It’s been an interesting few weeks for Open Data in the UK, first the launch of London’s data store, and then, with much fanfare, the unveiling of data.gov.uk. Overall, this is a pretty good time to be a data activist.
But whilst the increasing exposure is beginning to help some people "get it" it sees we are approaching the "end of the beginning" for open data in government, but we are struggling to see where we go from here.
Data.gov.uk is a fantastic achievement and could perhaps be one of the most significant turning points in our relationship as citizens with the state, however it is currently not much more than an experiment – simply, proof that it can be done.
Against the context of the full potential that data.gov.uk offers, the current solution is neither sustainable nor scalable – and both points are well understood by the team that created it. Their challenge now is to take the fantastic work they have done and turn it into something that has it’s own momentum within both government and our society.
The technology side of this story is the easy part, making the platform scalable and sustainable is relatively straightforward and there are many (both within and outside government) that can help with that. The real challenge (and this will be no surprise) is how we change the culture of both ourselves and the government to a) openly share what should be shared, b) consume the data with respect and responsibility.
This is no easy task, but I do think there are some relatively simple steps that we can all take to help ease this journey.
- More real examples
Now, more than ever, we need to continue to show shining examples of the power of open data, Sir Tim Berners Lee has made an open appeal for examples – if you have one, he’d like to hear from you. If possible, we need them to come from more than just the "data activist" community, an excellent bunch of people who have already invested so much time and energy just to get us this far but need our support to take the crusade even further.
- Open by design
Those of us engaged in providing technology solutions in the Public Sector need to start building in the principles of open data into everything we do, all of our solutions need to at least consider how the data (where appropriate) would be made public and the linkage with data.gov.uk could be made.
- Learn from others
The public sector is not the only group grappling with opening up data in this way. There is much we can learn from others (both within IT and outside), we should be seeking to share our experiences for greater collective achievement.
- Bridging the cultural chasm
Last but by no means least, we need to be pushing the relevance of sharing data in this way to everyone, there is a big cultural void that we need to span (between those that get it, and those that don’t) it is up to us to create the link, and plant the seed of change across every aspect of our relationship with our government.
These four things alone will not make for an open government but if we are able to work together to drive these core messages, I think we can go a long way to making this a scalable, sustainable part of our relationship with the state.