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Great News for Open Government Data in the UK

March 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

Today, in a speech on “Building Britain’s Digital Future”, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced wide-ranging plans to open up UK government data. In addition to a general promise to extend the existing commitments to “make public data public” the PM announced:

  • The opening up of a large and important set of transport data (the NaPTAN dataset) — this was one of the government datasets listed as ‘important but unavailable’ at our Workshop on Finding and Re-using Public Information back in November 2008!
  • A commitment to open up a significant amount of Ordnance Survey data from the 1st April (though details of which datasets not yet specified)
  • By the Autumn an online e-”domesday” book giving “an inventory of all non-personal datasets held by departments and arms-length bodies
  • A new “institute” for web science headed by Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt and with an initial £30m in funding

This is great news and it is wonderful to see support at such a key political level for this kind of open data approach — an approach that the Open Knowledge Foundation has long been advocating (most recently here and here).

More detailed excerpts (with emphasis added)

Opening up data

In January we launched data.gov.uk, a single, easy-to-use website to access public data [ed: data.gov.uk catalogue is powered by the Open Knowledge Foundation's CKAN software]. And even in the short space of time since then, the interest this initiative has attracted – globally – has been very striking. The site already has more than three thousand data sets available – and more are being added all the time. And in the past month the Office for National Statistics has opened up access for web developers to over two billion data items right down to local neighbourhood level.

The Department for Transport and the transport industry are today making available the core reference datasets that contain the precise names and co-ordinates of all 350 thousand bus stops, railway stations and airports in Britain.

Public transport timetables and real-time running information is currently owned by the operating companies. But we will work to free it up – and from today we will make it a condition of future franchises that this data will be made freely available.

And following the strong support in our recent consultation, I can confirm that from 1st April, we will be making a substantial package of information held by ordnance survey freely available to the public, without restrictions on re-use. Further details on the package and government’s response to the consultation will be published by the end of March.

e-Domesday Book

And I can also tell you today that in the autumn the Government will publish online an inventory of all non-personal datasets held by departments and arms-length bodies – a “domesday book” for the 21st century.

The programme will be managed by the National Archives and it will be overseen by a new open data board which will report on the first edition of the new domesday book by April next year. The Government will then produce its detailed proposals including how this work can be extended to the wider public sector.

To inform the continuing development of making public data public, the National Archives will produce a consultation paper on a definition of the “public task” for public data, to be published later this year.

The new domesday book will for the first time allow the public to access in one place information on each set of data including its size, source, format, content, timeliness, cost and quality. And there will be an expectation that departments will release each of these datasets, or account publicly for why they are not doing so.

Any business or individual will be free to embed this public data in their own websites, and to use it in creative ways within their own applications.

Mygov

So our goal is to replace this first generation of e-government with a much more interactive second generation form of digital engagement which we are calling Mygov.

Companies that use technology to interact with their users are positioning themselves for the future, and government must do likewise. Mygov marks the end of the one-size-fits-all, man-from-the-ministry-knows-best approach to public services.

Mygov will constitute a radical new model for how public services will be delivered and for how citizens engage with government – making interaction with government as easy as internet banking or online shopping. This open, personalised platform will allow us to deliver universal services that are also tailored to the needs of each individual; to move from top-down, monolithic websites broadcasting public service information in the hope that the people who need help will find it – to government on demand.

And rather than civil servants being the sole authors and editors, we will unleash data and content to the community to turn into applications that meet genuine needs. This does not require large-scale government IT Infrastructure; the ‘open source’ technology that will make it happen is freely available. All that is required is the will and willingness of the centre to give up control.

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