EU Boosts Open Data; Open Contracting Data Standard Out

As you will probably have noticed, open data is pretty hot these days. The EU has noticed, too, and is making some serious funds available for this area, as announced by the UK's Open Data Institute.

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As you will probably have noticed, open data is pretty hot these days. The EU has noticed, too, and is making some serious funds available for this area, as announced by the UK's Open Data Institute:

the EU has committed €14.4m (£11m) to three initiatives to catalyse open data innovation across the region.

1. €7.8m Europe-wide incubator programme based on the ODI’s startup programme

2. €3.7m Europe-wide web data research network

3. €2.9m new academy to train the next generation of data scientists

This is the largest direct investment in open data startups in the world, to date.

Here are some details fo the incubator programme:

The EU has committed €7.8 million to realise a 30-month incubator programme for open data entrepreneurs across Europe, via its Horizon 2020 funding programme. Seven partners, led by the University of Southampton, bid for the funding to develop an Open Data Incubator for Europe (ODInE). ODInE will be modelled on the ODI’s highly successful Startup Programme, which has so far supported 18 companies, five of which have now graduated from the scheme. Analysis in June found that companies on the ODI’s startup programme had secured over £2.5m in funding and investment since joining.

The ODI will deliver the incubator programme, recruiting new startups every two months, approximately 50 startups in total. The ODI will receive €500k to administer the project and €5.5 million will be allocated to successful applicants of the programme to develop their concepts, around €50k-€100k per company. In addition, each will receive mentoring, technology, infrastructure and networking support. ODInE will launch in Spring 2015.

The Web data research network will fund 15 early-stage researchers across Europe, all addressing different aspects of the question: “how can we answer complex questions with Web data?”. Complementing that research work, the European Data Science Academy (EDSA) aims to train up a new generation of data scientists:

EDSA will use a combination of the latest data analysis and eLearning technologies to produce a European-wide dashboard for analysing and understanding industrial data, science skill requirements, and consequently develop and deliver open educational materials to meet the demand.

The Horizon 2020 programme total investment is €2.9m. The ODI will receive €323k and will lead the analysis of the required sector-specific skillsets for data analysts across the main industrial sectors in Europe. The ODI will also be providing support to help the wider project to: develop modular and adaptable data science curricula to meet these skills needs deliver training supported by multiplatform and multilingual learning resources based on the curricula.

As that indicates, this new funding is being put to very practical ends, notably in terms of trying to nurture strength in depth when it concerns open data expertise in Europe. That's very welcome, since open data's hotness on its own isn't enough: what are crucially important are trained professionals that can meet the rising demand among companies for open data skills, otherwise that hotness becomes a problem rather than an opportunity.

The ODI news is chiefly aimed at industry, but another recent announcement shows how open data can be applied at the governmental level. It's an update to a project I wrote about two years ago, Open Contracting. As a recent blog post on the site explains:

Open Contracting has become central to the open government agenda. As of this writing, 43 out of the 64 countries that are currently part of the Open Government Partnership, have made commitments to contracting and procurement processes that are more open and participatory, with more countries joining every day.

Amongst the commitments that governments are making, there are such things as the endorsement of the Open Contracting Global Principles or the implementation of the Open Contracting Data Standard.

That Open Contracting Data Standard has just been launched:

Governments around the world spend an estimated US$9.5 trillion through contracts every year. Yet, contracting information is often unavailable for public scrutiny. To change this, the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) is working to increase disclosure and participation in contracting.

The Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) project exists to formalize how contracting data and documents can be published in an accessible, structured and repeatable way.

This website currently contains an initial version of the schema that has been designed around contracts awarded through a standard tendering process. However, the standard is flexible and, through specific extensions, can be used to describe other kinds of contracts, including contracts related to land and extractive industries.

OCDS offers the hope that more light may be shone on what are often rather opaque tendering processes, with a concomitant reduction in corrupt practices that plague some countries. According to a press release from the World Wide Web Foundation, one of the organisations behind the new standard, corruption adds a staggering $2.3 trillion to the cost of government contracts worldwide every year. If even a small percentage of that is eliminated, it will have a massive knock-effect on the publics affected. OCDS is a great example of how something as abstract as an open data specification could have a major impact on the daily lives of millions of people. The new EU funding for open data should help to produce to many more.

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