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Data Sovereignty in North Rhine-Westphalia (DE0027)



Action Plan: Germany Action Plan 2019-2021

Action Plan Cycle: 2019

Status: Active


Lead Institution: North Rhine-Westphalia Ministry of Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitization and Energy and Open Government Working Group

Support Institution(s): Municipality of Bonn, Rhineland Open Data Region, Association of German Cities, German Association of Towns and Municipalities, Consulting agency PD – Berater der öffentlichen Hand GmbH

Policy Areas

Access to Information, E-Government, Local Commitments, Open Data

IRM Review

IRM Report: Germany Design Report 2019-2021

Starred: Pending IRM Review

Early Results: Pending IRM Review

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion: Pending IRM Review


What is the public problem that the
commitment will address?
Legislation for open data is slated to
commence before the end of 2019 with an
amendment to the North Rhine-Westphalia
E-Government Act (EGovG NRW). The goal
is for the administration’s data to be made
available, comprehensively and free of
charge, for unlimited subsequent use. This
is to enable businesses and civil society
as well as the administrative authorities to
take advantage of the data.
Administrative bodies collate and process
data in the course of their duties. In some
cases, others collaborate in the collation of
that data. If data are to be made available
in their entirety, it is crucial for the administrative authorities themselves to have
ownership and sovereign rights over the
data. If those rights are held by a third
party, it can prove difficult or impossible to
make them public.
Not all administrative bodies have the
requisite knowledge and information at
their disposal to ensure they have data
sovereignty and ownership. However, such
knowledge is essential for conducting
procurement procedures and making
contracts with third parties, for instance,
as such activities frequently influence how
data can be used in future.

What is the commitment?
This commitment is meant to promote the
comprehensive provision of open data by
the administrative authorities. Obstacles
to publication – such as copyrights,
protections favouring third parties and
usage agreements – are to be reduced
as much as possible so that data may be
comprehensively used inside and outside
the administration. This has the potential to assist and facilitate data-based
decision-making at the administrative
and political levels. It will give the public
improved means of acquiring information
on the basis of open data. What is more,
it may give rise to new business models
and an expansion in the use of artificial

How will the commitment contribute to solving the public problem?
Ensuring data sovereignty will eliminate
key obstacles to the comprehensive reuse of data by administrative authorities
so that open data can be made available
on a larger scale. The aim is to enable
administrations to comprehensively use
and release data. Recommendations and
guidelines are to be drawn up and made

Why is this commitment relevant to OGP values?
Administrative authorities’ data ownership
and sovereignty is the basis on which open
data can be made public on an extensive
scale; it is therefore pivotal to generating
greater transparency and innovation.

IRM Midterm Status Summary

12. Strengthening data sovereignty in North Rhine Westphalia

Main Objective

“This commitment is meant to promote the comprehensive provision of open data by the administrative authorities. Obstacles to publication – such as copyrights, protections favoring third parties and usage agreements – are to be reduced as much as possible so that data may be comprehensively used inside and outside the administration. This has the potential to assist and facilitate data-based decision-making at the administrative and political levels. It will give the public improved means of acquiring information on the basis of open data. What is more, it may give rise to new business models and an expansion in the use of artificial intelligence.”


12.1. Taking stock of data sovereignty in municipalities

12.2. Writing guidelines on ensuring administrative authorities’ data ownership and data sovereignty

12.3. Publishing and recommending guidelines

Editorial Note: For the complete text of this commitment, please see Germany’s action plan at:

Commitment Analysis

The commitment aims to identify and address challenges for public administrations regarding data sovereignty in North Rhine-Westphalia. Data sovereignty pertains to access to and control by public administrations over the data that it generates during governmental functions. It also refers to data that third parties generate when working on behalf of public authorities. [110] Once governments achieve data sovereignty, they are free to publish and open data to the public. Therefore, it is relevant to the OGP value for access to information.

Data sovereignty is a relatively new policy area with considerable potential for mutual learning and capacity building at local and state levels. [111] Capitalizing on big data and open data often involves mixing data held by private and public actors. Similarly, transparent and accountable public service performance often requires data generated by private businesses as many government services are outsourced to private companies. [112] Furthermore, the rise of the “gig” and “platform” economies [113] has created regulatory challenges, which in Germany must often be addressed by state or local governments. Therefore, access to privately-held information is needed for meaningful regulatory oversight and essential service optimization.

Legal frameworks, procurement rules, and licensing practices also need to be adapted to facilitate data sovereignty and accommodate information sharing between governments and businesses, data collaboratives, and mandatory reporting regimes. Because of limited awareness, subnational governments often must fend for themselves when negotiating data sharing with companies or designing procurement and public-private partnership agreements that protect public access to important data. This threatens public access to data.

This commitment could directly address deficiencies around awareness and capacity regarding data sovereignty. [114] Examining data sovereignty in municipalities in North Rhine-Westphalia (Milestone 12.1) can determine where awareness and capacity challenges exist. This analysis could go beyond third-party service providers to broader data sovereignty issues like how communities structure private business licensing; this information can assist data-sharing for regulatory and governance purposes. Globally, high-profile examples include Barcelona’s integration of data-sharing clauses into its contracts with suppliers and service providers; [115] Los Angeles’ negotiation with a micro-mobility provider over access to real-time trip data; [116] and London’s, Munich’s, and Copenhagen’s efforts to obtain data from an apartment-sharing platform. [117] Compiling and promoting guidance materials (Milestones 12.2 and 12.3) can benefit subnational governments in North Rhine-Westphalia, as well as across Germany and beyond.

