Why Transparency isn’t Open Data and Open Data isn’t INSPIRE

Transparency isn’t Open Data and Open Data isn’t INSPIRE.

In many ways, this doesn’t matter but if you are responsible for either or both, you need to be sure of what these differences are and how they affect you.

First some history:

The transparency agenda

The transparency movement has been going for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  Most recently the Data Protection Act of 1984 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 have given citizens rights to understand what information is being held on them and what the government is doing.

This is all about empowering the citizen.  Therefore the legislation and its requirements revolve around the needs of the citizen and what they need to hold the government accountable.

The open data initiative

Open data is linked to transparency of course, but it’s actually derived from a much wider approach that looks at all the data that exists.  It’s driving principles are built on the premise of releasing the huge potential of joining data together.  The movement is therefore as interested in how many hamburgers McDonald’s sell as it is in how much a council Chief Exec gets paid.

The initiative is all about the format and provision of that data as opposed to transparency that is more interested in how citizens get access to that data.  There is some overlap here, but the overall directions and focus are different.


INSPIRE is a European directive focussed on making Europe a more cohesive entity.   It helps make large infrastructure and environmental projects easier to deliver.  For example, if you were to build a train line from Warsaw to Barcelona, the line would cross 7 national boundaries and perhaps 8-9 languages areas.  Imagine the amount and complexity of local information needed to be compiled. Think how many ways a drainage culvert could be described on that long route.

INSPIRE was designed to make this and other broader projects feasible by first building a standard catalogue of common data sets and then harmonising the data.  A very sensible plan but one that focuses on inter-governmental and 3rd party cooperation. This is not a citizen initiative.

Why does this happen?

These distinctions matter because they affect how we licence and provide for access to our data.  If we are looking at data for Transparency purposes then we need to be looking at services primarily licensed for personal use.  If we are looking at data for INSPIRE purposes then we need to be looking at services primarily licensed for governmental or commercial bodies.  We cannot do both at the same time in the same way.

In more practical terms, an INSPIRE service that is focussed on personal use and solely relies on the “PSMA End User Licence – INSPIRE” licence is not a service that is delivering for the stated aims of INSPIRE.  Instead, it is a Transparency service enabling citizens to get access to data that most have little interest in.

Instead, an effective INSPIRE service needs to focus on enabling neighbouring authorities, or locally interested 3rd parties, to use your data to make their services better and more effective.  Our analysis shows that 80% of requests come from these groups not citizens.

To paraphrase the above:

Transparency licensing is not Open Data licensing and Open Data licensing is not INSPIRE licensing.