Smarter Government seminar by Downing Street on Flickr

This morning UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced plans to open up lots more UK Government data! His speech describes plans to put much more detailed information online under open licenses in 2010.

This includes:

  • public services performance data – including on crime, hospitals and schools
  • new transport data
  • geospatial data from Ordnance survey (as we recently blogged about)

We are very pleased that it looks like the new datasets will be:

  1. Released in raw form – as OKF Director Rufus Pollock first blogged about two year ago last month, and alluded to by Sir Tim Berners-Lee at TED.
  2. Released in a way which is compliant with the Open Knowledge Definition – i.e. free for anyone to use for any purpose, include commercial.

We’re also very proud that the new site, the official registry of UK Government open datasets, is powered by CKAN (as we announced a couple of months ago). If you’re interested in following the latest development about this as they happen, please join the official mailing list.

The new Putting the Frontline First: Smarter Government initiative gives further detail on how the new data will be published. In particular, section 1.3. Radically opening up data and promoting transparency, gives a set of “public data principles”, which are as follows:

‘Public data’ are ‘government-held non-personal data that are collected or generated in the course of public service delivery’.

Our public data principles state that:

  • Public data will be published in reusable, machine-readable form
  • Public data will be available and easy to find through a single easy to use online access point (
  • Public data will be published using open standards and following the recommendations of the World Wide Web Consortium
  • Any ‘raw’ dataset will be represented in linked data form
  • More public data will be released under an open licence which enables free reuse, including commercial reuse
  • Data underlying the Government’s own websites will be published in reusable form for others to use
  • Personal, classified, commercially sensitive and third-party data will continue to be protected.

This is fantastic news – and we’ve highlighted key parts of the Prime Minister’s speech below:

Information is the key. An informed citizen is a powerful citizen.

[…] We are determined to be among the first governments in the world to open up public information in a way that is far more accessible to the general public.

So I am grateful to Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt for leading a project to ‘make public data public’.

This has enormous potential. Already more than 1,000 active users of the internet have registered their interest in working with government on this, and we have so far made around 1,100 datasets accessible to them.

And there are many hundreds more that can be opened up – not only from central government but also from local councils, the NHS, police and education authorities.

[…] In this way people will no longer be passive recipients of services but, through dialogue and engagement, active participants – shaping, controlling and determining what is best for them.

And I can announce today that we will actively publish all public services performance data online during 2010 completing the process by 2011. Crime data, hospital costs and parts of the national pupil database will go on line in 2010. We will use this data to benchmark the best and the worst and drive better value for money.

It will have a direct effect on how we allocate resources. We will introduce next year NHS tariffs based on best practice on the ground not average price. And we will be benchmarking the whole of the prison and probation system by 2011.

And we will give our frontline services greater freedoms and flexibilities to respond innovatively to this data, reducing the number of ring fenced budgets, rationalising different central funding projects and joining-up capital funding within a local area.

Releasing data can and must unleash the innovation and entrepreneurship at which Britain excels – one of the most powerful forces of change we can harness.

When, for example, figures on London’s most dangerous roads for cyclists were published, an online map detailing where accidents happened was produced almost immediately to help cyclists avoid blackspots and reduce the numbers injured.

And after data on dentists went live, an iphone application was created to show people where the nearest surgery was to their current location.

And from April next year ordnance survey will open up information about administrative boundaries, postcode areas and mid-scale mapping.

All of this will be available for free commercial re-use, enabling people for the first time to take the material and easily turn it into applications, like fix my street or the postcode paper.

And I can further announce today that, again from next April, we will also release public transport data hitherto inaccessible or expensive and release significant underlying data for weather forecasts for free download and re-use.

We are currently working on a new project which will map open government data initiatives from around the world. We are also working on a guidance document for opening up government data, and starting a new working group on open government data to promote technical and legal standards, as well as to help document what open government data is out there. If you’re interested in any of this, we’d love to hear from you!

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Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at and he tweets at @jwyg.

12 thoughts on “UK Government announces lots of new open data!”

  1. Also on 3rd Dec the Ministry of Justice announced plans for info on court sanctions to be made public: Note in the guidance document (p.6) the strange rule that “As a general rule, information should be removed from websites after a month”. Perhaps OKFN could help with the standards here – so that we don’t get different formats from every local area?

  2. Francis: thanks for the pointer. As you say the guidance is a little odd (and perhaps someone needs to cache the information). Also agree that we don’t a plethora of different formats.

  3. Hah! I sure hope our government is listening (Canada). I think we have one of the worst data infrastructure in the all of the G8 nations.

    It’s as if they are scared of what the general public would do with such data…


    Get up to speed guys!

  4. @Francis Bacon – I guess it could be interpreted to mean we must keep updating content frequently enough to avoid outdated stuff being archived on a site that’ll be referenced and researched actively by many?

  5. Interesting concepts. More so because of the way you’ve adopted technological solutions to collate the data across wide geographic spreads. To think of ways we can adopt similar methods in our own databases. Will check back with you in the future to clear up some doubts. Thanks.

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