By taking stock and reflecting on data sovereignty, this commitment invites a timely discussion on how privacy concerns can be addressed alongside publishing data that has value for transparency or economic-reuse. [118] Given this, and the potential to build governments’ capacity, the commitment’s impact on data sovereignty could be significant. It may not directly generate better access to information, but it could enable governments to secure public access to privately held data that has substantial public value.

To maximize the impact of this commitment, the North Rhine-Westphalia Ministry of Economic Affairs could ensure that the scoping exercise and guidance materials are relevant to and generated in cooperation with other German municipalities. It could also consider expanding the current focus on data from public-private partnerships to data-sharing possibilities with private entities who intersect with local regulations and public service issues (such as new platform businesses in the area of mobility or housing).

[110] Data sovereignty is understood differently in different contexts. Often, it refers to the control of data by national states with strong territorial aspects of physical data location and crossborder data flows (e.g., the Gaia-X initiative of a European data cloud ( Other times it refers to data control at individual level (e.g., Deutscher Ethikrat, Big Data und Gesundheit Datensouveränität als informationelle Freiheitsgestaltung. Stellungnahme. (Berlin: Deutscher Ethikrat, 2017)). Given the commitment content, the IRM researcher has defined it as data holding and control by public authorities with a focus on subnational level administrative entities.
[111] For further reading on data sovereignty, consult: European Commission, Towards a European strategy on business-to-government data sharing for the public interest, Final Report, High-Level Expert Group on Business-to-Government Data Sharing (2020); B. Martens and N. Duch-Brown, “The economics of Business to Government data sharing, JRC Digital Economy Working Paper” (Apr. 2020); Esther Huyer, Analytical Report 12: Business-to-Government Data Sharing (European Data Portal, 15 Jul. 2020),
[112] See Andreas Wiebe, “Open Data in Deutschland und Europa” (Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 5. Feb. 2020),
[113] For an explanation of these concepts, see J. Manyika, et al., Independent work: Choice, necessity, and the gig economy (McKinsey Global Institute, 2016), 1−16; M. Kenney and J. Zysman, “The rise of the platform economy” in Issues in science and technology 32 no.3 (2016): 61.
[114] For an example of a recent and rare parliamentary discussion that touches upon data sovereignty in the context of local communities, see Deutscher Bundestag, Beschlussempfehlung und Bericht des Ausschusses für Bau, Wohnen, Stadtentwicklung und Kommunen [Decision recommendation and report of the Committee for Construction, Housing, Urban Development and Municipalities] 19/15364, (21 Nov. 2019),
[115] Thomas Graham, “Barcelona is leading the fightback against smart city surveillance” (Wired, 18 May, 2018)
[116] Laura Nelson, “Uber sues L.A. over real-time location data for scooters and bikes” (L.A. Times, 25 Mar. 2020)
[117] M. Ferreri and R. Sanyal, “Platform economies and urban planning: Airbnb and regulated deregulation in London” in Urban Studies 55 no.15 (2018): 3353−3368,; Emil Gjerding Nielson, “Airbnb to report homeowners' income to Danish tax authorities” (Reuters, 17 May 2018),; Sueddeutsche Zeitung, “Airbnb muss Daten zu Vermietern in München preisgeben” (13 Dec. 2018).
[118] For example, discussions about access to mobility data generated by public transport involves privacy concerns.


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  2. Participatory Creation of Regulatory Policy

    DE0023, 2019, Public Participation

  3. Digital Strategy Pilot for Rural Regions

    DE0024, 2019, Local Commitments

  4. Open Government in North Rhine-Westphalia

    DE0025, 2019, Access to Information

  5. Policy Co-Creation in North Rhine-Westphalia

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  6. Data Sovereignty in North Rhine-Westphalia

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  7. Open Government Portal in Saxony

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  8. Open-Source Software in Public Administrations in Schleswig-Holstein

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  9. Regional Open Government Labs

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  10. Civil Society Consulation on Foreign Policy

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  11. Create Youth Strategy

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  12. Create Federal Agency for Digital Innovation

    DE0019, 2019, Public Participation

  13. Transparency and Participation in International Aid

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  14. Strengthen and Socialize Open Data Policy

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  15. Conditions for OGP Participation

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  16. Open Data in Administrative Practice

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  17. Open Data Environment

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  18. Access to Spatial Data

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  19. Financial Transparency - EITI Standard

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  20. Transparency in Development Policy

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    DE0007, 2017, Access to Information

  22. Citizen Participation in Environmental Policy and Urban Development

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  23. Electronic Procedures for Family Benefits

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  24. Knowledge Network for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex People

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  25. Local Alliances for Family Initiative

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  26. Share of Women and Men in Leadership Positions, Private and Private Sectors

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  27. Open Access to Academic Literature

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  28. Science Year 2018

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  29. Federal Competition “Living Together Hand in Hand”

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