Karlsruhe is stepping up its efforts to establish transparency and possibilities of direct public participation in the city, as well as to become even more open and technologically progressive. After turning its back on official secrecy and embracing the free flow of information with the administration cooperating openly with the citizens, the sciences, and commerce, a further significant step in the direction of Open Government is now being taken.
A necessary prerequisite for Open Government is Open Data and Open Commons. Open Data are all the data sets where it is in the public interest that they are freely available to everyone to use, share, and republish. The only restrictions are that the data must be no personal and not subject to data protection or privacy law. Raw data, for example, which are raised in statistical surveys, by the fiscal administration, and in scientific research (geographic, meteorological, environmental, medical, etc.), are often available as tables or in databases. After processing of such data the result usually appears in text form as a report with diagrams, graphics, maps, and images, sometimes also interactive. In order to verify the analyses and conclusions it is absolutely essential to have access to the raw data.
Free access to public records renders political action transparent and comprehensible. In this way Open Data enhances the general public’s acceptance of government actions and increases its trust in the government and administration which effectively strengthens democracy.
Already in 2014 Karlsruhe citizens were able to engage with this subject in the Open Government Forum and how it is implemented in Karlsruhe.
Also in 2014 the OK Lab Karlsruhe was opened. It is one of only eight Open Knowledge Labs in Germany, which were established within the framework of Code for Germany, a program of the Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland. The goal of the program is to promote developments in the area of transparency, Open Data, and Open Commons in Germany. Since its inception, at the monthly Code for Karlsruhe Meetup projects are proposed, talks given, and discussions take place. As of 2019 the OK Lab is organizing a series of events called Transparenzcafé.
In addition, in 2014 in Karlsruhe, in collaboration with Freifunk Rheinland e.V. and Entropia e.V., Freifunk, a non-commercial grassroots initiative to support free wireless networks in the German-speaking region of Europe, was founded, which views free infrastructure, free access to the Internet, and open frequencies as a cornerstone of society. In 2017 the »Verein zur Förderung freier Netze Region Mittler Oberrhein e.V.« joined them, and with »StuFFNet« a university group was founded at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Currently, there are over 450 open access points to the free wireless network. It is used daily by more than 1200 simultaneously active users and is not just confined to Karlsruhe, but takes in Ortenaukreis, Pforzheim, Hohenlohe, and central Hesse.
In summer 2016 the city of Karlsruhe set up its Transparenzportal (Transparency Portal). Some of the documents available there – expert opinions, contracts, agreements, and reports – come with the raw data attached. The portal is not only a platform for publishing new documents, as a fully searchable online entry point for all documents listed in its register it also facilitates public access to the vast number of existing documents and makes searching for and finding documents easier. Everything published by the Transparenzportal can be accessed free of charge under the license »Datenlizenz Deutschland – Namensnennung« (Version 2.0). The license permits users to make use of the contents, also for commercial purposes, on the condition that the user cites the source. Increasingly, open and standardized file formats are being used.
However, as using the documents requires knowledge about handling machine-readable data the Transparenzportal is especially addressed to experts who can render the data accessible to the general public via apps or similar projects. Thus Open Data can provide important points of contact to stimulate the IT and creative industries. Compared with the rest of Germany, growth in both of these sectors is particularly high in Karlsruhe.
As part of the digital@KA project a multifunctional »Bürger-App« (citizens’ app) is being developed in Karlsruhe with an associated data management platform that offers a central entry point to (public and commercial) apps and services related to Karlsruhe. With its concept for the »Bürger-App« in 2018 Karlsruhe won the Digitale Zukunftskommune@bw (digital local authority of the future) competition organized by the State of Baden-Württemberg. Thus, digital@KA is funded by Baden-Württemberg’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, Digitization, and Migration in the context of its digitization strategy digital@bw.
Karlsruhe also set up an accompanying website Bürgerbeteiligung (public participation). With their ideas and suggestions citizens can support the city of Karlsruhe in local decision-making processes.
Furthermore, Open Data represents an important resource for media artists. The collective term »media art« refers to various art forms in which the works utilize new media technologies such as video, computers, and the Internet and employ them in the process of artistic creation. Frequent themes addressed in media art concern digital participation, interaction, and participation in political decision-making processes. In our increasingly digitized society this can be a source of new and unusual inspiration.
In Karlsruhe media art is explored and taken further at the ZKM | Center for Art and Media. In concert with the city of Karlsruhe’s Office for Cultural Affairs and various Karlsruhe organizations, initiatives, and associations, as of 2019 the ZKM plans to hold annual Seasons of Media Arts. The collaboration partners involved in shaping and organizing this project are all important actors in Karlsruhe’s digital culture and education that examine new technologies critically and, together with the citizens of Karlsruhe, participate in their further development in line with a society that is open and technologically well-informed.