Open Data White Paper: Unleashing the Potential

June 27, 2012

On 28 June the Cabinet Office published its Open Data command paper, which it describes as setting out ‘how we’re putting data and transparency at the heart of government and public services’.

The Cabinet Office claims its aim is to make it easier to access public data; easier for data publishers to release data in standardised, open formats; and engraining a ‘presumption to publish’ unless specific reasons (such as privacy or national security) can be clearly articulated.

The Prime Minister has long since expressed his commitment to open data and ‘central Government is committed to making Open Data an effective engine of economic growth, social wellbeing, political accountability and public service improvement’.

The Open Data Paper can be accessed here or downloaded from the panel opposite. 

In his introduction to the paper, Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, states:

Data is the 21st century’s new raw material. Its value is in holding governments to account; in driving choice and improvements in public services; and in inspiring innovation and enterprise that spurs social and economic growth.

In the last 20 years the world has opened up and citizens across the globe are proclaiming their right to data; this White Paper sets out how we intend to use that energy to unlock the potential of Open Data and for the first time the technology exists to make the demand for greater openness irresistible. We are at the start of a global movement towards transparency – and the UK is leading the world in making data more freely available. We are currently co-chairing the Open Government Partnership of 55 governments; the theme of our chairmanship is ‘Transparency Drives Prosperity’ – demonstrating the value of open governance to economic growth, inclusive development and improved citizen engagement and empowerment.

Transparency is at the heart of our agenda for government. We believe that opening up will empower citizens, foster innovation and reform public services. The regular publication of government spending is holding our feet to the fire all year round, not just at election time. We’re creating an information marketplace for entrepreneurs and businesses; releasing valuable raw data from real-time transport information to weather data. Opening up data is underpinning our public service reforms by offering people informed choices that simply haven’t existed before, exposing what is inadequate and driving improvement. So far we’ve released almost 9,000 datasets on our flagship data portal that cover health, education, transport, crime and justice. People can scrutinise local crime statistics, sentencing rates, school results, hospital infection rates and GP outcomes.

The transparency story by no means ends here. Today we’re at a pivotal moment – where we consider the rules and ways of working in a data?rich world and how we can use this resource effectively, creatively and responsibly. This White Paper sets out clearly how the UK will continue to unlock and seize the benefits of data sharing in the future in a responsible way.

First, to ensure that there are no inequalities in the data market we will enhance access to data. We are unflinching in our belief that data that can be published should be published. As well as continuing to produce statutory publication schemes under the Freedom of Information Act, all departments have now published their first ever Open Data Strategies which include commitments to publish more data. People’s rights to access data have been strengthened in legislation, vehicles for redress will also be enhanced and standards for higher data usability introduced.

Second, we will build greater trust in public data. The success of the information marketplace hinges on our ability to safeguard people’s data from misuse and rigorously protect the public’s right to privacy. We will ensure that privacy is not considered as an afterthought but at the beginning of all discussions concerning the release of a new dataset. We will ensure that we keep pace with the latest technology so anonymised datasets remain anonymised and personal data remains personal.

Third, to ensure that our public services are more personalised and efficient in the future we must be much smarter with the data public bodies hold.
In the past the public sector has not been clever
or effective at sharing key data. We are determined to shift the culture of the public sector to improve data sharing where it is in the public interest and within legislative boundaries, and we will use the latest technology to deliver this.

There is nothing easy about transparency. The formative years of open government will be tricky, difficult and uncomfortable at times. But the prize is effective, personalised, 21st-century democracy. It’s a more prosperous United Kingdom where the public services on which we all rely are strengthened and improved. We are determined to ensure that all of us can reap the benefits of transparency and data sharing in the future.
The future will be Open.