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EU Commission expert group database: Open data activism with success

As I have blogged previously, I have requested access to the Register of EU Commission expert groups as a re-usable, machine-readable data set at the beginning of January.

On 16 January, the Commission replied that the information was already public and that my request therefore was “devoid of purpose” in the sense of the EU regulation on access to documents. I was asked to clarify for which purpose I needed the data to consider it under the recent EU Commission decision on re-use of documents. I provided the following reply

“I primarily intend[ed] to reuse the data contained in the database requested for statistical analysis, most likely in the context of an academic research paper but not necessarily limited to this. I intend to respect any (restricted) limitations that the Commission may set in accordance with Article 6.2 of Decision 2011/833/EU.

Today, 31 January, I received a partial extract of the database in the form of an Excel file for which re-use is allowed under the condition that I

always indicate the exact date on which these data were retrieved (i.e. 30/1/2012) and that [I] also specify that up to date information is only accessible via the Register of Commission expert Groups and Other similar Entities.”

As far as I can see from a first view, the file includes 808 expert groups as of 30 January 2012. It does not include all details of the register such as members of each group – for which one has still to consult the website – but the Excel document contains the following columns:

  • Code” – the identifying number of the group
  • DG” – the Directorate General to which the expert group belongs
  • Lead DG Directorate/Unit
  • Name of the group
  • Group Status” – only active groups are included
  • On hold remark” – the column has no data
  • Abreviation
  • Co-Lead DG(s)
  • Associated DG(s)
  • Policy area
  • Formal_Informal Type” – specifying the nature the groups
  • Permanent_Temporary Type” – specifying the nature the groups
  • Scope” – limited or broad scope
  • Creating act” – legal ground fo
  • Mission Task” – a short text describing the purpose of the group
  • Contact (public)” – emails and other contact data
  • Link to website” – for those groups with a special Commission website
  • Publication date

Not all of these columns are complete with data, but many cells are filled and that’s already quite some data to work with. It’s less than what Rob has scraped from the Commission’s website in May 2011 but it represents an official and more up-to-date data set for the information included.

Furthermore, I was informed that

“The Commission is exploring the feasibility to equip the Register of expert groups with the same functionality already available for the Transparency Register, in order to generate the same type of xml file. We will inform you of the outcome of this process in due course.”

This sounds very positive and although I would have liked to specifically get the membership data of the groups, it very encouraging to receive both the register in data format and see the readiness to consider further opening of the data for the public.

This brings me back to my argumentation on academic open data activism: Why spend months of academic research time gathering existing public or semi-public data for your own research when with much less efforts you can get public institutions to share data with everyone?!

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