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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 PART ONE 1. Introduction Paul Uhlir The National Academies, United States Governments generate vast amounts of digital data and information, and increasingly they are disseminating it online. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines public sector information as having characteristics of being “dynamic and continually generated, directly generated by the public sector, associated with the functioning of the public sector (for example, meteorological data, business statistics), and readily useable in commercial applications…”.1 The OECD distinguishes PSI from “public content”, which it characterizes as being “static (i.e., it is an established record), held by the public sector rather than being generated by it (cultural archives, artistic works where third-party rights may be important), not directly associated with the functioning of government, and not necessarily associated with commercial uses but having other public good purposes (culture, education)”2. Most governments have initiatives of various kinds for promoting the use of the Internet as a way of disseminating their information products to the public. Governments use legislative and regulatory (administrative) mechanisms to implement policies concerning access to and reuse of this PSI. Some of these policies extend across the entire government, while others are specific to certain types of information or agencies within the government. Governments throughout the world have different approaches to how they make their PSI available and the terms under which the information may be reused. Access policies vary greatly, from fully open access to access that is restricted in various ways, and provided either without charge or at some cost to the user. Reuse policies range from allowing unrestricted reuse to imposing a broad range of restrictions. Furthermore, the variations on access and reuse policies and conditions vary not only across national governments, but also in many cases within each country at the state and local levels. There also appears to be significant variability in the implementation and enforcement of these access and reuse policies. At the same time, there appears to be a broad recognition in both the public and private sectors of the importance of digital networks and PSI to the economy and to society. The public investment in PSI in the United States alone has been estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars. The intangible, non-market social benefits of different types of PSI are harder to measure, but they also can be very significant. They include educational, research, good-governance, and various other benefits that help improve the 1 OECD. 2006. Digital Broadband Content: Public Sector Information and Content. Paris: OECD, p. 8. 2 Ibid.
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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 welfare of society. Many other countries also have large investments in generating and disseminating PSI and an interest in stimulating greater rates of socioeconomic returns from those activities. Some very large PSI programs, such as the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, are not just national programs but are coordinated and utilized on a global basis, and there are many others whose scope and potential effects are smaller but still significant. Despite the huge investments in PSI and the even larger estimated effects, surprisingly little is known about the costs and benefits of different information policies on the information society and the knowledge economy. There is relatively little empirical data available on the effects of PSI disseminated on the Internet or on the different policy approaches to this dissemination, and what data do exist are generally neither detailed nor comprehensive. Small changes in access and use conditions may have large consequences. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the current assessment methods and their underlying criteria, it should be possible to improve and apply such tools to help rationalize the policies and to clarify the special role of the internet in disseminating PSI. This in turn can help promote the efficiency and effectiveness of PSI investments and management, and to improve their downstream economic and social results. Therefore, there is an urgent need to identify, understand, and evaluate the current methods and underlying criteria that are used in this area in order to provide a more solid framework for making such policies. The workshop that is summarized in this report was intended to review the state of the art in assessment methods and to improve the understanding of what is known and what needs to be known about the effects of PSI activities. Part One provides some background on the goals, values, and the policy perspectives of government PSI producers, one in Europe and one in the United States, as well as of the users of PSI in industry. Part Two offers a number of examples of assessment methods used by those who study the effects of placing PSI online. Part Three summarizes a discussion of what the different elements of the methodologies are and what might be done to improve them. We begin with a brief overview of the literature and of some of the strengths and weaknesses associated with the current methodologies. This presentation also provides some suggestions for discussion of future work in this area. Following the overview, there were two moderated breakout discussions at the workshop, one focused on the producers from the public sector and one on the users' perspectives. We designated rapporteurs who synthesized those discussions and which are summarized in this report. In Part Four, the rapporteur provides a summary of the subsequent plenary discussion and identifies some next steps.