PEOPLE | Sep 19, 2017

Open Data and fires: the “Italy on fire”

Data concerning fires released in order to avoid speculation. Interview with Giuseppe Ragusa, civic activist of the no-profit project

Italia a fuoco has also become a non-profit project in the past few months, conceived by Matteo Tempestini, Matteo Fortini and Andrea Borruso. This project intends “to liberate” data concerning confirmed fires in order to avoid speculation. The law stipulates that “the wooded areas and pastures that have been ravaged by fire may not be given an allocation other than that pre-existing the fire for at least fifteen years”, but to enforce it, the District Councils need to update the fire register in order to publish it on the City Hall noticeboard. In short, there is a need for Open Data and citizens who play their part and ask for them. This can be achieved by means of a specific section of Italia a fuoco that makes it easy to build a request for publication of the data-set of the registers of burned lands within the municipality of interest to them.

The contribution we are giving – confirms Giuseppe Ragusa, one of the project’s key players – is to give value to open data on fires, specifically by reusing it. We have done this by creating several maps (with the invaluable and essential contribution of Giovan Battista Vitrano) which, in our opinion, can somehow give a spatio-temporal view useful for planning fire-prevention activities: the map of the news concerning fires (data granted by the EFFIS project) and the map of fires in Italy from 2009 to May 2016 (source State Forestry Authority).

The recently implemented Italian FOIA has been the object of controversy by some. Does this in your opinion contribute to facilitating Open Data?

The recent amendment to Legislative Decree 33/2013,with the introduction of the right of general public access (FOIA), with which everyone has the right to access data and documents held by public administrations, further to those subject to publication ” has marked a substantial change in the Italian judicial landscape.
True: other changes to the same decree have triggered substantial controversy for the most disparate reasons. Making use of the right of access is a way to verify its validity. As part of the Italia a fuoco we have found ourselves in a position to be able to make what we consider to be very important use of it. We have in fact launched the #FoiaeFiamme campaign, inviting everyone to formulate and send the request for data on burnt lands to the District Councils of interest to them. To do this, we have added to the page the service Foiapop, which makes it easy to create civic access requests. In this way, Public Administrations are invited to apply Art.10 paragraph 2 of Legislation 353/2000 requesting the list, with relative boundary perimeters, of the topsoil surfaces already ravaged by fire in the last five years. This is a very incisive measure to deter potential post-fire speculation, given the constraints applied just in the case of defining and updating the register of fires.

What has been citizens’ response to the invitation to call for data openness?

The response was and is absolutely positive, both from citizens and certain institutions. In relation to the #FoiaeFiamme campaign to date, some 90 Italian District Councils have been sent requests for civic access. About 10 have already responded positively by publishing or submitting the data. Considering that the campaign has only been in place for just over two weeks, I would say that this is a great result. We are confident that many, many citizens will get actively involved in this good cause.

How can we highlight the importance of Open Data?

By highlighting all those projects that re-use Open Data, thus creating new social, and possibly even economical, value; what better business card? Thanks to the efforts of various civic activists, communities and associations much has been done and continues to be done. I think however, that even greater citizen involvement is necessary and for this purpose it is vital to invest time and resources in creating enabling services, in which the user no longer plays a passive and almost consumerist role but is even able to create.

Data Governance in PA: utopia?

It is definitely not a utopia, but an achievable goal. Governing administrators and officials must direct their energies toward making the needs of citizens a priority, rather than those of the bureaucratic apparatus.