info2000 logo GREEN PAPER ON PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMATION
IN THE INFORMATION SOCIETY

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The University of Liverpool, UK


Dr Bernard DIAZ 
Department of Computer Science 
University of Liverpool.


1. PUBLIC INFORMATION, PUBLIC DATA

If we examine "public sector information" from an academic point of view, we see that it is part of the wider issue - "Information". Information is processed data, and does not have to take on the underlying assumptions of the original data. For example it may not have the same ontology or structure as the underlying data.

Data (and our expertise is with nominal data, data {more correctly records and documents} concerning an individual's birth, marriage and death, population migration, illnesses, etc.) We've discovered that all such data can easily be seen to have both time and place. More particularly data provenance too (associated with the source recordings themselves) has time and space associated with it. There may be also other dimensions e.g. cost, and access. If this is true of the source data then it is doubly true of the derivative information based on those data.

2. THE LIFE-TIME AND SPACE OF PUBLIC INFORMATION

In the green paper I would suggest that attention is paid to the issue of time and space (geographical location is but one issue here). A datum (and records and documents) have time and space as parameters attached to them. This means that their existence can be described as a life-curve through time and space. If they are of value, they will be accessed, and ultimately they will be archived.

All information should ultimately be made fully available. When and where and under what conditions it is made available are points on the life-curve in space and time of that record. The creator of the data has his/her rights but these are limited and may be shared. If these rights are shared fully and freely, the data may be re-used at no cost. Access too can be considered within this framework. Thus; when access is provided, to whom, and under what costs and conditions, are all parameters along the life curve.

3. PUBLIC INFORMATION - A STANDARDISED SERVICE FOR EC CITIZENS

Why should this concern me ?

I am a citizen, teacher, and historian - acts/roles that appear to be omitted from the Green Paper. Further, and worryingly, I do not see how they can be included given the current use/re-use and other rather parochial and exploitation based arguments being presented.

As a citizen, the information service aspect of public information is equally as important as the exploitation aspect. And who is to say that whole new industries might not develop from the existence of the service. For example use of birth, marriage, and death records in genealogy are a growth area; an area expanding because of the Internet and wide public interest and access. In the UK their maintenance is self-financing, indeed profitable, because of this interest, and is unlikely to be less profitable if more access to the data is provided.

In general however, development is hampered by the lack of coherent public information services standardised across Europe. The source data are held by government for taxation, health, and a host of other purposes and only grudgingly made available. If all information were considered within a time and space, cost and access framework as outlined, then it would incumbent on the gatherers and current holders of the data to outline the information service, including details of access and cost, intended for them.

4. ACCESS TO PUBLIC INFORMATION META-DATA

One final comment concerns meta-data and data structures.

Often how we access the data determines what use we can make of it. Our expertise is in data visualisation including the development of novel access paradigms to multimedia. If the meta-data and data structures are available or/and are transparent then re-use of data is possible. Furthermore, we have found that the spatial and temporal occupancy of the data is key information that must always be available. We have used the idea of data visualisation paradigm shift to exemplify this using nominal data. Thus in a 3D space we locate all records (text, image, and sound) by geographical location and date/time and allow the user to fly through the stars representing these documents as though in a space ship. The same data by paradigm shift can be presented in an experiment framework. That is experiments of the kind "if we do this, ... then the result is ..." which is like querying a database using the visual analogue of the SQL query language.

The nature of the access often determines the usage, and is only possible if the meta-data and spatial and temporal parameters are readily available.

BMD - 25 May 1999

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