Open data: the locks to be broken in France

by bold-lichterman

Since the creation of the Etalab Mission under the Fillon government in 2011, France has taken concrete measures in terms of public data policy. The Hexagon has also been classified fourth most advanced country in the world in the “open data barometer” of the World Wide Web Foundation published at the end of January. It is true that with a score of 80.2 / 100 in 2015, against 63.92 / 100 in the previous ranking, published in 2013, our country is a good student.

However, while the data is increasingly published, there is still a long way to go. Dive into the heart of the obstacles encountered by French open data …

  • Data far from being all “freed” …

National AssemblyAn example: the National Assembly recently refused to modify its internal regulations so that the votes recorded on the deputies’ boxes are made public. Beyond this particular case, the actors trying to seize these public data in order to exploit them mention several difficulties.

” During the public service delegations, information related to companies is considered public data »Recalls Tangui Morlier, administrator of the Regards Citoyens association.

However, even today, public procurement mechanisms are not always transparent. “These are data that are not yet centralized and open to the public, we do not know the actual amounts of public contracts, except in the case of an individual request. However, if we really want to analyze public spending and have a debate on the subject, these are important elements to have ”underlines Mr. Morlier. He even cites the example of the Brest transport authority which has outright shut down an application presenting bus timetables in the Brest agglomeration. It had been developed by a computer scientist who simply found that the application of the public service delegator could be improved …

Ditto concerning the precise operating costs of administrations: “The account numbers are published but that does not allow us to go into detail. It is possible to see how much the operation of an administration costs as a whole but we do not have a finer granularity to be able, for example, to see if the reduction in the wage bill is really for the financial benefit of the company. administration ”he believes. He points out that there are databases in Bercy on public expenditure for the whole of the State but that they remain (often) confidential. While they are already published for free in the UK for example. Tangui Morlier concludes:

“Info being a power, several administrations – including Bercy – find it difficult to share this power”.

  • … nor always easy to use

“It is not enough to open the data, once the data is there we have not created a magical ecosystem! There are many bugs to correct ”exclaimed Julien Devade, CEO of the Nantes start-up Joul, during the 2015 Dataconnexions final.

Data is not always easily handled. “We should publish cleaner data, more easily transposable in data visualization, and that we can easily cross with other data sets” considered Marie-Cécile Huet at the beginning of February during the Dataconnexions awards ceremony in the Senate. She is responsible for marketing at the Parisian start-up OpenDataSoft, winner of this competition in 2012.

  • Priorities not yet unanimous

“The three subjects on which the release of data is particularly important are: the environment, health and culture” launched the environmental senator of Maine-et-Loire Corinne Bouchoux at the beginning of February during the final of this Dataconnexions competition in the Senate, she is the author of a information report on access to administrative documents.

Tangui Morlier, on the other hand, believes that the three areas on which it is the most difficult to obtain information (and on which it would therefore be necessary to make particular progress) are: transport, economy, finance.

  • Agents not all aware of the issues
Leonore de Roquefeuil

“Sometimes, the actors simply do not know that the data they handle on a daily basis is public” underlines Léonore de Roquefeuil, at the head of the initiative This is the case, for example, of agents within prefectures, as Edouard Schlumberger has observed. As part of the blog Comparison of the results by driving school, he says that he applied himself to: “go and find the success rates of the driving schools available in notebooks printed in the depths of the prefectures. But when we wrote to them, it was difficult to get the information ”. While some agents respond by giving all the details, others are particularly reluctant to communicate this data, even though it is supposed to be public! What makes Edouard Schlumberger say:

“At the central administration level there is a lot of goodwill but when it comes to going down to the local level, the agent’s first instinct is to protect himself and to always ask for the right to share information ”.

Edouard Schlumberger

A point of view shared by Tangui Morlier: “at the state level, the actors have clearly felt the citizen’s interest in going on this path and therefore notable projects have been launched. At the local level, on the other hand, the policy is less coherent ”. He considers that open data has been used more for a communication objective.

