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United Kingdom

Involving data users in shaping the future of open data (UK0072)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: United Kingdom – Third National Action Plan 2016-18

Action Plan Cycle: 2016

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: Cabinet Office (Government Digital Service)

Support Institution(s): All government departments; mySociety, The Open Data Institute

Policy Areas

Capacity Building, E-Government, Open Data

IRM Review

IRM Report: United Kingdom End-of-Term Report 2016-2018, United Kingdom Mid-Term Report 2016-2018

Starred: No

Early Results: Marginal Marginal

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information Civic Participation , Technology

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

Objective: To engage widely with current and potential data users in the development of the Government Data Programme and government’s broader open data agenda, in order to ensure that our work meets users’ needs and that limited resources are focused on areas of highest priority.

Status quo: Effective menagement with users of government data – whether in the public sector, private sector or civil society – is essential to shaping the future of open data. It is also key to the success of the Government Data Programme and our ability to drive innovation, public service reform and transparency through the better use of data. Since our first OGP National Action Plan we have learned a huge amount through our engagement with data users. The feedback we have received has enabled government to prioritise its efforts to open up more data. We have built a clear understanding of the highestvalue datasets that are not yet freely and openly available, giving us a strong platform on which to continue to pursue greater open access where appropriate. And we have heard clearly from stakeholders that open data quality and reliability, not just quantity, is crucially important. This has helped us to develop a Government Data Programme to address the need for modernized data infrastructure and capability across government, driving better quality data for all users. We have opened up a huge range of government datasets, while strengthening citizens’ rights to request data in open and reusable format through amendments to the Freedom of Information Act and the introduction of the Re-use of Public Sector Information regulations. But we can be clearer and more proactive in raising awareness of the routes by which data access requests can be made available, and public bodies’ duties in responding to them.

Ambition: We need a wide range of engagement opportunities for users of government open data – and, crucially, those who currently do not use government data but stand to benefit from doing so. These will range from public events and speaking engagements, to online collaboration and subject-specific working groups. As government’s use of data develops and expands, this engagement will need to be active and ongoing, and must involve the full spectrum of holders and users of government data. We must also be open and transparent about the discussions we have held and the outcomes of those discussions.

IRM End of Term Status Summary

10. Involving data users in shaping the future of open data

Commitment text:We will ensure government's work to modernise and improve the management, use and availability of data assets is informed by active and wide-ranging collaboration with current and potential data users.

Objective: To engage widely with current and potential data users in the development of the Government Data Programme and government's broader open data agenda, in order to ensure that our work meets users' needs and that limited resources are focused on areas of highest priority.

Status quo: Effective engagement with users of government data – whether in the public sector, private sector or civil society – is essential to shaping the future of open data. It is also key to the success of the Government Data Programme and our ability to drive innovation, public service, reform and transparency through the better use of data.

Since our first OGP National Action Plan we have learned a huge amount through our engagement with data users. The feedback we have received has enabled government to prioritise its efforts to open up more data. We have built a clear understanding of the highest value datasets that are not yet freely and openly available, giving us a strong platform on which to continue to pursue greater open access where appropriate. And we have heard clearly from stakeholders that open data quality and reliability, not just quantity, is crucially important. This has helped us to develop a Government Data Programme to address the need for modernised data infrastructure and capability across government, driving better quality data for all users.

We have opened up a huge range of government datasets, while strengthening citizens' rights to request data in open and reusable format through amendments to the Freedom of Information Act and the introduction of the Re-use of Public Sector Information regulations. But we can be clearer and more proactive in raising awareness of the routes by which data access requests can be made available, and public bodies' duties in responding to them.

Ambition: We need a wide range of engagement opportunities for users of government open data – and, crucially, those who currently do not use government data but stand to benefit from doing so. These will range from public events and speaking engagements, to online collaboration and subject-specific working groups. As government's use of data develops and expands, this engagement will need to be active and on going, and must involve the full spectrum of holders and users of government data. We must also be open and transparent about the discussions we have held and the outcomes of those discussions.

Milestones:

1. Develop a strong, ongoing and collaborative conversation with data users across sectors and specialisms, particularly through working groups and meet-ups on specific aspects of the government data agenda, to inform and challenge the Government Data Programme

2. Ensure government policy and the Government Data Programme is informed and challenged by leading external thinkers through an active Data Steering Group

3. Develop our partnership with the Open Data Institute to help government connect with data businesses, innovators and civil society

4. Build cross-government engagement and leadership on data management and open data, and publish plans for departmental engagement with data users and new open data commitments, through a cross- government Data Leaders Network

5. Maintain active and wide-ranging engagement with civil society groups to ensure the Government Data Programme supports better data access and use for smaller civil society organisations

6. Maintain regular updates on the government's open data policies online through blog posts and social media - allowing users to interact with these policies as they develop and post suggestions for improvements

7. Explore further channels with which to engage users on open data issues, such as the Open Government Forum, Google Communities or Slack – these would have the advantage of real time discussion and problem solving, as well as a more direct link between government and data users

8. Engage with citizens, civil society, private and public sectors to develop an ethical framework for the use of data science techniques in government, including through public engagement events and an interactive online engagement tool

Responsible institution: Cabinet Office (Government Digital Service)

Supporting institutions: all government departments, mySociety, The Open Data Institute

Start date: May 2016

End date: June 2018

Commitment Aim:

This commitment aimed to improve and deepen engagement with civil society and expert networks in open data, given the sometimes-limited involvement by CSOs and limited means of doing so. Previous action plans had highlighted the need for wider involvement and suggested experimenting with new ideas. The commitment included using a series of pre-established bodies to monitor and review activity, as well as activities to extend and innovate on how government and civil society interact.

