Norway takes pole position in open gov database race

It's still early days for a more fully open government in Norway, but some key building blocks are in place, Norway's director of eGovernment tells Norse Code
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer on

The Norwegian government has shot into the lead in open government after it published parts of its national business registry data under an open license.

The data set, which was recently given to Norway’s agency for Public Management and eGovernment (Difi), provides information on nearly 950,000 registered businesses in Norway.

Following the release, the Open Corporates blog, which measures the openness of Open Government Partnership member nations’ company registers, bumped Norway from eighth to top spot alongside the UK, which also recently made “basic company data” available in CSV format under an open license.

The data sets from each nation lower barriers to information about companies, which was previously only available on a mailing list or through the agency for a fee.

However, neither Norway nor the UK's dataset contains the full set of files that the countries hold on each company. Open Corporates notes that  Norway's open registry does not include information on the the director, filings, and shareholder information, which it believes is needed to develop a more complete picture of each company.

Still, it's a start.

Norwegian lessons for other open government aspirants?

Despite a culture that supports openness and “high level political commitment” to making data more open in Norway, Hans Christian Holte, Difi’s director general tells ZDNet there are several obstacles to open government at an agency level:

  • concerns it could be resource intensive
  • legal and privacy questions
  • technical issues
  • a lack of internal support for open data
  • and the perception the task is ‘not part of the core business’

Norway has established a number of methods to ease the transition to open data including its license for public data (NLOD), introduced in draft format last year, which offers a standard license for Norwegian agencies to make the task of specifying the terms of reuse easier and more consistent.

On the technical front, the Difi-run “Data Hotel” hosts the data and automates the production of an API (in XML and JSON(P) formats) as well as adding 'lightweight' functions for search and grouping of data.

Agencies can test the code through GitHub (github.com/difi), which lets them concentrate on “describing the data, not the technology behind” it, says Holte.

“We encourage organisations to get an overview of potential datasets and start releasing the data where there are no questions and then take it from there,” says Holte.

Despite the right political and cultural conditions for more open data, some agencies still consider it a fringe activity in Norway.

“We are working to change this. As with other countries we still have work to do, but Norway is on its way to being very successful with open data.”

“Our approach is to provide a package of practical tools and support. We also cooperate tightly with data owners, re-users, activists and other members of the open data community, not just nationally but also internationally - to build up the ecosystem for open data. Norway’s open culture and high level political commitment to this issue are vital,” adds Holte.

In Open Corporates' view, what makes Norway and the UK stand out are the pair's open license and open licensed data sets, while their shared deficiency is the level of detail they provide in those sets.

Other nations that make a degree of detailed company data available -- but don't have, for example, open licensing in place -- include the Czech Republic, Albania, Slovak Republic, the US, Canada, Montenegro and Panama, according to Open Corporates.

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