Data

Open by Default?

By: Judith Carr
Published: Monday, August 18, 2014 - 09:05 GMT Jump to Comments

Public sector commitment to "open data" is patchy despite a raft of fine sounding policy statements. The "D" word needs demystifying if public services are to embrace open data and we are all to reap the benefits.

We can all be forgiven for not remembering the 2013 G8 conference - except that as the hosts, the UK were instrumental in championing the G8 Open Data charter - Open by Default.

Such a policy, in theory, means that the public sector must embrace the principles of open data. It undoubtedly runs alongside the 'Digital by Default' policy discussed in a recent post by Mark Fenna.  And yet many people still doubt the civil service and local government commitment to opening up.

Opening up data involves knowing about the data you hold, knowing how to engage in the process of opening and other issues associated with such a policy - but regardless of all that, it involves coming to terms with that emotive word data.

Too many, on hearing that word, suddenly feel that it is too 'techie' for them. You can almost see the wheels disengaging, 'oh that is not for me'. And yet data is just unprocessed information - a phrase with fewer connotations perhaps.

Ultimately open data is simply about sharing, allowing others to use and derive benefits from the data we hold. The benefits are there for those who provide services, use services, or create services. Once the data has been processed and presented in an accessible and useable way, service providers can often make better use of data than the so-called data wonks who generated or opened up the data in the first place.

Many people involved in providing public services deal with data on a daily basis, but do not really appreciate the value of what they create. Many involved in providing public services who generate and work with data are not appreciated as the co-creators of something that can have huge value in the delivery of better services. 

My research shows how disparate the approaches of local government are in engaging with an open data policy. It also shows how difficult it is to digest all the 'talk' about the possibilities that potentially 'opening up' can bring, and the issues surrounding an 'Open by Default' policy. No wonder! The 'talk' ranges from the monetary value of potential growth, new business, applications, innovations and efficiencies, (which is measured in £ billions) to citizen empowerment, transparent government and the war against corruption.

At the same time there are difficult 'issues' around opening up, including data standards, public sector procurement, the rights of the individual, privacy and misuse.

A daunting list of issues to get to grips with and far from exhaustive. My head is spinning even though I chose to involve myself in the world of open data. For many in public services, "data" has been tagged onto their role because their job was thought to be a good fit, or because the powers that be decided open data sat comfortably within their department.

It is easy as an enthusiast to get carried away, to become too techie or too enthusiastic an evangelist. For an 'Open by Default' policy to have any chance of working, to become mainstream, it is important that the word data is demystified and made a great deal less scary.

My first task, with these columns, will be to hopefully reduce the terror factor of the "D" word and only then begin to dig further into the whole 'thing' called open data.


Open by Default - G8 charter
Digital by Default - Mark Fenna
Information Daily - Data Wonks

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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