Since the Declaration of Human and Civic Rights of 1789, article 15 of which provides that "Society has the right to ask a public official for an accounting of his administration”, France has had a tradition of democratic transparency and of sharing information held by public authorities. In line with this tradition, an ambitious policy was launched two years ago. Significant advances have been made, with the law on the transparency of public life, but also in terms of the opening of public data.
The policy of data openness is more than just a legal obligation on the administration to respond. Today, in the digital age, it goes beyond the question of transparency alone. In a world where new technologies are transforming daily life, where IT tools are accelerating the distribution of information, where French people are acquiring and demanding new powers, it is a tool in the struggle for France’s democratic, productive and creative recovery. As such it can address three objectives:
1/ Stimulate democratic life, by offering citizens the possibility of informed participation in the public decision-making process through debate and “co-construction”. Data is published, for example, on water and air quality, and on State purchases.
2/ Fuel economic and social innovation. By associating different types of public data, businesses, associations and citizens innovate. They invent services with high social value and create employment. As such, one company used data on the success rate of driving tests to enable young people to better choose their driving school. Another used data on roads to allow people with reduced mobility to choose their routes. The economic impact of this movement should not be overlooked: according to a British survey, in 2011 the opening of public data produced a social benefit of €8.3 billion, including €2.2 million in direct economic benefits for businesses and citizens in the United Kingdom.
3/ Better steer the State itself, by authorising new cooperation between administrations and by measuring the impact of public policies. Sharing data could therefore help better detect tax and benefit fraud, and improve risk prevention policies such as drug interactions in the medical sector.
Today France has a strong and distinctive voice with regard to the opening of public data. The data.gouv.fr portal, launched in December, is the first website in the world to offer users the possibility to improve and enhance the data available, and also add new data. 13,000 data series are currently available.
This significant step has been noted by France’s international partners, which they attested to on 24 April at the Paris Conference on “open data” and open government. They also welcomed the announcement made by the President of the Republic, during his visit to Mexico, on France’s adherence to the Open Government Partnership, an international initiative that is already supported by 64 countries and numerous non-governmental.
Finally, by June 2015, the transposition of the directive on the re-use of public sector information will be an opportunity to adapt the legislation and regulations which govern the opening of public data in France, particularly with regard to the transparency of the calculation of charges.
In order to better exploit all of the opportunities offered by the policy regarding public data, the process now needs to accelerate. Public data is a resource for identifying intelligent savings, improving the efficiency of public policies and developing better services for our fellow citizens. An interministerial practice of using data should be established, and administrations should be encouraged to share this data.
To this end, a general data administrator role will be created. Authorised to access the data held by the State administration and its operators, this administrator’s mission will be:
to organise a better flow of data in the economy and within the administration – while respecting the right to privacy and the various legal secrets;
to ensure data production and acquisition;
to launch experiments in this area;
to distribute tools, methods and a data culture within administrations and to meet their respective objectives.
Excerpts from the Council of Ministers