Blog post

The UK Joins the Open Government Data Train

By Andrea Di Maio | January 21, 2010 | 0 Comments

open government data

As anticipated in its report Putting the Front Line First: Smarter Government (see earlier blog post), the UK government has officially launched its open data repository data.gov.uk.

Early comments (see here) are positive, when comparing this to its US counterpart Data.gov, which has fewer data sets than the UK one, although it has been in operation for several months now.

As I do not judge success by numbers but by impact, I cannot really say whether the British version is really better. For instance, the format in which data is available is much more evident in the US site than in the British one, and in both cases data sets are listed alphabetically, which does not make finding those one needs very easy.

To be fair, the UK government has been working on this for a long time. The Power of Information report and the ensuing Taskforce, as well as the engagement of a high caliber like Sir Tim Berners-Lee witness the aspiration of making this right.

Data.gov.uk does not change my position about the fact that this is only one component of an open government strategy. There are at least three additional elements that will concur to the success of this initiative:

  • Understanding that government data is only one part of public information that is available to people and that it is important to put it in the broader context of how people use and trust information. How will open government data relate to data collected by virtual communities in social networks? Will government use that external data and how?
  • Understanding who is using government data sets, for what purpose and what value they add as well as what risks they pose. What if open government data is misused by mashing it up with wrong or intentionally inaccurate data?
  • Articulating how to more actively engage employees in the open government data process and the development of innovative applications and processes that use that data. Will government allow employees to participate in communities on external social networks that use open government data? Will they be rewarded by spending time developing a mash-up with consumer tools to prove the value of publishing an additional data set?

It is too early to say whether the UK government will address these while growing data.gov.uk. But this is where one should look for the seeds of sustainable success of this important initiative.

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