Department Public Law Jurisprudence Legal History

Citizen-friendly Data Communication

Public bodies have lots of data, but administrative law encourages them insufficiently to share these data with citizens in a comprehensible and meaningful way. This project explores new legal and ethical ways to stimulate and optimize data communication by public bodies and to help citizens in interpreting these data, in particular through visualization tools.

Project leader


  • Governance and regulation
  • The digital society


2017 to 2021

Official project title

Designing a regulatory framework for citizen-friendly data communication by public actors

The Project in short

Many people would like to provide input on public policy more often, yet feel they do not possess sufficient information. It can also be overwhelming to try and defend your point of view in a conflict with a public body if you do not have access to the relevant data. The ‘data revolution’, through which a massive amount of data has become available and which sheds new light on reality through largely automated processes of data analyses, can help to address this.

For this it is a precondition, however, that public bodies unlock relevant data to citizens in a better way, especially complex big data. Citizen-friendly data communication is also of value to public bodies themselves. It can, for example, improve the quality and (perceived) legitimacy of decision-making, involve citizens in new forms of e-participation, and reduce the number of judicial appeals.

This research project inquires how administrative law can incentivize public bodies to actually unlock this data. In practice, it turns out that with regard to their ‘open data’ policy, public bodies are too much directed towards the legal conditions they have to abide by. As a consequence, they threaten to lose sight of the perspective of the citizen who is interested in (using) that data.

Therefore, a new legal framework is a necessary precondition for successful data communication by public bodies. Naturally, this framework has to be data proof and it must take the newest digital developments into account. At the same time, this framework must acknowledge the shifting relation between public bodies and citizens who want to be well-informed and wish to work with public information themselves. For this reason, especially interdisciplinary oriented legal scholars and data scientists join forces in this project, and researchers with a background in public administration, philosophy, and psychology are consulted as well.

The project builds on two central assumptions:

  • public bodies should communicate data (use) more, they should do so better and they should do so differently, and
  • administrative law has a proactive role to play in making this happen if there is a willingness to adjust formal legal concepts and complement them with behavioral tools.

This research project aims to develop a general legal framework that makes it possible for the market to design visualization tools that not only enable public bodies to communicate data in an accessible way, but also help citizens to generate information out of public data themselves.

The project differentiates between specific challenges and obstacles that certain specific public bodies face, such as in the sectors of water and energy, and develops general insights and ‘best practices’ that widely apply. Eventually, this makes a more citizen-friendly data communication possible for all public bodies, and ensures that the growing amount of data that public bodies have at their disposal is also of use to citizens.

Visit the project website