Survey of Public Demand for Application Programming Interfaces (SK0071)
Commitment No. 14: Conduct a survey of public demand for the most requested publicly available Appli-cation Programming Interfaces.
IRM Midterm Status Summary
THEME - Open API
Comm 12, 13, 14, 15
Language of the commitment as it appears in the action plan[Note : The Office of the Plenipotentiary, “Open Government Partnership National Action Plan of the Slovak Republic 2017 – 2019”, http://bit.ly/2QYIlHV ]:
Commitment 12: “Develop standards for publicly available application programming interfaces and submit them to the Commission for the Standardization of Information Systems in Public Administration.”
Commitment 13: “Ensure the publication of open data and publicly available Application Programming Interfaces in projects financed by the Operational Program Integrated Infrastructure and other public sources.”
Commitment 14: “Conduct a survey of public demand for the most requested publicly available Application Programming Interfaces.”
Commitment 15: “Based on the results of the survey of public demand for most requested publicly available Application Programming Interfaces, make available the most requested Application Programming Interfaces in compliance with current legislation and existing technical conditions, along with the license (conditions) for their use.”
Start Date: Not specified
End Date: 31 December 2017 and ongoing
Context and Objectives
Commitments 12 - 15 on publicly available application programming interfaces (open APIs) are new. They were not included in the previous action plans but follow the current trends in the EU[Note : EU Open Data Portal – API, http://bit.ly/2zNmZHu ] and elsewhere[Note : US Open Data Portal – US Government APIs, https://www.data.gov/developers/apis ]. Opening APIs to core government IT systems have been advocated as a way to achieve successful public-private cooperation from which citizens will largely benefit[Note : Gijs Hillenius, “Governments should open APIs to core services”, JoinUp - Open Source Observatory, http://bit.ly/2GaKn7d ]. In simple terms, an API allows a piece of software to interact with another piece of software. The potential use of APIs is wide in both e-government and open government, for instance, as a complementary element to open government data. API has its pros and cons compared to open data. As for strengths, API is preferable to open data if data is big or if it frequently changes, as open data users will have to download updated files frequently. However, while open data is accessible to a broader audience, as it assumes an ability to work with spreadsheets only, API requires sophisticated programming skills. Also, for agencies, it also is more technologically demanding to host and maintain API than open data[Note : How to open data, “The Basics of Open Data: API versus Bulk Data”, http://bit.ly/2QJV30O and Interview with Ján Suchal, 4 December 2018. See Section ‘VI. Methodology and sources for details. ].
As indicated in the previous sections on open data, the civil society community focused on the IT sector has been growing in the past three years and therefore, these highly specialized commitments have their audience. Slovensko.digital, a CSO leading the field has been pushing the topic of open API individually, alongside the OGP. Using APIs from the national e-government portal, it has created GovBox application[Note : Slovensko.digital, “GovBox”, https://ekosystem.slovensko.digital/sluzby/govbox]. In October 2018 they launched a call to selected public agencies to open their IT systems and publish APIs[Note : Slovensko.digital, “Za otvorené štátne systémy” (For open state systems), http://bit.ly/2EbyOKC (in Slovak). ]. They identified that the Financial Administration, State Social Insurance Company, Statistical Office, and state and private health insurance companies represent agencies with whom entrepreneurs and citizens interact most frequently[Note : Slovensko.digital, “Kľúčoví hráči na trhu a nezávislí odborníci vyzývajú k otvoreniu štátnych IT systémov” (Key market players and independent experts call for opening state IT systems), http://bit.ly/2Eaa319 (in Slovak). ]. Although Slovensko.Digital representative was not aware of APIs being published as a result of the OGP process, he stated that the government’s commitment to release APIs makes their communication with the agencies easier[Note : Interview with Ján Suchal (Slovensko.digital), 5 December 2018. See Section ‘VI. Methodology and sources for details. ]. Therefore, the inclusion of API commitments in OGP action plans is useful.
Overall, given the demand for state open APIs, commitments 12 – 15, which aim for developing standards for open APIs, surveying demand for open APIs, and publishing open APIs, came at the right time and some of them could have a significant impact. The standards for publicly available APIs (commitment 12) are important because they affect the quality of the final services to users. Standards set requirements on APIs, e.g. whether APIs fulfill open access and process principles and adhere to security policies and guidelines etc.
Commitments 13 and 15 could advance open government if more APIs is published that will allow the public to monitor government programs. Since the publication of data resulting from publicly financed projects is still not a common standard in Slovakia, commitment 13 to ensure the publication of data related to all projects funded by the Operational Program Integrated Infrastructure and other public sources, has the potential to change the practice for better and increase access to information.
The potential impact of commitment 15 could be transformative. A similar commitment was also included in the previous action plan and has resulted in publication of datasets of significant value. An investigative journalist stated[Note : Interview with Martin Turček (Aktuality.sk), 15 October 2018. See Section ‘VI. Methodology and sources for details. ] that some open APIs of good quality have already been published, for instance, the monitoring platform for the use of EU structural funds (ITMS+)[Note : Open data for the monitoring platform for the use of EU structural funds (ITMS+), https://opendata.itms2014.sk/swagger/?url=/v2/swagger.json (in Slovak). ] and the Register of beneficial ownership run by the Ministry of Justice[Note : Open data API for the Register of beneficial ownership, https://rpvs.gov.sk/OpenData/swagger/ui/index (in Slovak). ]. However, he mentioned that there is a demand to be met yet and APIs should be opened at a faster pace. All interviewees agreed that opening state APIs (in particular, APIs in high demand) is a key topic of a broad significance, as it will simplify access to public services for citizens[Note : Interview with Ján Gondoľ (worked for Deputy Prime Minister’s Office for Investments and Informatization of the Slovak Republic as a consultant during the action plan implemention on OGP commitments), 5 November 2018. Interview with Ján Suchal (Slovensko.digital), 5 December 2018. Interview with Martin Turček (Aktuality.sk), 15 October 2018. See Section ‘VI. Methodology and sources for details. ]. All in all, this might have a transformative impact on the quality of user experience of e-government services, which has been perceived as low. However, this might also have a potential transformative impact on opening government, if, the high value APIs are released: such as cadaster’s APIs on land and property ownership, register of self-employed persons or company register APIs, etc.
All interviewees agreed that commitments to open APIs of the state IT systems are important and have a potential to change practice beyond the status quo and improve citizens’ experience of accessing basic public services but also increase government transparency (depending on the kind of APIs that will be published)[Note : Ibid. ]. They also mentioned that so far, the co-operation with public agencies was prevalently positive. The commission for developing standards for publicly available APIs was led professionally, and interviewees stated that all relevant stakeholders were at the table. Overall, based on their views the IRM researcher recommends that the government continues opening its APIs and collaborates with the CSOs active in the field. As Slovensko.digital concluded, the majority of infrastructure is already in place and ready to be used[Note : Slovensko.digital, “Kľúčoví hráči na trhu a nezávislí odborníci vyzývajú k otvoreniu štátnych IT systémov” (Key market players and independent experts call for opening state IT systems), http://bit.ly/2Eaa319 (in Slovak).