Open Data is a powerful idea that aims to involve more people directly in the production, evaluation, and application of key resources for a digital society. This has direct reprecussions for the way governance is applied in the 21st century, transforming democracies around the world – in the best case, supporting more diversely participative, directly engaged, transparent interactions between the public and its institutions. Over the past five years, I have served the Board of the association Opendata.ch, representing Swiss interests in this area locally, nationally, and abroad. This post summarizes highlights from the past year of open data activism in Switzerland.

Image credit: Opendata.ch/2017CC BY 3.0 – Ernie Deane

In Switzerland, Open Data is advocated by the Digital Sustainability (Digitale Nachhaltigkeit) parliamentary group, formed in 2009 and behind numerous initiatives in cantons and cities, as well as the precedents and directives that led to the Opendata.swiss government project at the federal level. Diverse related grassroots initiatives and associations support focal points such as reforming data access in the culture commons (OpenGLAM, Digitale Allmend), political monitoring (LobbyWatch), open maps (OSM.ch) or networks (ONIA).

Opendata.ch, founded in 2012, acts as incubator, umbrella and partner to open data projects in Switzerland, and is the local chapter of the international Open Knowledge network, hosting OKCon in Geneva in 2013, monitoring the country’s government data in the Global Open Data Index, as well as supporting a variety local projects from monitoring the landscape to promoting data literacy based on international standards. The association partners with a series of government initiatives, where many members participate in committees or work directly on projects.

Since 2016 this has centered on the Opendata.swiss portal, grouping top categories of digital interest with key infrastructure for sustainable publication – and the Open Transport Data portal, featuring mobility data that has from the start concerned and motivated the transport.opendata.ch community. The government geodata portal continues to be the focus of technical interest and innovation, and recently all three portals have joined the LINDAS project to connect key government data on the Semantic Web.

In the past two years, open data has become more established in the media and is starting to get mentioned in job descriptions in government, while science and industry catch up. Academic exchange has intensified with regular events on campus, such as the Open Food Data Hackdays at the EPFL/ZhdK, the OpenGLAM Hackdays at the University of Basel, courses in OGD at the University of Bern, and workshops at educational and research instutitions around the country. Publications such as those from the ETH Library or EPFL have demonstrated research interest and potential for broad collaboration within the open data community, which should be stimulated by further events and a new Student Award.

Awareness of the potential of open data to generate new business and improve relations and partnerships around data has surely helped motivate the launch of open data portals from Swisscom and the Swiss Post, cooperation projects with Engagement Migros and department for Economic Development, commercial support for the Transport API, and acknowledgement from economiesuisse. The Opendata.ch association’s members are working hard to translate these seedlings into jobs, accelerating start-ups, and supporting the Swiss Data Alliance.

At the Open Knowledge Summit at the beginning of May 2018, the activities of Opendata.ch were summarized in seven words: active on many fronts, including organizational revision. The acclaimed organization today counts 370 members and thousands of followers. For the past six months we have conducted a review of our mandate, vision and operations with a task force whose recommendations will be key to the future vision of the association. Our sights are aimed at building a community of practice, servicing the needs of our network more efficiently and effectively, and reaffirming our goal to be the best community for open data activists in the country.

At a time open data in Switzerland is enjoying widening interest and debate, these goals are more important than ever. Community projects like the acclaimed vornamen.opendata.ch tool for choosing baby names have opened doors into the hearts and minds of the population whose interests we serve – academic, government and business partnerships chart the course ahead. Our vision of transparency, innovation and efficiency through openness underpins it all. We can look forward to the annual conference at the beginning of July in St. Gallen, bringing together a diversity of opinions around a fascinating subject, and another great year of community building (cheers!) and activism ahead.

Visit the School of Data CH Forum for a compilation of social media highlights.

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