„Munich Open Government Day“
In a contest in Munich called Open Government Day, citizens of the Bavarian capital had the opportunity to write in their suggestions for improvements. We spoke with Marcus Dapp, co-founder and board member of Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland about the event.
Mr. Dapp, where did the idea for Munich Open Government Day come from?
When I began working as an IT strategist for the city of Munich in 2009, the idea of open government had just become the rage in the USA. President Barack Obama was encouraging his administration to create more transparency, cooperation and participation from citizens. In the wake of that, I suggested we also adopt the concept, which in turn resulted in the pilot project MOGDy, short for Munich Open Government Day. The goal was to test a new form of online participation and collect new ideas directly from the populace. Another part of the project was to make certain governmental data and archives available to interested citizens.
The central elements of open government are cooperation and participation. Computers and the Internet have put people in a historically unique position wherein an unlimited number of people can take part in a particular project. Wikipedia is a perfect example of this type of collaborative work, and this is what open government intends to take advantage of. Administrations should make themselves digitally available and let citizens and companies participate in processes that would typically be handled internally. In the end, certain processes are in fact ideally suited for input from a large, anonymous mass of people. An example of this is FixMyStreet in England, in which citizens could notify the local government of road damages either online or from mobile phones. And this is just the beginning!
Which MOGDy suggestions did you personally find to be most impressive?
There were so many outstanding recommendations in the contest that I can’t list them all, but the suggestion that received the most votes was the implementation of a FixMyStreet project for Munich. Another idea was to provide free Internet access in certain parts of town, which is also an example of how a local authority could make itself more attractive through open government. Many citizens have experienced interactive offers from companies on the Internet and they are beginning to expect that from their governments as well.
What is the Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland (OKF) that you are part of?
It is a German chapter of the international OKD network in Great Britain. OKF strives to make knowledge available to everyone because we are convinced that it can result in far-reaching social benefits, whether it is better governance and administration through access to governmental data; better research due to faster and unlimited availability; or better economics due to the more efficient dissemination and adoption of innovative ideas.
All of these areas have in fact generated their own movements – Open Government, Open Science or Open Innovation – all of which are very new, including the German OKF. One new OKF project is called fragdenstaat.de (lit. “Ask the state”), in which citizens can send a professional inquiry to more than 830 federal authorities. The new element here is that all of the inquiries and, most importantly, all of the answers on the web site are available to the general public. This will ultimately become a massive pool of useful information that will make the German government and its decisions more transparent.
If citizens want to get more involved with political decisions, they will also have to be better informed, right?
Yes, which is why the Open Data project, which makes government data available to the public, is also an important component of open government. This information must be digital in order to be processed more swiftly, and it must be provided such that legally it can be used and changed without limitations – which is why it can only be data that is not related to individuals. If all of that is in place, an interested community can use this information online to create a common benefit: a developer, for example, can use the data on environmental pollution to make a digital map showing the degrees of pollution with different colors. This allows each member of the population to see how each part of the city measures up in terms of pollution or emissions, etc. People might move as a result, or perhaps rent prices would change in certain areas. Knowledge gives people the ability to make better decisions. That is why we at the OKF want this type of data freely available to as many people and for as many purposes as possible.
Are the hurdles for getting this information still very high?
Yes, they are. The problem is the effort that it takes to find this data, which is precisely what the OKF wants to change with the fragedenstaat.de program: it needs to become increasingly easy to get the information you are looking for.