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Public Data

Data and information are widely recognised as the lifeblood of modern, digital economies. Opening up non-personal public information can help provide a vital economic stimulus, as well as helping innovation.

This is one area where the UK has made some good recent progress in the hands of Nigel Shadbolt and Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The site aims to progressively make public data available, building on the earlier innovative work of the "Power of Information" report by Ed Mayo and Tom Steinberg; the Power of Information task force work by Tom Watson, Tom Loosemore, Richard Allan and others; the Guardian "Free our data" campaigners; and independent web advocates from Stefan Magdalinski through MySociety to Harry Metcalfe, State and Young Rewired State

This pioneering work now needs to become embedded into the cultural and technical daily processes of the public sector.

The key principles

  1. Public sector intellectual property and public data should be freely made available by default in both human readable and machine readable formats
  2. Transparency should be a default principle: and needs to be applied to contracts, budgets, audits, standards, code and formats, meeting minutes, e

Other points/clarifications

There are eight data principles here set out in the 2007 meeting of open government advocates in Sebastopol California. These form a useful starting basis for the UK and set out that government data shall be considered open if it is made public in a way that complies with the principles below:

  1. Complete – All public data is made available. Public data is data that is not subject to valid privacy, security or privilege limitations.
  2. Primary – Data is as collected at the source, with the highest possible level of granularity, not in aggregate or modified forms.
  3. Timely – Data is made available as quickly as necessary to preserve the value of the data.
  4. Accessible – Data is available to the widest range of users for the widest range of purposes.
  5. Machine processable – Data is reasonably structured to allow automated processing.
  6. Non-discriminatory – Data is available to anyone, with no requirement of registration.
  7. Non-proprietary – Data is available in a format over which no entity has exclusive control.
  8. License-free – Data is not subject to any copyright, patent, trademark or trade secret regulation. Reasonable privacy, security and privilege restrictions may be allowed.

Specific recommendations

Things to do

  1. Develop an portal as the entry point to all open information and data and make a subset within that. The open portal should, as with the US, include a dashboard setting out clearly how each department and agency is doing in meeting its obligations
  2. Ensure public data, through aggregation and other means, cannot be used to identify specific individuals or communities
  3. The most important and useful data sets need to be identified and prioritised (“we don’t want obscure trivia, we want the most essential data to be included first”)
  4. Departments need to add useful data consistently, frequently and regularly into the pool. A named role in each department must take responsibility for a monthly update (actual new data sets or a specific timescale of what will be available and when) and this should be openly published in both summary form (on a dashboard) and with underlying detail of progress or obstacles. Departments need to be held accountable for making available their most useful public data assets
  5. A Parliamentary select committee should review, on an annual basis, progress by department
  6. All new procurements going forward must specify, by default, that all public data will automatically become part of
  7. The complex licensing regime at must be reviewed and a timescale committed to where UK uses of data becomes freely available as part of using open licensing. Where ‘trading funds’ have been established, those organisations should be compensated where necessary by a cut in IT budget of the owning department and the money given over to cover any trading fund deficit arising in order to enable the public data to be made freely available through
  8. Independent technology experts must ensure that data formats and APIs for accessing and using data are as simple, open and easily usable as possible
  9. Identify “quick wins” where public data exists internally in re-usable formats, such as databases and spreadsheets, but where the published versions exist only as PDFs: ensure those information owners republish in the more usable formats as well as the current fixed publishing formats

Stop, challenge or review

  1. Review the Freedom of Information Act and see if it needs modifying in order to ensure a presumption of “open data by default” and make any changes necessary to make that presumption a reality
  2. Stop onerous opsi licensing requirements or “trading funds” preventing useful public data sets from being made freely available: replace with open licensing
  3. Challenge the culture of keeping public information and data closed, or unavailable “due to the costs” involved in answering each PQs

Continue, support or resume

  1. Continue the good work of, but give it real momentum and relevance by actioning the “things to do”
  2. Encourage all local authorities to pursue the same open data agenda, and make this part of the audit regime under the Audit Commission

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