Julia Kloiber of Open Knowledge Foundation on open data

Category: Future heads

The idea behind open data is simple: Once collected, the data should be used in various areas, by as many actors as possible and for as many applications as possible. As a project manager for the Open Knowledge FoundationJulia Kloiber is committed to ensuring that the benefits of this idea are more frequently used in Germany too. To achieve this aim a 1.2 million prototype fund for open source projects was set up in collaboration with several partners including the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Also, Ms Kloiber is particularly happy about the E-Government Act that was recently passed in Berlin.

Ms Kloiber, data are not all the same: While some data require to be handled with the utmost care in terms of security and storage – see suspension of Safe Harbor – other data need to be transparent and publicly available. The question is: When should data be accessible by everybody and what are the basic rules that should be adhered to in such a scenario? 

When you talk about open data, most of the time you refer to data that are collected by the government, by authorities and publicly funded research institutions. Excluded are personalised and security-related data. All other data that aare not part of these two categories should be open by default, i.e. accessible to everybody from the start. There are some basic rules that are known from statistics, for example, you have to pay attention to the level of granularity that you use when publishing data, ensuring that individual data are not traceable. Data security plays a major role here. However, the basic rule when it comes to open data is very simple: Administrative data that are neither personalised nor security-related should be openly accessible to everyone. If data are personalised they can be made accessible by means of anonymisation. 

Through connecting objects to the Internet  – the Internet of Things – more and more current data are recorded and evaluated using intelligent algorithms. How can open data be used in the private sector? 

There are two key aspects to this question. The first one is that administrative data have substantial economic potential for companies. Companies can build new services on open data or enrich existing services. Notable examples would be weather or geo data that form the basis for many applications. Statistical data, too, for example population statistics or data on education, the environment, traffic or government tenders can be very useful for companies, depending on their field of activity. 

And the second aspect?

Secondly, there are more and more companies, for example Deutsche Bahn (the largest German railway company), who make data publicly available. Initially, there were reservations and critical questions at Deutsche Bahn, too, for example: Will others use and interpret our data correctly? Will others update our data for their users in their applications in a timely manner? These reservations have proven to be true in very few cases. Quite to the contrary, making data available has many positive effects for companies. For example, other companies can build services on the available data and thereby improve the service they deliver to their customers. This means that Deutsche Bahn does not have to develop 20 applications for several different target groups because others will get on board and for example build tailor-made applications for people with special needs or integrate timetable data in map services. Another simple example: Deutsche Bahn has published the locations of their rental bikes. Navigation services can now build these location data into their proprietary applications and point users to available Deutsche Bahn rental bikes. Ultimately, customers can benefit from improved services if companies make their data publicly available. 

Can you name another example?

A very simple example: You could consider data on opening hours of shops open data. Others will integrate these data in their platforms and let customers know when a particular shop will be open. Customer information can be accessed more quickly and companies can reach more people. 

The Open Knowledge Foundation is not only committed to free data but to free knowledge. Can you explain your working method?

Free knowledge is about making knowledge accessible for others. Very often this will be related to licensing matters. Simply put, free knowledge is about an alternative way of dealing with copyrights. We support open licenses, i.e. licensing models where the creator of a work decides to make their work accessible and usable for others. For example, in the framework of “Coding da Vinci” we work with museums and cultural institutions and help them open their archives and put the works under open licenses so that others can use the works. 

What was the reason for the foundation of your organisation and who was behind it?

Five years ago we realised that other countries such as Great Britain or the US are much more advanced when it comes to open data. At the time Germany was very much in its infancy in terms of open data. We wanted to show how “best practices” could look like and how citizens and governmental institutions could benefit from open data and open knowledge. The Open Knowledge Foundation Germany is a charitable organisation. It is part of an international network of groups in over 40 countries that we have an active exchange with. The international organisation of the Open Knowledge Foundation was founded in Great Britain ten years ago. 

You yourself work as a project manager in the open data area. Which projects are you currently working on?

We have several exciting projects on at the moment. For example, “Code for Germany” which is a Germany-wide community in 25 labs with people who use local data to build tools and applications for their cities and neighbourhoods. “Jugend hackt” is another project that is all about early education on open data, where mentors support young people who want to develop open data applications. In addition, “Datenschule” is just starting up, where we educate charitable organisations, associations or NGOs on data literacy. The initial objective of the project is how these organisations can integrate external data and improve their use of internal data in order to pursue their goals. Another new project that I’m currently working on is “Prototype Fund” which is a project set up in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research where we will be giving 1.2 million euros to open source projects in the field of civic tech. The question here is: How can technology be used for the benefit of the public good? 

Berlin was the first city in Germany to create a portal for open data. How do you assess the developments in Berlin compared to those in other large cities in Germany?

Quite right. Berlin was one of the first cities in Germany that has achieved a lot with relatively few resources. However, I would like to see the issue of open data higher up on the political agenda. I would also appreciate it if there were more resources available for this. Nevertheless I think that the E-Government Act that has been passed recently will have a positive effect on the data portal and open data in Berlin in general. This effect can be seen in Hamburg as well: After the Transparency Act was passed there has been a real push for open data. What we need is a legal basis which we now have in Berlin so we can expect a lot of changes in the coming months and years. However, we do need human and financial resources. We are not talking about huge numbers, however, currently there are not enough funds allocated to the issue, Nevertheless, the verdict for Berlin compared to other large cities has to be: Well done! Keep it up! 

Ms Kloiber, a final request. Could you please complete the following sentence: Berlin is...

... a city worth living in inhabited by committed citizens.


Tanja Mühlhans

Leitung Kreativ- und Medienwirtschaft, Digitalwirtschaft, Projekt Zukunft