Three ways for public leaders to seize Stephan Shakespeare’s open data ideas

May 16, 2013

Stephan Shakespeare’s independent review of public sector information marks an important milestone in UK open data policy.

At the heart of its recommendations is a call for the government to develop and commit itself to an explicit national data strategy, pulling together all the threads of public sector information into a single, coherent, plan for growth. If we get this right then the potential payoff is huge (the market assessment published alongside the review estimates the current value of public sector information is already over £7bn). Six years after the power of information review, and three years after this government set about shining a light into the corridors of power, open data policy will finally have come of age.

With a national data strategy as its anchor, the review goes on to make a number of important recommendations on security, investment, skills and more. It should be read in full by anyone interested in how Britain can come out ahead in the next round of the digital revolution.

It falls to government to take the next step. It is not unknown for independent reviews to disappear somewhere in the long grass of Whitehall courtyards. But if there was ever a time to double down and turn open data rhetoric into action, then this must surely be it. This government, more than any other before it, has earned the right to take open data policy beyond accountability. As ever more countries follow our lead, ministers must not shy away from unlocking the vast economic opportunity before us.

There are three ways forward.

Give the proposed national data strategy real teeth

Last week President Obama signed an Executive Order on open data, making open and machine-readable data the new default for US government information. Professor Nigel Shadbolt has called for a legal duty on public bodies, along with a power to designate URIs for core data. The first pledge in the first chapter of the 2010 Conservative Technology Manifesto said “we will create a powerful new right to government data”. Done right, the national data strategy can put this beyond doubt.

Unlock core reference data in its entirety

Although just one part of a much bigger picture, this means resolving once-and-for-all what the government will do about data it currently charges people to access. Many commentators, Policy Exchange included, have argued for the trading funds to be reformed and their commercial activities spun out. Getting there may well require patience and a dose of pragmatism, but signing up to this direction of travel would send a clear signal to those who doubt the strength of the government’s resolve. As David Eaves notes, an important part of the value of open data will be in the creative destruction it fosters.

Invest in skills and capabilities

The decisions we take today will shape the economy for decades to come. If we are serious about wanting our children to prosper and our data to power the next generation of world-beating businesses, then we need to equip ourselves to compete. Serious quantitative and computer science skills are central to this, but broader STEM education, creativity and entrepreneurialism are all part of the mix.

Later this year, Policy Exchange will publish a major study exploring how technology, data and the internet will transform government in the years ahead. In the meantime, we must not underestimate the urgency of turning Stephan’s recommendations into action. Hesitate now and any number of countries are poised to leap past us. Act decisively and the opportunity for a better future is limitless.

See the full article on The Guardian’s website

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