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Effective Governance of Open Spatial data

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - E-GOS (Effective Governance of Open Spatial data)

Reporting period: 2016-07-01 to 2018-06-30

Since the 1990s public authorities worldwide have invested considerable resources in the development of spatial data infrastructures (SDIs). SDI refers to the collection of technological and organizational components oriented towards facilitating and coordinating spatial data sharing. Spatial data, data that refer to a location on the earth, are critical for the execution of public tasks. The original focus of most SDI developments was on promoting and stimulating data sharing within the public sector. Recently, technological, institutional and societal developments have caused these SDIs to shift towards more open infrastructures in which businesses, citizens and other non-governmental actors are also considered as key stakeholders of the infrastructure. The development and implementation of open SDIs is about making spatial data available to the public as open data, but also about organizing and governing the infrastructure in an open manner, enabling and stimulating the participation of non-government actors.

While governance has always been a crucial component in the development of SDIs, open SDIs create additional challenges related to the governance of the infrastructure, as new and additional governance approaches and instruments had to be implemented to manage the relationships and dependencies between the involved actors and organizations. Although there is a growing body of literature that recognizes the importance of governance in open data and SDIs, so far little is known about the different governance models and instruments that could be used for governing open data infrastructures. The central research question of the E-GOS project was: what is the impact of different models for governing open spatial data infrastructures on the performance of these infrastructures in Europe? To answer this research question, a case study approach was implemented, analyzing two leading countries in open data: the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

The research was part of a Marie Sklodowska Curie-Individual Fellowship Project, that aimed to turn the experienced researcher into an outstanding candidate for research position in the field of open data, with particular focus on the governance and performance of open spatial data policies. Acquisition and transfer of knowledge and skills took place through the execution of the research project, and through participation in specific training activities and involvement of the researcher into the research, teaching and management activities of the Knowledge Center Open Data of Delft University of Technology.
The work performed throughout the project involved three main stages:

First a literature study was undertaken of existing theories, frameworks and approaches for analyzing governance and performance in the domains of SDI, open data and public administration. It provided the foundation for the development of the Open SDI Assessment Framework. For the analysis of the governance of open spatial data infrastructures, the governance instruments approach as introduced by public administration researchers to analyze coordination and governance in the public sector was explored and adapted to the analysis of SDI governance.

In the second stage, the status of development of open SDIs and the governance of these SDIs in Europe was investigated. It included an analysis of the measures and actions to develop an open SDI in four European countries (the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Finland) and an analysis of the governance of open SDIs in three countries and one region (The Netherlands, Slovenia, Luxembourg, and Flanders (Belgium)). The main output of this stage was the Map of Open SDI in Europe showing the status of openness of the national SDIs in Europe. The results revealed clear differences in the status of development of open SDIs in European countries, and differences in the level of alignment between SDIs and open data developments within countries.

The final stage consisted of a comparative case study of the governance of the national open SDIs of the UK and the Netherlands. Data was collected on the adoption of each of six sets of governance instruments through a systematic document analysis and in-depth interviews with key stakeholders and experts. The study showed that the instruments-based approach is a useful tool for analyzing governance in the context of open SDIs. Both In the UK and the Netherlands, the mix of governance instruments constantly changed in the past ten years, with new instruments being introduced and old instruments being replaced or even eliminated. However, the trajectory followed in both countries was markedly different. While in the Netherlands a mature spatial data infrastructure was developed first, which afterwards was further opened, the UK focused on opening its public data and less on establishing a data infrastructure.
While the E-GOS project clearly enhanced the potential and future career prospects of the researcher, it also had an impact on various other target groups. The impact of the project on current and future research in the domain of spatial data is in its contribution to an improved and more adequate science base for open spatial data, in particular for the governance and performance of open spatial data. With the introduction and further exploration of the Open SDI concept, the project demonstrated the links and interplay between SDI and open data developments and showed how both domains could benefit from an exchange of research experiences and findings, but also from a more unified approach and vocabulary. With regard to the governance of SDIs and open data initiatives, the project demonstrated that the instruments-based approach for analyzing governance as applied in public policy and public administration research, is a relevant and useful approach for analyzing governance of - open - SDIs and open data initiatives.

The E-GOS project also had an impact on open data policy making and practice. It increased awareness among decision makers and public servants about the need to make SDIs more open, and also provided guidance on how to do this. The Open SDI Assessment Framework demonstrated the key aspects and dimensions of an open SDI, relevant to not only the assessment of SDIs but also to the actual realization of more open SDIs. The identification of different sets of governance instruments contributes to the development and implementation of a well-balanced and effective approach for governing open SDIs. The development of the Map of Open SDI in Europe demonstrated the need to also consider non-expert users as important stakeholders in the development of more open spatial data infrastructures. One of the main findings of the Map of Open SDI was that non-expert users of spatial data, such as citizens but also other actors in the private and non-profit sector, face many difficulties in finding, accessing and using spatial data. The Map of Open SDI not only shows the openness of national SDIs in Europe, but also reveals several key aspects public authorities have to take into account in releasing spatial data. In this way, the Map of Open SDI, and the E-GOS project in general, contributed to enhancing the availability and use of data for businesses and citizens, which should lead to the creation of new products and services, a more transparent government and higher citizens engagement.
Map of Open SDI in Europe 2017
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