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The role of data in European democracy

This is a guest blog post written by Jonathan Gray, Director of Policy and Ideas at the Open Knowledge Foundation. He asks what information needs to be released to enable more democratic engagement around EU institutions and processes.

This week campaigners and officials from over 60 countries around the world are meeting in London for the Open Government Partnership Summit to discuss how to make governments more open. A major focus will be how to make official information available and accessible for all.

At the Open Knowledge Foundation we believe that the ability to access and reuse digital information is an increasingly important part of democracy in the 21st century.

Countries around the world are unlocking their data to enable new kinds of digital services and new ways for citizens to understand and participate in official decision-making processes - from e-democracy websites to data driven journalism and campaigning.

What role might better access to information play in democratising the EU?

The institutions, agencies and bodies of the European Union collect and hold all kinds of information about Europe - about everything from unemployment, crime, and quality of life to how EU funds are disbursed, who is lobbying, and progress on cutting carbon pollution.

Much of this information is essential to understanding the composition and functioning of the EU and its 28 member states, and necessary for evidence based advocacy, reportage and policy formation.

The European Union Open Data Portal is a laudable first step in giving European citizens, civil society organisations and the media access to this information in a single place, with an explicit green light to share and reuse it.

What now? There are two things that we’d like to see happening next.

Firstly we’d like to see more citizens, journalists and civil society groups engaging with the EU about what kinds of data they’d like to see released next, and ideas for how to improve the quality of the data that is currently available via the portal. There might be some requests that are very ambitious - such as information that would require new legislation or policy measures to collect. Other requests that might be relatively straightforward - such as releasing information which can easily be made available, but simply has not been published yet. In both cases, we’d like to see an ongoing conversation between EU institutions and European citizens that will help to inform priorities for release. If you have datasets you’d like to see released or improved, please let us know via the public EU Open Data mailing list. You can also use the suggest a dataset form on the European Union Open Data Portal to contact the EU open data team directly.

Secondly we’d like to see more people using EU data to improve public understanding, transparency and accountability of European institutions and processes. If you know of interesting journalistic, campaigning or educational projects which use EU data to improve awareness or provide context around an issue, we’d love to hear about them. Or if you have ideas about projects that you think would help citizens understand and engage with the EU - let us know. You can contact us via Twitter (on @OKFN) or via this online submission form.

We want to see European data being used to support greater participation, public understanding and openness around EU institutions and processes. If you share this hope, please let us and the EU open data team know about what information you think needs to be released next and how it should be put to work.

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