Status

Midterm: Limited

At the end of the first year of implementation, the government continuously engaged with data users in various ways.[Note 93: Cabinet Office, Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18: July 2017 Commitment Progress Updates (commitment update for July 2017) pre-publication passed to author. ] These included attending events at the London Open Data Institute and interacting with user requests made via the data.gov.uk portal.[Note 94: Open Data Institute ‘Events', https://theodi.org/events.] The UK government also co-sponsored the fourth Open Data Camp in Cardiff in February 2017.[Note 95: Data Blog, Gov.uk ‘Looking Forward to Open Data Camp 2017, https://data.blog.gov.uk/2017/02/20/looking-forward-to-open-data-camp-2017/ ] There had also been continuous informal interaction through the Cabinet Office and through other departments.[Note 96: Interview with Thom Townsend and William Gerry, Cabinet Office, 14 September 2017; Cabinet Office ‘Open Government Partnership National Action Plan 2016-18: Mid-term Self Assessment Report' (UK government report September 2017) passed to author pre-publication. ]

Parts of the commitment were incomplete or delayed. The Data Steering Group met every three months until September 2016.[Note 97: Gov.uk, ‘Data Steering Group', https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/data-steering-group ] The Data Leaders Network met monthly, though meetings were not listed.[Note 98: Interview with Thom Townsend and William Gerry, Cabinet Office, 14 September 2017.] The government has experimented with new channels and used ‘Open Knowledge Forums during the exercise to create the Global Open Data Index'. It has also experimented with a cross-government Slack channel and Google group, as well as continuing regular internal meet-ups of its data community.[Note 99: Government Data Service Technology Blog, ‘Technology at GDS: Join The Conversation', https://gdstechnology.blog.gov.uk/join-the-conversation/, and UK Government Digital ‘Slack Channel', ukgovernmentdigital.slack.com; Interview with Thom Townsend and William Gerry, Cabinet Office, 14 September 2017.] Some CSOs felt the interaction was not as full as it could have been online.[Note 100: Cabinet Office, Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18: July 2017 Commitment Progress Updates (commitment update for July 2017) pre-publication passed to author. ]

In June 2017, it was reported the UK government was clamping down on Slack use by officials over fear of FOIs opening them up or leaks, which may inhibit use.[Note 101: Civil Service World, ‘Not picking up the Slack: Whitehall instant messaging clampdown reveals lack of trust in civil servants', https://www.civilserviceworld.com/articles/opinion/not-picking-slack-whitehall-instant-messaging-clampdown-reveals-lack-trust-civil ] In May 2016, the government launched the first version of its Data Science Ethical Framework “intended to give civil servants guidance on conducting data science projects [work with data using scientific approaches], and the confidence to innovate with data”.[Note 102: Cabinet Office, ‘Guidance: Data Science Ethical Framework, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/data-science-ethical-framework, and Cabinet Office, ‘Speech Data Science Ethical Framework launch: Matt Hancock speech', https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/data-science-ethical-framework-launch-matt-hancock-speech ] It called on civil society and experts to help develop it but there has been no sign of any further activity since.

End of Term: Substantial

There have been a number of moves forward in several areas that mean the commitment is now substantially implemented. Informal activities continued with a series of data user related activities, blogs and steering group meetings, including one joint meeting with data leaders and ‘working with academics, civil society and the wider industry'.[Note 103: UK government (2018), 2016-18 Open Government Action Plan: April 2018 Commitment Progress Updates, https://www.opengovernment.org.uk/resource/2016-18-open-government-action-plan-april-2018-commitment-progress-updates/; UK government (2017), Updating the data science ethics framework, https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2017/11/27/updating-the-data-science-ethical-framework/],[Note 104: Interview with Katie Holder and Thom Townsend, DCMS, 8 August 2018.] Most importantly in the final phase, a new data ethics framework was published in June 2018. According to the Minister responsible, the new version focused on the need for co-operation across specialisms.[Note 105: DCMS (2018), Guidance: Data Ethics Framework, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/data-ethics-framework/data-ethics-framework]

The new framework is intended to ‘help policy and practitioners better understand the core ethical expectations for public sector data science projects, and to tailor their offerings appropriately'. It is intended to set out ‘ethical principles' while providing guidance and acting as ‘a workbook'.

Did It Open Government?
Access to Information: Marginal
Civic Participation: Marginal

The commitment has certainly succeeded in increasing CSO and expert engagement. In terms of access to information, the continued work improving the quality and consistency of statistics, as well as pushing organisational changes such as ‘Reproducible Analytical Pipeline'(which allows for easy production and reproduction of statistics), made for more open and systematic data. The publicising of the government work with data and design of the two versions of the ethical framework may have encouraged innovation across government but the IRM found no evidence of its effect. Given some feeling among CSOs that there could have been more engagement, and some of the limitations, it is listed as marginal.

Carried Forward?

This commitment will continue outside of action plan into 2019 and beyond.


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