it. Once open, these can be used to strengthen the connection with the public, support the activity of NGOs, breath life into the business sector and increase transparency in an administration which can be barely called open. For instance, local authorities could use open data to create applications which can support their citizens (in fields like health, education, transportation). Or we all could follow how the national or local budgets are being used. In this last regard, one of the first projects has been to open the 2013 State Budget.