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The Socioeconomic Effects of Public Sector Information on Digital Networks: Toward a Better Understanding of Different Access and Reuse Policies - Workshop Summary 15. Summary of the First Breakout Session Juan Carlos de Martin, Rapporteur The discussion in this breakout session focused on three main questions: What are the main strengths and weaknesses of the methodologies used so far? Are there theoretical frameworks emerging that could be useful to assess the management of PSI? What are some new directions that could be taken? To begin with the main strengths and weaknesses of existing methodologies, it was noted that no methodology seems clearly superior, or general enough to be singled out as superior. More research and testing of various methodologies is needed. It may turn out that PSI is such a diverse field that there is no single assessment methodology that will be relevant to all PSI categories and contexts and that instead a variety of methodologies may be needed, depending on the type, size, and importance of PSI. What are the theoretical frameworks? Fortunately, PSI does not start in a vacuum because there are a number of related subjects that could be drawn from, such as open-access models in scientific publishing. An interesting body of research and data already exists on this topic, as described in Professor Houghton’s presentation as well as in various reports by experts and research funding agencies across the globe. This is a topic that is very similar to PSI and, indeed, could be viewed as a subset of PSI. In looking for theoretical frameworks to use with PSI, one can examine this and other related methodologies to see if there are useful lessons that can be learned and applied. A related topic that emerged in the breakout session is open source and free software. This is a well-established subject area, and there are very interesting assessment reports, such as the one funded by the European Commission on the assessment of free software, from which one might draw some insights that can be used in the assessment of PSI effects. Finally, some specific areas of PSI, such as meteorological data and geographic information, already have a body of assessment experience, and we can look at the way that those sectors have been assessed to see if the approaches can be generalized, at least to some extent, for other types of public sector information. Several participants brought up the role of the public sector, which had already been touched upon earlier. What is the role of public sector, and what kind of information should the public sector produce or not produce? Should its role, for example, include value-added services? This may be too complex a question to hope for an answer that will apply equally to all countries. Even if one considers just the countries in the European Union, many of them differ in their approaches to this subject. This variety of approaches may hold a richness that can be taken advantage of, with different best practices emerging in different
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The Socioeconomic Effects of Public Sector Information on Digital Networks: Toward a Better Understanding of Different Access and Reuse Policies - Workshop Summary countries. After a few years of studying this heterogeneous way of approaching these problems, we may be able to understand more about such fundamental questions. The third question concerned the identification of practical actions that could be taken. The overview presentation that started the breakout session made three specific suggestions: an OECD public sector information manual, an online repository of assessment methods, and the identification of some areas of further academic research. The idea for an OECD PSI manual was inspired by a 1999 OECD publication, The Environmental Goods & Services Industry—Manual for Data Collection and Analysis. Such a manual could be used to assess the implementation of the upcoming OECD PSI principles. One question that was raised in the discussion concerned the audience for this manual: Who is it for? There are the practitioners, of course, the experts such as those at this workshop, and even if only the practitioners were interested in the manual, the effort of creating it would probably be worthwhile nonetheless. Fortunately, the audience will probably be larger than that. The PSI producer and reuser community also could be interested, and the "accountants"—meaning whoever in the public sector will have to try to quantify the impact of PSI reuse—would be part of the audience as well. Another question was: What should be the functions of a manual like that? There are at least three main functions. First, there should be an effort to clarify the extent and kinds of public sector information that are available. Of course, some of this information is already available in reports and research papers. Nevertheless, a shared, consensus taxonomy of public sector information would be worthwhile content to include in a manual like this. Second, it would be useful to have a collection of compatible assessment practices. The assessment practices in use today across Europe are widely different, and a manual like this could offer guidelines for performing certain evaluation processes in a more homogeneous way. The third function of a manual of this sort would be to involve more bodies than is the case today, including national or supranational statistical bodies. Another point that participants in this breakout session discussed was: Who are the stakeholders for a manual like this, and how could the OECD involve them? During the course of the discussion a very preliminary list of potential stakeholders was compiled. These included not only the PSI holders and those organizations at the center of the discussion in this workshop but also non-governmental organizations or associations that need public sector information for their activities. Another group would be libraries interested in public sector information along with scientific, technical, and medical publishers. Other sectors and communities, such as the health, meteorological, and geographical information sectors, are important for at least two reasons. First, they already have considerable experience in evaluation methods, and, second, in some cases there is no unified approach to PSI, so focusing on the sectoral bodies is the only way to address such relevant communities. The second main point of discussion on the third question concerned a possible PSI repository. “Repository” is now a fashionable concept because of the open-access movement and the development of many open institutional repositories. But why a repository? Exactly what kind of repository? That was the starting point for the
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The Socioeconomic Effects of Public Sector Information on Digital Networks: Toward a Better Understanding of Different Access and Reuse Policies - Workshop Summary discussion, but the idea of a repository quickly shifted to the concept of an online portal or platform. It was noted first that a repository suggests something rather passive. Of course, this does not necessarily imply something negative, as a repository contains information that is a crucial building block for other activities. The breakout group spent some time discussing the simple case of a passive repository and what kind of information might go into that. The information need not be limited to just research results concerning assessments of PSI, for example. A collection of best practices would be useful because they are relevant for governments; other relevant information might include users’ case studies and principles. But perhaps the user community may want something less passive and more proactive—a platform that encourages the creation of content. This might include a wiki, a discussion forum, a mailing list, and so on. A potential starting point described earlier in this workshop is the existing ePSIplus Web site and repository. Although it is a wonderful repository, it is, by design EU-specific. Furthermore, there is some question of the long-term existence of this repository because it is linked to a project with a three-year duration. Just as paper information can be preserved for centuries, any repository would need to be designed with information preservation ensured over the long term. More generally, there is an issue of language that is important for some countries and less so for others but which needs to be considered if one is designing a platform with a global reach. There also is the question of involving specific established communities, such as the geographic information community, in a general purpose PSI portal. Session participants emphasized the value of such a repository for developing countries. Such a repository could serve as a tool to help PSI managers and policy makers in less economically developed countries understand the value of PSI and learn about current practices in its management and use. Many experts on PSI in the developing world would appreciate having such an online resource. The final major area of discussion concerned academic research. In the overview presentation at the beginning of the breakout session, there was a list of specific topics that academic research might address, including individual users of PSI and the social effects; network effects and network externalities, both positive and negative; the role of automated knowledge extraction and reuse; pilot projects to test different approaches; and promoting the involvement of young scientists. In addition to this core list of potential topics, there is the question of how to encourage this type of research. If research funding agencies and foundations were to include PSI assessment within their research topics, this could be an effective way of encouraging research in this arena. Another approach would be to hold open workshops and conferences, bringing together people from different disciplines in the traditional academic way but focused on this new challenging topic. An online journal could also be useful. Since this is a relatively new, multidisciplinary topic, articles about it are spread across many different journals. One could do a feasibility study to see if there is a case for a specific PSI journal. And finally, awards or scholarships for theses and dissertations in this area could be a way to involve young scholars and scientists in this new and
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The Socioeconomic Effects of Public Sector Information on Digital Networks: Toward a Better Understanding of Different Access and Reuse Policies - Workshop Summary difficult research topic. Perhaps the manual itself could be undertaken as an academic initiative and involve young scholars and scientists in its planning and development.