City of Helsinki’s decision-making documents are now accessible to all as open data
The Ahjo case management system that was implemented in the summer of 2011 introduced the paperless office to 5,000 civil servants and local politicians in the city of Helsinki. In practice, all decisions made in the city of Helsinki since July 2011 have thus been prepared and processed with the help of Ahjo system. Now this data generated in the city of Helsinki’s decision-making process (agendas, minutes, attachments) is being made accessible to all parties interested in it via the Open Ahjo interface.
“Through the Open Ahjo interface, the decision-making data is accessible 24/7. You no longer need to telephone or go to the register in the city hall, in order to get the data you are interested in”, says Katja Räisänen, the leading expert of the Ahjo system.
The new agendas and minutes of Helsinki’s decision-making bodies are added to the Open Ahjo interface starting in March 2013. The amount of data sets in Open Ahjo will grow rapidly: e.g., in 2010 there were 550 council body meetings in the city of Helsinki, with 9000 decision-related issues. 13 000 decisions were being made by office holders and about 100 000 documents were stored in the centralized repository.
Open Ahjo interface description
In the first phase, the agendas and minutes of the meetings of the city council, city board and committees are accessible through the Open Ahjo interface. Most of the data is already now accessible as html documents on the website of each decision-making body. Through the new interface, the data is offered in one address in machine-readable format, including all attached files. The first version of Open Ahjo is a simple solution, which will be developed further on.
The transparency of administration is taking a giant leap forward with the new interface. The city board has decided that during 2013, also all civil servants’ decisions will be published on the city’s website. “Naturally, this data will also be made available in Open Ahjo”, Räisänen says.
Civil servants’ decisions are matters which have been delegated to them to decide and which will not be subjected to political decision-making. Each year, Helsinki civil servants, from the mayor to bureau experts, make thousands of decisions concerning the citizens. “They are indeed public documents, but currently, you need to ask for them expressly at the city register”, Räisänen explains.
Easy-to-use search feature as a next step
Although opening an interface into an already existing data system does not sound like a big endeavor, going from theory to practice took time. According to Räisänen, the biggest effort was done in ensuring that confidential material containing e.g., citizens’ personal data does not become public by accident. “The Ahjo system contains all of the city’s administrative decision-making”, she points out. And part of it is not public based on law.
Räisänen hopes that the new Open Ahjo interface finds users. “Hopefully, decision-making will come one step closer to the ordinary people. Now, many people feel that information is available too late when there is no longer any way to influence to the decisions being made”, Räisänen ponders. Currently, utilizing open data requires understanding of both information technology and the city’s decision-making system, but according to Räisänen, the interface will be further developed in the future. “For example being able to make searches about decisions concerning your own district serves the citizens. If you live in Kallio, you are not terribly interested in matters concerning Lauttasaari”, Räisänen says.
Further development is done by open data professional Juha Yrjölä who is hired as a Code for Europe fellow coder for the City of Helsinki. Before working for the City of Helsinki, he has created for example kansanmuisti.fi service that follows the Finland’s parliament’s decision-making.
Original text: Petja Partanen