According to the last UN Survey on E-Government published this year, France proves to be at the top of the list of the countries embracing a high level of e-government development, reaching the 1st rank in Europe and the 4th worldwide. The study praises particularly the good integration of e-services through the online platform service-public initiated in 2005 which enables citizens, professionals and associations the access to administrative information (on their duties and legal texts among others), simplifies procedures and provides a large civil service directory. Not to forget Legifrance and vie-publique which both document legal and current affairs online. Let’s just say that efforts towards a transparent public administration have been the leitmotiv behind these initiatives.
If we look at the Open Data side, we come to data.gouv.fr, the national Open Data platform launched in December 2011 which features nowadays its second version, this time developed with CKAN and without any fee so that the data gets indeed re-used. Those fees were one of the blackheads listed on the OKFN Index in 2013 which ranked France at the 16th position among 70 countries from all continents. Among the negative points are following the lack of relevant data like government spending or budget and the too low resolution of maps from the National Institute of Geographic and Forest Information. Thus, if a national Open Data strategy has been embraced since 2011, there is still lots to be done. Above all a law (currently being drafted) is needed to push local and regional administrations to liberate their data on an open way, because the situation is strongly disparate.
Actually, the French OD movement took root at the local level. It started in the Western region of France, Brittany, where the city of Brest decided in March 2010 to release its geographical data and in Rennes, the main town, which launched at the same time an OD site dedicated to transport data and a couple of months later the first OD platform in France, multi-sectoral and containing various web and mobile apps besides the datasets. A similar site in Nantes then regional initiatives in Loire-Atlantique and Saône-et-Loire followed during autumn 2011. Today, the map of the local and regional OD movement in France made by LiberTIC shows the commitment of administrations at different levels (regions, cities and even villages as the one of Brocas with OpérationLibre) in different parts of the country and the creation of civil society groups too.
According to the current draft of the law on decentralization imposing French towns to release their data as open, only municipalities over 3500 habitants will be affected that means 92% of them are excluded. In addition, the obligation is limited to the data already electronically available and none format or standards has been specified. Never mind, the law has to be in compliance with the implementation of the European Directive 2013/37/EU on the re-use of public sector information, named PSI Directive, which strengthens the Open principles and has to be transposed into the different national laws by each EU member country until the 18th July 2015. In France, Etalab, a special committee created in 2011 and dedicated to the governmental OD strategy, is in charge of the implementation.
The French FOI law dates back to 1978. It was modified in 2005 by an order, according to the European Directive 2003/98/EC, the first legislative measure which shaped the European framework for Open Data and was amended by the Directive of 2013 above mentioned. Preparing the implementation of this last one with the law on decentralization and another on digital technology, France appears to be very active these last months and hopefully that is a good omen for the future. Etalab organised last April a national conference on Open Data and Open Government, inviting representatives of the private sector and the civil society. The future appointment of a Chief Data Officer was announced (still to be designated) as well as the participation of the French government in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and France will even join the OGP steering committee from 1st October. Last but not the least, the Senate published in June a report on the access to administrative documents and public data which supports the efforts made by the government since 2011 to release public data to the public domain but underlines that the results so far aren’t up to the actual challenges and don’t fulfil neither what has been expected by the civil society. Too often, the data is not complete or available in an unfriendly format, its quality varies depending on the administration, updates and meta-data are missing, revealing the lack of resources and reluctance to agree with the Open Data action. The report ends with 16 recommendations like the use of visualisations to make the data more comprehensible for the users which should be taken into consideration in the preparation of the both upcoming laws.