An unusual piece of good news from Italy: the local open data scene – open data are databases owned by the public sector that are made accessible to the general public for reuse and remix – is starting to take off. It does so like everything gets done in Italy, in an irregular fashion, with different authorities doing different things. There is no all-encompassing initiative, no dat.gov or data.gov.uk; I am not aware of one being planned, and if it were I’d be surprised. What there is episodes, early adopters, forward looking people who get stuff done as much as it is in their power to. Lately I got wind of two initiatives: one is the Piemonte region data website, dati.piemonte.it. Its available databases are still few, and not very relevant: I don’t care about local food markets, and foreign states codes I can find on Google anytime, what I’d like to see is data on the regional administration’s expenditure, on health care, waste recycling etc., so as to be able to compare across towns and provinces. But it’s a start, and there’s a survey of how citizens are using the data.
The second initiative comes from the State’s Accounting Service. Here the data are real juicy: the state’s budget and balance sheet AND the transfers to regional authorities for financial years 2007 to 2010. If you really want to understand the discussion about budget cuts, nothing better than download the data and play around, maybe producing some nice colourful chart as an added bonus.
This is a wonderful opportunity or the civic hackers David Osimo likes to talk about. We don’t need to take things on trust anymore (or to mistrust them, which amounts to the same thing because we are still unable to form our opinions autonomously); when we hear that “health care expenditure is out of control” or “this government is cutting culture’s life support” we can actually download the data and do the math to see for ourselves how much truth there is in those statements, and share our conclusions with our peers. This way, too, do democracies grow and thrive.