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Open Data For Sale: Not A Bad Idea

by Andrea Di Maio  |  January 21, 2011  |  7 Comments

On January 12 the UK government announced plans for the creation of a Public Data Corporation. which would “bring together Government bodies and data into one organisation and provide an unprecedented level of easily accessible public information and drive further efficiency in the delivery of public services”.

In describing the case for its creation, the Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said that

“A Public Data Corporation will bring benefits in three areas. Firstly and most importantly it will allow us to make data freely available, and where charging for data is appropriate to do so on a consistent basis.  It will be a centre where developers, businesses and members of the public can access data and use it to develop internet applications, inform their business decisions or identify ways to run public services more efficiently. Some of this work is already taking place but there is huge potential to do more.  Secondly, it will be a centre of excellence where expertise in collecting, managing, storing and distributing data can be brought together. This will enable substantial operational synergies. Thirdly, it can be a vehicle which will attract private investment.”

Although there is some skepticism around this new entity and what it would accomplish, I have to admit that the idea is intriguing.

Open data creates the same ambiguity we have seen in the past around open source. “Open” does not mean “free”, and putting a reasonable price tag on certain data sets to ensure their quality and trustworthiness is not wrong in principle. After all, apart from few examples, have we seen extraordinary results from the wealth of open (and free) data made available in the US, in the UK and other jurisdictions?

When I play the cynical, I always get comments reminding me that change in the public sector takes time. Well, but how long will it take before people, developers, politicians get bored with trying to prove the value of open data and give up?

In my criticism of the US Open Government Directive I have said many times that there are little incentives for agencies to open data that is really mission-critical to them. On the other hand, in absence of other motivations, why not money? Why not exploring the human aspiration to make money, why not putting greed at the service of open government?

It might sound counterintuitive, but it is not. Open government needs fuel to sustain itself, to cover its costs, to gain time to prove its value. As the Latins said, “pecunia non olet”, money has no smell. If a Public Data Corporation can finally help open government take off rather than slide into oblivion, so be it.

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Category: open-government-data  

Tags: government-20  uk  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
19 years at Gartner
33 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies, open government, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Open Data For Sale: Not A Bad Idea

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jovi Umawing, Kevin Novak, Andrea DiMaio, open3, eGobSocial and others. eGobSocial said: RT @AndreaDiMaio: Open Data For Sale: Not A Bad Idea – #gov20 #opengov […]

  2. So why not take a page from the open source “dual licensing” model playbook; from this new quasi-public corporation – provide the data massaged to suit the paying customers hands-held needs, and provide access to the full raw data at no charge, bring your own sorting bins and divining rods.

    Deb Bryant

  3. Interesting suggestion. We already have the Association of Public Data Users – – which I have participated in and it has an upcoming activity with the Census Bureau – really already our Public Data Corporation!

    My 30+ years of federal government experience suggests the key is to empower government employees to require contractors to deliver the databases produced at government expense in a reusable form and to do ongoing analyses of them to support fact-based decision-making.

    In my past year of federal service, i got encouragement from the EPA Administrator’s Office for doing Data Science and I created a series of data science products – see – which I found recently are of real interest to our Team.

    In my most recent posting – see Build Your Own GEO Viewer in the Cloud – I encourage individual government employees and their contractors to move forward with “doing their own cloud IT” on projects like the Geospatial Platform which already have considerable data and IT investments and not wait for yet another software tool or platform to be built – see

    We have to start doing more work with the data we already have and enable those already working at government expense to do that!

  4. […] Data For Sale: Not A Bad Idea El Gobierno de UK decidió crear la Public Data Corp, para empezar a comercializar diferentes […]

  5. Alorza says:

    Well, this is a extraordinary claim which is needing extraodinary evidences…

  6. Andy Mabbett says:

    “Open” does not mean “free”

    In this context; yes, it does.

  7. @Andy – Can you elaborate? This sounds like the very early claims around open source

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