The European Commission's Neelie Kroes believes in open

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Neelie Kroes, VP of the European Commission (EC), has a website called Comment Neelie to initiate and maintain a two-way conversation between herself, as a politician, and the public, as citizens. Kroes says that it's "a channel to communicate, not just broadcast."

I believe in openness, and I'm grateful for the many ways technology allows us to be open. This site is a useful tool for me to see how my speeches are received by people. And, there has been some very helpful feedback. Indeed, I would recommend this approach to other leaders.

Note: Comment Neelie was created by David Osimo of Open Evidence.

Kroes is a leader and politician who embraces the openness that the Internet can provide (like, her website and social media) as well as the promise for better government that implementing standards for open data, open access, and open education can provide.

The EU has launched several initiatives, the largest and overarching one being the Digital Agenda for Europe. On the website, there is information regarding open data that includes legal rules such as the PSI Directive (Directive 2003/98/EC) as well as a promise to "optimise the impact of publicly-funded scientific research, both at European level (FP7, Horizon 2020) and at Member State level." Regarding open education, in September 2013 the EU launched Opening up Education, designed to help students and adult learners become engaged in the digital movement.

Read more on open government in Europe this in-depth interview with Neelie Kroes, VP of the European Commission (EC).

How does open data fit into the Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE), which aims to ‘reboot Europe’s economy’ and help Europe’s citizens and businesses get the most out of digital technologies?

Data is at the heart of the knowledge economy. All our decision-making is becoming ever more determined by data as a basis, not only inside companies, but also in our capacity as ordinary citizens. The products of the future are information-based products that will make our lives easier. Opening up data for use and reuse has therefore an enormous potential to change the way we live and make choices. A better use of data will thus contribute to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, the creation of jobs and the promotion of web-entrepreneurship and start-ups throughout the EU.

We estimate that overall economic gains from significantly reducing the barriers to reusing such government-held data can amount to € 40bn a year for the entire EU. While data held by any kind of entity is potentially interesting, our open data policy starts with opening up data collected and held by government institutions, ranging from the meteorological institutes to economic analyses produced by statistical offices. Such data has already been paid for by the taxpayer and should be therefore available for reuse.

In a recent press release on best ways to open up more public data, the EC asks for guidance and practical advice to boost the re-use of open data. What can you tell us about that outreach?

It is good practice of the European Commission for quite a number of years to consult the interest public/ stakeholders before taking any action. In the call for guidance we ask for input that should help us formulate guidelines for Member States on how to transpose certain elements of the revision of the applicable EU-Directive in the area of open data, the so-called PSI Directive. This Directive has been revised in June of this year. The (non-binding) guidelines which we plan to adopt in spring 2014 shall provide Member States and public bodies with support on formulating the best charging and licensing rules when implementing the revised PSI Directive, if charges or licenses have to be used at all.

We regularly meet with Member States' experts in a dedicated expert group where experience is shared. We also continuously receive important input from a number of actors, namely a network of lawyers on legal aspects of public sector information, the ePSI platform and business organised in the PSI Alliance.

How does the PSI Directive support or enforce the re-use and sharing of open data by data owners, such as governments?

The PSI Directive is one of the key pillars of our open data policy. Its adoption was important for two reasons: On a practical level it created certain rights for re-users: that all re-users be treated the same way, that administrative charges cannot be above a certain ceiling, that charges and licensing conditions have to be made transparent. The PSI Directive has been also instrumental on a broader level: it triggered a shift in the culture inside public administrations towards greater openness.

The revised PSI Directive will bring about important improvements: it will create a genuine right to re-use for all material that is accessible under national rules. It will introduce the default rule that information will be available for free or against a very low cost. Material held by museums, archives and libraries is no longer excluded from the scope of application of the Directive, making a wealth of new information available for reuse.

One of the workshops at the Open Knowledge Conference this year, that took place in Geneva, was about Digital Social Innovation (DSI), a study commissioned by the European Commission. This study looks at civic innovations and mass collaboration. Can you elaborate on this study and tell us about some of the most exciting findings that are changing government today?

The Digital Social Innovation study presented in Geneva examines a new kind of innovation that exploits collective intelligence and mass collaboration enabled by the network effect of the Internet. The research is commissioned by the European Commission, DG Connect, and run by Nesta, in partnership with the Waag Society, ESADE, IRI and Future Everything, The study aims to crowdmap the actors, networks, initiatives, and drivers of DSI from a multidisciplinary ICT, and socio-economic perspective. From that evidence, by next year, they will see what are the best innovation strategies combining research, strategy, and policy recommendation for DSI in relation to the DAE and in Horizon 2020.  The Collective Awareness Call for proposals addresses DSI under the H2020 work programme (and Call 2 is expected to close early 2015).

