UK Guest Blog for Canadian Government Data Portal

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by Paul Maltby (Guest Blogger)

Transparency – an idea whose time has come

As UK Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has said, transparency is a powerful idea whose time has come.

Advances in technology and communications, and rising public expectations have created a situation where being transparent is not just a matter of “we can,” but “we should” – more open government is more efficient government, more accountable and more responsive to the needs of citizens.

Open data has a huge role to play, and governments have an unmissable opportunity to feed the appetite for this 21st century raw material.

Over the next decade, data will change the way we live, work and think. Apps based on real-time transport data, showing when your train or bus is arriving, are now commonplace; data on the performance of schools and doctors are enhancing citizen voice and choice in public services. Just last week, Francis Maude announced an extension of the Family and Friends Test across the National Health Service (NHS) and into other public services, allowing people to give feedback on their experience.

The possibilities are endless. Using freely available map data from OS OpenData, a team at mapping authority Ordnance Survey created a map of Great Britain for the Minecraft computer game, demonstrating the educational potential of this data.

The UK Government wants to be the most transparent in the world. We can legitimately claim to be a leader in open data, with over 10,000 datasets at http://www.data.gov.uk/.

But it’s not enough simply to release data – it must be accessible and easy to use and share. The sheer volume of data we hold also means we must prioritise what is going to be of greatest value. That is why we have been consulting with citizens, businesses and civil society to identify the core data for our National Information Infrastructure, and ensure its availability to developers and entrepreneurs to build information-led businesses and stimulate economic growth.

With international partners, including Canada, we are part of a global movement supporting the transformational impact of transparency and open government. This took a huge step forward at June’s G8 summit in Northern Ireland – all member states signed an Open Data Charter for making their data as widely accessible as possible, in a format useable by all, and establishing an expectation that all government data be published openly by default.

The UK and Canada are also participants in the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a worldwide initiative – now involving 60 countries – to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies.

The recent joint UK-Canada Google Hangout on open data underlines our commitment to making our own governments more transparent and accountable. We will both be publishing OGP National Action Plans in support of the Open Data Charter. We also want to work together to extend the release and use of open data – including adoption of the G8 Charter by more countries, and greater public sector engagement  to foster innovation and growth.

The theme of open data will run through the OGP annual summit, which the UK is hosting in a few weeks. The event will bring together world leaders and civil society representatives to share success stories, check that previous transparency promises are being kept, and set ambitious new commitments on openness.

The international collaboration, sharing of best practice and open scrutiny of governments’ progress against commitments that the OGP enables are crucial to embedding transparency as a credible force for change.

Events like the Hangout with Minister Clement are valuable opportunities to spread the word of transparency and open data, and draw in ideas and insight from far and wide. I hope it’s the first of many.

Paul Maltby, Director of Open Data and Government Innovation, UK Cabinet Office

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