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Why Government Should Care Less About Open Data and More About Data

By Andrea Di Maio | October 22, 2012 | 3 Comments

open government data

Among the flurry of activities and deja-vu around open data that governments worldwide, in all tiers are pursuing to increase transparency and fuel a data economy, I found something really worth reading in a report that was recently published by the Danish government.

Good Basic Data for Everyone – A Driver for Growth and Efficiency” takes a different spin than many others by saying that:

Basic data is the core information authorities use in their day-to-day case processing. Basic data is e.g. data on individuals, businesses, properties, , addresses and geography. This information, called basic data, is reused throughout the public sector. Reuse of high-quality data is an essential basis for public authorities to perform their tasks properly and efficiently. Basic data can include personal data.

While most of the categories are open data, the novelty is that for the first time personal and open data is seen for what it is, i.e. data. The document suggests the development of a Data Distributor, which would be responsible for conveying data from different data to its consumers, both inside and outside government. The document also assumes that personal data may be ultimately distributed via a common public-sector data distributor.

Besides what is actually written in the document, this opens the door for a much needed shift from service orientation to data orientation in government service delivery. Stating that data must flow freely across organizational boundaries, irrespective of the type of data (and of course within appropriate policy constraints) is hugely important to lay the foundations for effective integration of services and processes across agencies, jurisdictions, tiers and constituencies.

Combining this with some premises of the US Digital Strategy, which highlights an information layer distinct from a platform layer, which is in turn distinct from a presentation layer, one starts seeing a move toward the centrality of data, which may finally emerge to the emergence of citizen data stores that would put control of service access and integration in the hand of individuals.

Although this is a long-term shift, it may completely redefine how a new generation of government systems and services will be designed. The assumption has always been that government “owns” the data, even when it is of a personal nature, and it can be accessed by citizens only through citizen services. But what if the perspective is completely flipped on its head, and we apply the same principles of open data to any data? Like the public has the right to access any open data, so does an individual have the right to access his or her personal data. Then, why should government store that data, rather than a copy thereof, while the “original” (whatever this means in the digital space) is stored where the citizen wants. It could be a bank, a post office, a trusted social media platforms.

Applying the principles of data democratization to something else than just open data, government organizations might find themselves being consumers rather than owners or providers of personal data. They should access the data they need through services that are chosen by citizens themselves, and citizens may have a rather granular control of whether and how data can be shared across agencies.

Of course this takes time and much greater maturity both on the citizen and on the vendor size. Citizen data vaults are an embryonic market, with companies like Google and Microsoft having made a not terribly successful foray in the healthcare space, and smaller players like MyDex and QIY Foundation still at a pilot stage. On the other hand, the recent move by the UK government to consider the assurance of identity credential issued by multiple players opens the door to those players to enter the citizen vault market.

It is time for people to stop talking only about open data and focus on the broader implications of a data-oriented approach to government services and operations.

Comments are closed


  • Stacey Preet says:

    Well, if the thought of open data may create trouble then authority should avoid it for the better feedback. I don’t know too much about it so I’m not going to put any sensible thought but pleased to get your opinion about the importance of data. Thanks for the detail.

  • Ton Zijlstra says:

    The Danish plan, like what is already largely in place and functioning in the Netherlands, is to create a data ‘backbone’ for all public services, at least for those dozen or so data sets that get used time and again by many different public sector bodies, and for which they now create their own datasets.

    This allows efficiency (no double data sets, reduction of transactions costs between PSBs), better service (‘no wrong door’ and ‘provide data only once’ for citizens, e.g. no need to provide address info time and again), and growth through re-use.

    The ‘basic registries’ idea works with as well as without openness of data for the public. In the case of Denmark the notion it is useful for re-use as well, did shore up the resolve to do this. In the Netherlands it was not immediately part of the earliest plans for basic registries, but is now.

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