On Friday the data.gov.uk team announced the first meeting of a new Public Sector Transparency Board:
The Board will drive forward the Government’s transparency agenda, making it a core part of all government business and ensuring that all Whitehall departments meet the new tight deadlines set for releasing key public datasets. In addition, it is responsible for setting open data standards across the whole public sector, listening to what the public wants and then driving through the opening up of the most needed data sets.
Chaired by Francis Maude, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, the other members of the Transparency Board are Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, Professor Nigel Shadbolt from Southampton University, an expert on open data, Tom Steinberg, founder of mySociety, and Dr Rufus Pollock from Cambridge University, an economist who helped found the Open Knowledge Foundation.
They also released a new set of principles for public data, building on those announced by the previous government in December 2009:
- Public data policy and practice will be clearly driven by the public and businesses who want and use the data, including what data is released when and in what form – and in addition to the legal Right To Data itself this overriding principle should apply to the implementation of all the other principles.
- Public data will be published in reusable, machine-readable form – publication alone is only part of transparency – the data needs to be reusable, and to make it reusable it needs to be machine-readable. At the moment a lot of Government information is locked into PDFs or other unprocessable formats.
- Public data will be released under the same open licence which enables free reuse, including commercial reuse – all data should be under the same easy to understand licence. Data released under the Freedom of Information Act or the new Right to Data should be automatically released under that licence.
- Public data will be available and easy to find through a single easy to use online access point (data.gov.uk) – the public sector has a myriad of different websites, and search does not work well across them. It’s important to have a well-known single point where people can find the data.
- Public data will be published using open standards, and following relevant recommendations of the World Wide Web Consortium. Open, standardised formats are essential. However to increase reusability and the ability to compare data it also means openness and standardisation of the content as well as the format.
- Public data underlying the Government’s own websites will be published in reusable form for others to use – anything published on Government websites should be available as data for others to reuse. Public bodies should not require people to come to their websites to obtain information.
- Public data will be timely and fine grained – Data will be released as quickly as possible after its collection and in as fine a detail as is possible. Speed may mean that the first release may have inaccuracies; more accurate versions will be released when available.
- Release data quickly, and then re-publish it in linked data form – Linked data standards allow the most powerful and easiest re-use of data. However most existing internal public sector data is not in linked data form. Rather than delay any release of the data, our recommendation is to release it ‘as is’ as soon as possible, and then work to convert it to a better format.
- Public data will be freely available to use in any lawful way – raw public data should be available without registration, although for API-based services a developer key may be needed. Applications should be able to use the data in any lawful way without having to inform or obtain the permission of the public body concerned.
- Public bodies should actively encourage the re-use of their public data – in addition to publishing the data itself, public bodies should provide information and support to enable it to be reused easily and effectively. The Government should also encourage and assist those using public data to share knowledge and applications, and should work with business to help grow new, innovative uses of data and to generate economic benefit.
- Public bodies should maintain and publish inventories of their data holdings – accurate and up-to-date records of data collected and held, including their format, accuracy and availability.
The government are encouraging people to comment on the principles, and have put a copy on the data.gov.uk wiki.
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 jonathangray.org and he tweets at @jwyg.