Some of the best examples of DSI in Europe that are transforming Governments, businesses and society are cities like Vienna and Santander pioneering new practices in Open Data and open sensor networks; personal networks like Tyze integrating with traditional social care provision; sharing economy platforms like Peerby creating new forms of relationships and services; new projects pioneering open democracy and citizens participation through crowdsourcing legislation such as Open Ministry or Liquid Feedback, that are transforming the traditional models of representative democracy; organisations like Mysociety and Open Knowledge Foundation that develop services like Fixmystreet allowing citizens to report city problems, and CKAN, the biggest repository of open data in Europe. What is truly disruptive in these projects is the conjunction of new digital tools (open data, open networks, open hardware and knowledge co-creation networks) and a culture and practice of sharing at a scale that was unimaginable before the rise of the Internet.

The unusual thing is that this study specifically looks at civil society organizations, non-profit NGOs, social movements, and civic innovators (developers, hackers, designers) as key stakeholders in support of innovation for social good and active citizenship in the EU. Too often in the past civil society organizations were ignored or left behind in the big picture of a top-down technology-push (e.g. supply-side approach to Big Data & Big Brother) typical of large top-down innovation programmes.  Unlike traditional innovation actions, DSI and Collective Awareness Platforms are motivated by the vision of building a grassroots civic innovation Ecosystem in Europe to unleash the potential of collective intelligence. This takes into account how innovation can spread across the entire society as well as how small but significant innovation projects can scale up and be replicated across Europe to solve societal challenges, such as building better health, education, mobility and ultimately improve democracy and re design socio-economic models. The value of this DSI experiments is difficult to quantify using traditional indicators of success and impact, such as GDP, profitability and competitiveness. New sustainable business models and socio-economic mechanisms based on collective and public benefit are starting to clearly emerge.

Once the network of digital social innovation actors in Europe is mapped and its dynamics understood, it will inform future EC initiatives, research and policy to foster open and inclusive innovation for social good in Europe.

How does the Digital Agenda address open education and what the roadmap looks like going forward for the use of open data and open access in education in Europe?

Transforming education requires pedagogical, organisational and technological innovation, and one of the basic conditions for enabling learning practices to flourish is the availability of ICT equipment, tools and networks. In this context, the Commission launched in September 2013 the 'Opening up Education' initiative to boost innovation and digital skills in schools and universities.This joint initiative, led by Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou and myself, focuses on three main areas:Creating opportunities for organisations, teachers and learners to innovate;Increased use of Open Educational Resources (OER), ensuring that educational materials produced with public funding are available to all; andBetter ICT infrastructure and connectivity in schools.

Neelie Kroes in school with children

Image courtesy of

The initiative proposes actions towards more open-learning environments to deliver education of higher quality and efficacy, which means boosting EU competitiveness and growth through better skilled workforce and more employment. The Commission will provide support for organisations to review their strategies, promote reforms to improve teacher training, set up ‘communities of practice’ among teachers, and encourage innovative curricula.  Among its objectives, Opening up education aims at boosting the use of Open Educational Resources (OER). A new 'Open Education Europa' portal has been launched to provide a gateway to high-quality OER produced in Europe, in their original language. OER are learning content, generally in digital form, and can be used and shared, free of charge for users.Opening up Education will also help schools and classrooms get broadband access and support ICT infrastructure for education and training. It will also stimulate the market to produce new interactive content and learning tools by promoting the development of open frameworks and standards for interoperability and portability of digital educational content, applications and services.

The Communication includes 24 actions that will greatly improve the use of digital technologies in education and boost digital skills. Some actions will receive EU funding from Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 (the new programme for research and innovation). For example, from 2014, Erasmus+ will offer funding to education providers to ensure they adapt their business model to technological change, boost the assessment of digital skills and support teachers’ development through open online courses. All educational materials supported by Erasmus+ will be available to the public free of charge under open licences. Implementation will also be supported through the Open Method of Coordination in Education and Training 2020.

One of the challenges facing Europe is finding skilled and talented ICT workers to fill vacancies. What are some of the challenges facing Europe’s abilities to find and fill those roles?

We need to convince more young people to choose ICT as a career. The number of new computing science graduates has been stagnating since 2006, while demand keeps on increasing. The problem is particularly acute for young women—their share is going down, not up. And it wasn't high to begin with. So clearly we need to work on the attractiveness of ICT careers.

That involves two things: firstly we need to better convey the employment prospects and the reality of working in ICT—we need to spread the idea that computing is only for "nerds" and only involves sitting in front of a computer. Much of ICT work is highly social—defining the problem to be solved in close interaction with the user, running projects in teams, combining arts, design, computing and social networking etc.

Secondly, we need to improve the career chances of ICT graduates. Nowadays, if you study ICT, you will get a well-paid, secure and interesting job. But you still do not get a route to the top. If you want to become CEO, you'd better do finance. Or law. Or business. That needs to change. In terms of career prospects, companies need to put ICT on an equal footing with the other disciplines.

Former and Open Organization moderator/ambassador.


Hi and thanks for the pointer. Just to avoid confusion: my company is called and is different from the Open Evidence Project you mention in the text.

Thanks for clarifying that.

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