That said, things are progressing: amendments have been tabled so that municipalities, departments and regions are obliged to post important public information online, within the framework of the bill on the “new territorial organization of the République ”filed on January 27. One of them would require municipalities with a website to put online, within eight days, the report of each municipal council.

  • … neither easily exploitable (neither technically nor in terms of free reuse)

“Open data is not just having access to data but also having the possibility of re-using it freely (…) and this requires having fine-grained data in order to be able to have precise debates and take political positions” considers Tangui Morlier, administrator of the association Citizens’ views and IT consultant in Paris.

In a report published in April 2014, AFDEL – the French Association of Software and Internet Solutions Publishers – underlined four “risks” relating to this point: “data that is sometimes too imprecise to generate added value, heterogeneity of the data published according to the territories, a heterogeneity of the formats offered, and a higher level of data acquisition than the sales generated by the operator ”.

The actors of the administrations do not all use the same file formats. “Normally they should put them in a CSV format (comma-separated values, ndlr), classic for open data, because any software can recognize this data … but often the documents are corrupted because the software is not updated, or the documents are PDF whose content cannot be copy and paste (…) A format that is pre-defined is missing, compulsory ”explains Léonore de Roquefeuil. However, she remains optimistic: “it is something that will be resolved over time, it would be a shame to stop on that”. For her, the most fundamental problem is education, raising the awareness of elected officials and territorial executives:

“On average, only 1 in 25 agents understood the necessary evolution towards open data. It is really tiny. There are also very few to be aware of the CADA law. And communities do not yet differentiate between a citizen request for information request (on a file) or a request for public data (…) One could imagine compulsory training seminars. But today the work is mainly carried out by start-up project leaders ”regrets Léonore de Roquefeuil.

To date, the government has decided to entrust efforts around open data to the Etalab mission, directly attached to Matignon. Asked about the locks that remain, according to him, to be blown up, his director, Henri Verdier, declares:

“Open data should become the norm by default. We are far from it. It is a question of data culture but also of information architecture in administrations, an architecture rarely thought out in the sense of opening up data ”

Henri verdier

He underlines: “open data, today, is not really built on legal provisions but more on a government strategy. We are currently working on two projects:

1 / move from open data toopen government (i.e. open not only the data but also the decisions)

2 / learn ourselves to use open data (we want to show that we can find savings, do more effective prevention, by opening this data…) ”.

The Etalab mission today involves around fifteen people and an annual budget of around one million euros. Sufficient?

“We are not alone in the secretariat for the modernization of public action, we have a network of open data correspondents in each ministry” retorts Henri Verdier.

But does Etalab have the means to “educate” also within local communities?

“It’s more complicated, recognizes Henri Verdier. For some, they had started before us, we are more in the accompaniment. There is a principle of free administration of communities and we cannot give a mission outside of legal obligation ”he emphasizes.

“Our role is to drive change. It is not harder in the State than in large groups ”concludes this former director of strategy at Lagardère and former general manager of Odile Jacob Multimedia.

The issue of open data is one of the subjects being considered in the context of a digital law which should be studied by parliamentarians by the end of the year. The text is not yet registered on the agendas of the National Assembly and the Senate. In particular, a strengthening of the CADA law is foreseen there… To be continued.

1978: Law on Freedom of Access to Administrative Documents and Reuse of Public Information. Possibility of triggering an appeal procedure via the Commission for Access to Administrative Documents (CADA).

2005: Ordinance on the freedom of access to administrative documents and the reuse of public information. Strengthening of the CADA.

2011: Decree creating the Etalab mission. Establishment of a single portal common to the various ministries concerning public data.

2012: After Paris from 2011, several local authorities are launching open data initiatives: Le Mans, Toulouse, Brocas, Nantes, Bordeaux, Aix-en-Provence, the PACA region, the Saône-et-Loire department, the Aquitaine region …

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