Unleashing the Potential - the UK Open Data White Paper

The British Government has just published Unleashing the Potential - the Open Data White Paper [PDF]. It is the culmination of a two-year programme to put transparency and participation at the centre of its strategy for public service reform. The White paper contains measures that embeds a 'presumption to publication' in tax-funded services and ensures easier access to public data. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, has made Open Data a top priority because of the evidence that this public asset can transform outcomes and effectiveness, as well as accountability. There is a good evidence base to support this - a famous example is how, in cardiac surgery, surgeons on both sides of the Atlantic have reduced the number of patient deaths through comparative analysis of their outcomes. Saving lives is clearly a moral imperative but fewer deaths also means lower costs and more effective healthcare. Another good example is the way in which many cities have used Open Data to improve the effectiveness of their commissioning of services like waste collection. McKinsey recently forecast the value of public data assets (in terms of improved productivity in public services and economic growth) in the EU at around 250bn euros per annum. The White Paper details dozens of examples in which entrepreneurs and public services are already extracting social and economic value from Open Data. So far the UK publishes around 9,000 data sets on data.gov.uk - relaunched in the White paper as a much more functional data extraction tool. But this is a just a start - the key lesson we have learned over the last two years is that Open Data only delivers impact when the quality of the asset is reliable enough. The White Paper contains a number of proposals to ensure that, in future, government departments comply with standards to ensure that data releases are all accessible, machine readable, re-useable and of an appropriate quality. Each department has now published its own Open Data Plan - these include key new information resources such as:

  • the percentage of pupils progressing to further learning, which will allow parents to judge the success of particular schools
  • GP performance in handling cancer cases, which will enable patients to compare survival rates between neighbouring practices
  • the percentage of people obtaining permanent employment through the government's Work Programme

Effective release of Open Data is not a simple requirement and often exposes long term problems in the integrity of public data collections. We are in the early adopting moments of the Open Data revolution and the first achievement of its pioneers will be to secure key improvements in quality and access. Once the data is cleaner, more liquid and reliable then we can, in my view, expect fast entrepreneurial and public service exploitation. In his remarks at the launch of the White Paper, Francis Maude, the minister for the Cabinet Office who leads on Open Data policy, said:

The prize is effective, personalised and 21st century democracy. It's a more prosperous United Kingdom where the public services on which we all rely are strengthened and improved.


Editor's note: below is Tim Kelsey's interview on Open Government during the OGP Brasilia 2012 meeting.

Tim Kelsey

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Authors: Tim Kelsey
Filed Under: Research