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To ensure the transparency of water policy for consumers, the State commissioned Onema to improve access to public data. However, improving access means first obtaining, interpreting and explaining the data.

Photo Michel Bramard – Onema

The 2013 Environmental conference set efforts to facilitate and make more reliable the access of citizens to water data as one of the priorities in the road map. Better access to data is indispensable to ensure the transparency of the policies implemented and constitutes a true public policy. On 6 November 2013, the French government, in compliance with the G8 charter, published its action plan to improve access to public data. To that end, Onema was charged with the task of improving the availability of water and sanitation data via the WIS-FR (water information system for France). Onema has coordinated the system since 2008 and made it available on the EauFrance site, however, according to René Lalement, director of the Water-information department, "the WIS-FR pulls together an extremely diverse set of data, but must now be revamped to simplify dissemination of the information".

Provide access and explain the data

To facilitate access to the data via a single site (EauFrance), discussions with the other stakeholders in the water sector (Ecology and Health ministries, Water agencies and offices, associations, etc.) are required. "But before looking at how to improve access, it is first necessary to remove obstacles because some data are withheld", notes René Lalement. For example, the data collected by the Water agencies to set fees for users may not be revealed (confidentiality of tax records). In addition to the legal reasons, obstacles include ownership issues, limited confidence in the data or concern over how the data may be used.

Better access to ensure transparency of water policy also implies supplying citizens with the means to understand the data. "We must provide users with the algorithms, reference datasets and indicators required to make sense of the data", insists René Lalement. A further concern is the need to enhance the user-friendliness of internet sites that were often originally designed for water experts.

Current and future projects

Thanks to the Sispea1 application in 2012, Onema already started the process of improving access by supplying all the available data on the performance levels of public water and sanitation services. Then in the beginning of 2013, the creation of the platform made available almost 130 unprocessed data series on various aspects of the water sector (environmental status, pressures and impacts, sub-basin management plans (SBMP), zoning data, etc.). In the coming months, the site will be outfitted with a mapping interface and advanced indicators to enhance understanding of local situations. Onema is also working on three priority projects for the WIS-FR, namely the Naïades databank on the quality of surface water, the SEEE water-status assessment system that will ensure the transparency of assessment procedures and the BNPE national databank on water abstractions. Concerning the latter, a change in the applicable law is being prepared to remove obstacles to data sharing.

1. National observatory on public water and sanitation services.


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