The Continuing Disaster Of Open Government In Germany

from the surprising-failures dept

Recently, Techdirt noted that the European “database right” could pose a threat to releasing public data there. But that assumes that central governments are at least trying to open things up. A splendid piece by Sebastian Haselbeck on the Open Gov Germany blog, with the self-explanatory title “German government screws up open data,” underlines that things can fail because the government itself sabotages transparency moves.

As he recounts, things began so well. The German government commissioned a study on open data, which was published in August last year. It’s a massive, 572-page document put together with commendable thoroughness. A key section is the introduction from the German Interior Minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, who made the following comments:

The [German] federal government has set itself the goal of a more open government and administration. The basis for this is freely available data and information that must be available for others and in standardized formats.

That all sounds great — open data made freely available in standard formats to promote open government. But then things started to go downhill, culminating in the horribly symbolic decision to name a new site not “Open Government Portal Germany” as originally planned, but just “GovData — the data portal for Germany”. In other words, some data, but without the openness. As Haselbeck comments:

Following the development the last few weeks it seemed clear that the conservative elements in the higher echelons either just did not get what it means to finally go “open government” in the data dimension, or they were just too scared to follow through.

Experts can but shake their heads, and sigh at the squandered opportunities of this government, which would love to be very innovative in economic dimensions, but is actually a very backwards cabinet with lots of conservatives in key positions and a liberal coalition partner that is mostly occupied with its own ultra-low poll numbers.

What’s worrying is that this high-profile retreat is part of a larger failure to improve transparency in Germany. Haselbeck explains:

All this adds to a series of disasters in open government in Germany. One is the stubborn denial to join the Open Government Partnership (OGP), along with the partners in crime Austria, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. As an act of spite, they formed the “DACHLi” (the acronym for the countries’ licence plate IDs) initiative, a series of workshops and cooperation agreements to mostly push information exchange and open data cooperation in a way that they have nothing to fear from it, and provide ample platforms for lobbyists to talk CIOs into purchasing proprietary IT solutions for “open” government. All the while, you can count the actual attempts for more cultural and managerial change towards openness with one hand. Another of those disasters is the government’s battle against a community-built Freedom of Information platform ( and its failure to make publicly accessible studies produced as part of the parliamentary research service (after all, paid by the taxpayer). A third thing comes to mind: the failure to ratify the UN Convention against Corruption, along with a handful of other rogue states, because it would require reform of the federal criminal code that would tighten rules for politicians’ leeway to accept campaign donations and stricter transparency on their side-jobs. Look it up, Germany is in good company there, even Myanmar is ratifying the convention.

It’s sad to see such a generally tech-savvy nation fall behind here, as other countries open up their government and its data ever-more deeply. That’s a loss not just for German society, through diminished political transparency, but also for the burgeoning number of digital start-ups in cities like Berlin, which are deprived of a key 21st-century raw material: government data.

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Comments on “The Continuing Disaster Of Open Government In Germany”

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Anonymous Coward says:

‘a very backwards cabinet with lots of conservatives in key positions and a liberal coalition partner that is mostly occupied with its own ultra-low poll numbers.’

just the same as the UK! it seems to me that the majority of countries that have this combination or just Conservative led governments are all doing the same thing. ploughing on with austerity measures that have gone so far as to be doing more harm than good, but wont be stopped because that means the governments admitting that the course taken was wrong. doing as much as possible to remove any and all freedoms from the ordinary people. doing as much as possible to keep businesses going, using public money, but complaining that the economy is crap, whilst ignoring, conveniently, that because prices are high still and incomes have been reduced, after paying household bills like food, clothing, energy etc (you know, the non-essential things for sustaining life!) people have nothing left!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Sometimes education can be hazardous.
An ignorant person would not see the labels he wouldn’t know things by their names and wouldn’t make psychological assumptions about them he would try to find the best way no matter what it was called.

So I wonder if it is not time to just drop all the labels and look at every option out there, look at all mechanisms to see what works and what doesn’t work not bothering to look where it came from but what it can get us all at.

Anonymous Coward says:

Our government is completely corrupt and absolutely incompetent.

The incompetent part manifests in all projects that either involve IT systems or larger scale “everything else” turn out to be unmitigated total disasters. latest exceptionally noteworthy disasters of that kind is the new airport near Berlin which was originally supposed to open late last year and is now estimated to open 2014 or 2015 and the new train station in Stuttgart which as it is now might never be completed at all, since costs got so out of hand that even some politicians think it becomes unbearable.

When it comes to IT projects I am not aware of a single one that was in a working condition at the end of the projects, ever.

Now, even if we assume that the government would be interested in transparency at all ( yeah, right…), the involvement of IT components guarantees the failure of the projects by default.

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