Alongside unresolved tussles over Syria and taxation one major outcome of the G8 conference was the signing of the Open Data Charter: five principles to ensure that government data is made freely available in an effort to spur both transparency and innovation.
The government has described it as “a huge step forward” with Nick Clegg stating in his closing speech at the G8 event that “open is the new normal.”
The charter states that open data sits at the heart of the global technological revolution and that “providing access to government data can empower individuals, the media, civil society, and business.”
The five principles of open data to be implemented by the G8 countries – “while working without our national political and legal frameworks” – have been given as:
- Open Data by Default
- Quality and Quantity
- Useable by All
- Releasing Data for Improved Governance
- Releasing Data for Innovation
The first principle is meant “in the widest sense possible”, with the data to be made public to be found at all levels of governance – whether national or local whilst the “Quality and Quantity” stipulation states that the information must be given in “plan, clear language, so that it can be understood by all”.
By “Useable by All” the charter states that data should be released without “registration requirements” or “administrative barriers” and in “open formats wherever possible”. The last two principles outline how the charter hopes the data will be used – so that it “strengthens our democratic institutions” as well as generates “social and economic benefits”.
Writing in the Telegraph, Professor Nigel Shadbolt (the co-founder of the UK’s Open Data Institute – the ODI) praised the charter, saying: “Quite simply open data is an enabler of freedom. Our freedom to trade, to learn, to be secure, and to our well-being as individuals, organisations, and as countries.”
Shadbolt also praised the open data revolution for helping to “untangle the corporate web” and allowing “citizens [to] hold governments to account.” However, he also reminded readers that much work still remains if open data is to be fully utilized, comparing the situation to the early days of the internet, stating “this is only the beginning.”
The UK’s efforts regarding open data have so far been concentrated on Shadbolt’s ODI, an independent, non-profit and non-partisan company funded by the government and by philanthropic investment.
Successes spearheaded by the ODI so far have included Mastadon C, a big data company incubated at the ODI that identified over £200m of savings spent on ‘premium brand’ prescriptions in the NHS, and startups like Placr, a company that aims to create single source for UK transport information and recently received a £250,000 in funding.
The G8 Open Data Charter is certainly ambitious, but if nations adhere to its recommendations then there will be benefits for governments and citizens alike.
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