Unleashing the Potential
Minister for the Cabinet Office
and Paymaster General
We acknowledge that there are differences in the terminology used within the Open Data community. For the purposes of this document, the following terminology will apply. We hope to get a collective view on the definitions used in forthcoming Transparency and Open Data publications – and, as part of our drive to make policy making more accessible, will consult on those definitions through an open, online process.
Building a transparent society
Transparency is already radically changing the way people live their lives and run their businesses in the UK. In the last two years, the UK has released the largest amount of government data of any country in the world, enabling people to make better choices about the public services they use and to hold government to account on spending and outcomes. Transparency is also providing the raw material for innovative new business ventures and for public service professionals to improve their performance.
For instance, commuters are using apps based on transport data released by rail and bus operating companies to plan their journeys – using real-time information to adjust their trip to take account of delays or congestion. Crime maps based on Home Office data are enabling communities to track crime in their area and work with local authorities to address it. And virtually all local authorities now publish spending transactions over £5001 so everyone can understand and challenge the spending decisions that directly affect their lives.
So we’re putting the data out there. And alongside this White Paper we are also publishing online2 a large collection of case studies showing how Open Data released by government is being used and re used by the public, private and civil society sectors. This material covers both suppliers and users of data, from local authority publishers and the companies that facilitate data publication and analytics, through to re users of public data creating applications and data based services.
Together, this material starts to form a living library of information, enabling people to crowdsource further evidence of the impact of Open Data. So we know, for instance, that when we publish outcome measures for health providers, we see changes in behaviour that push those health providers to do a better job. And regular publication of spending data means that anyone in the country has the means to challenge government on how public money is being spent.
This is a completely different way of governing. We’re choosing to be more open with our data – working on the principle that individuals will know how best to make the decisions that shape their lives or businesses, as long as they have all the information at their fingertips. But we need to get better at it. We need to make sure that people are getting the right data – data that’s relevant to their lives and businesses, and updated frequently. And we need to make sure it’s in the right format so it can easily be accessed and used.
So we are going to get more data into the public domain and make sure that data is trustworthy and easy to use. Each government department has now published its first ever Open Data Strategy3 setting out an unprecedented release of new data that will
All this new data will be accessible through a completely overhauled www.data.gov.uk site –
which we’re relaunching with better search facilities, simpler ways to access information, an advanced GIS data search (including map previewing) and better tools for developers, such as API access to the catalogue holdings.
We are also announcing a comprehensive and independently chaired review of the use, re-use, funding and regulation of Public Sector Information (PSI). It’s right that we think about the use and re-use of PSI more broadly, given the pace of change and expanding opportunities in this area.
We can start by using the data we hold more effectively, and by pushing that data into the public domain. Then individuals, businesses and civil society can use it to vote on public services with their feet, to challenge government if they see inefficiencies and to drive prosperity by using data to do new and exciting things.
At the heart of making transparency a powerful agent of change in the UK is the right that citizens have to access and use public data.
It is our belief that an effective right to data is neither a single nor static piece of legislation but a mix of existing laws that complement measures, such as those outlined in this White Paper, to embed a culture of openness in government. Therefore, while we take proactive steps to push more data out there, we are also aware that up-to-date legislation and common standards for the data we release are essential to support an effective Open Data ecosystem.
By recently amending the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000, we’ve put a failsafe in place to make sure that, where you are entitled to a dataset, you can ask for it in a format that is useful. The changes that we have made are going to be reflected in the upcoming development process for the FOIA Code of Practice and, as part of our drive to make policy making more accessible, we are going to open this up to the public and offer an opportunity
to shape the guidance on datasets using a crowdsourced wiki.
In last year’s Making Open Data Real Consultation4 we received nearly 500 responses from a variety of sectors, raising many diverse points about the work we are undertaking.
Annex A lists these points and how they have been addressed. One recurrent theme was that the cost of data is hugely influential in determining whether people access it or not. Our general principles for the use of PSI are that data should be provided free wherever appropriate and possible, or at a fair price where it is costly for the public sector to provide it, or where it is fairer to the UK taxpayer to secure value from it.
We also need to be smarter about how we use data within government. We know it can be frustrating when government develops policy that has unintended consequences or seems badly targeted. It is also tedious to have to inform different government agencies about simple changes instead of relying on the agencies to share that data with one another. A sensible approach to sharing data within government can help us get better at both those things.
It is essential that we are able to share data in order to answer some of the key policy questions of our time, such as the relationship between education and employment, as we develop policy to improve fairness in society and social mobility. So we’re establishing a Social Mobility Transparency Board, chaired by the Minister for Universities and Science, which will look at linking anonymised data to generate greater insight in this area. And we are exploring the feasibility of a pilot project that links and shares anonymised Department for Work and Pensions data to demonstrate the potential value of this data for research purposes.
We don’t underestimate how difficult this is. There are substantial benefits to be gained from sharing data within government – but obviously we need to be scrupulous in protecting individual privacy. So we will proceed with caution, setting ambitious goals but ensuring that we protect privacy at every step.
We are announcing the appointment of a privacy expert to the Public Sector Transparency Board to make sure we bring in the latest expertise on privacy measures. More broadly, we’re making sure that privacy experts are brought into all sector panel discussions across Whitehall when data releases are being considered.
We don’t want to use legislation too readily – that would sit at odds with our core principle to reduce bureaucracy – but we do recognise that clarification of the law or the creation of sensible measures to ensure data sharing can be helpful. We will consult ahead
of bringing forward any legislative proposals.
All this is just the beginning. We want to move towards a truly transparent society in which relevant data is released, whoever holds it.
We can’t force this to happen. But by shining a light on forward-thinking businesses or organisations that are open about their practices and publish data on their outcomes we can use transparency itself to help drive this change.
We’re already making progress on this with partners outside government:
From autumn 2012, those domiciliary and residential social care providers who signed up to the voluntary and industry-led Transparency and Quality Compact will publish a core set of relevant metrics. These metrics will enable the public to make more informed choices based on standardised quality indicators.
We have also recently established the Open Business Forum, including representatives from 21 major corporations, who are working towards releasing metrics on corporate responsibility, such as community contribution and environmental impact, to inform consumers.
Our work with energy providers has resulted in major companies, including ScottishPower, committing to releasing energy usage data, making it easier for consumers to compare prices and switch companies.
These are important changes where British businesses are joining us to transform the role that data plays in important, everyday decisions that impact on the public’s wellbeing. Activity like this gets the data held by not only the public sector but also by businesses and charities out into the public domain. This is the shape of things to come – a truly transparent society, with the power where it belongs, in the hands of the people of this country.
1 To support local authorities in publishing data, the Department for Communities and Local Government published a Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency in September 2011. All local authorities except one (Nottingham City) now publish spending transactions over £500.
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