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Open Government: the raw material of the 21st century

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Francis Maude, the UK Government’s Cabinet Office Minister gave a speech for the first anniversary of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) at a conference this morning organised by the think tank Reform. Using its status as the lead chair of the Partnership, the UK is calling on the media to work with civil society and international experts to scrutinise governments using the new Independent Reporting Mechanism. Described by Francis Maude as ‘the raw material of the 21st century’, Open Government is increasingly becoming a favoured buzzword among both private and governmental circles. 

Following the publication of the Open Public Services White Paper in 2010, the UK Government has put Open Data at the centre of its policy framework, with Francis Maude at its spearhead. Over the last two years, the UK Government has committed to making more and more data freely available with their data.gov.uk web portal now the largest data resource in the world, as a home to over 40,000 data files. The Minister said that while it is the responsibility of governments to keep pushing public data out, it is for others to determine how that data should be used:

“There’s every reason for governments to sign up to transparency. The danger is that they sign up to it on their own terms, reneging on commitments when it suits them. The key priority for the UK is to establish an Independent Reporting Mechanism to allow civil society groups and international experts to scrutinise OGP members. The media – abroad as much as here – has a unique role. Journalists everywhere need to engage with this data to expose waste, incompetence and corruption wherever they see it. That’s why I’m issuing a call to arms to the media the world over to hold the feet of government officials and ministers like me squarely against the fire. I don’t have any doubt that giving our Press a lot of data to pore over will at times be uncomfortable for us in Government. But that’s the whole point. A closed door culture encourages complacency at best and at worst corruption.”

In their role of ‘senior’ co-chair of the OGP, alongside ‘junior’ co-chair Indonesia, (a role which they occupy until September 2013), the UK has partnered its drive for greater international transparency with its pursuit of the post-Millennium Development Goals. In doing so, the Cabinet Office has developed a guide for other countries and administrations to build equivalent data portals using the open source code from data.gov.uk. In his speech this morning, Maude added that the value of OGP lies in supporting domestic citizens to obtain data from their govts. To allow this to happen, he said OGP “needs to have the teeth” to ensure governments deliver on their action plans. The UK’s vision for its year as lead chairman can be viewed in full at http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk