Open Data and the new Labour Government

The day before Open Data Camp 9, the UK government changed. Kier Starmer’s Labour Party swept to power in a landslide. So, what’s the new government’s attitude to open data going to be — and what do we think they should do?

Some people did a search of the Labour manifesto for “data”. It’s mentioned five times, three of them in the same paragraph. They do mention a “data library” — what will that be, and how will it help? The likelihood is that the people planning Labour’s first 100 days in power know very, very little about data — it’s our responsibility to up-skill them.

Maybe they should ban PDFs…

Dashboards have become a dirty word, but they’re very good at showing how often data is being updated. We need them to publish data about the data, so we can see which departments are publishing data too slowly to be useful.

Return of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill

The baseline will be what was in the Data Protection and Digital Information Bills, which failed to make it into law before the election. Many of the smart data provision in there had value, and Labour might think along the same lines. It encourages business to share data, and those same powers could be used to unlock open data.

Some of the contents of the bill were ideologically motivated, though, and many people present would be happy to see those elements dropped.

The Open Data Institute launched a manifesto before the election. It lists some small differences that could have a big impact. (The manifesto can be downloaded… as a PDF.)

How to sell open data to a new government

Decision-making on data is very centralised, and driven from within the London bubble. It needs to be more attended to regional capability and needs.

Data might be a route to building more trust between the electorate the politicians again. Was to recruit thousands of new teachers? Put that on a dashboard, and let us see how you’re doing. The people in this room could be critical to conversations like this.

Some data has to be opt in, though, like genetic data or medical data. Do we require a public information campaign on this? Data literacy in the country — the world — as a whole is incredibly poor. How can we expect the government to make a good decision about data when they don’t understand it themselves? We need data literacy embedded in education generally — but that’s a long-term objective. A basic data literacy education might be as important as computer literacy has become. Data ethics, too.

There’s a real dearth of information about how open data is actually improving people’s lives.

Where should responsibility for open data live?

What we need is a name: an MP or, better, a minister responsible. Unless it’s on someone’s plate, it’s not going to be done. There is one in Canada, there is one in France, we used to have one in the UK. We need to have the name of the minister who is responsible for data right across the departments.

There was an open data white paper in 2012, with a minister Francis Maude with Matt Hancock, but it got undermined by the treasury. We need to tie the use of open data to economic growth, or they won’t listen to us. Does your AI start-up need open data? Tell them! Open data isn’t cool any more, but AI is!

Reuse of public data sits with the Cabinet Office — does that make sense? Probably not. But equally, policy is being driven by technologists, and that’s probably not ideal as well.

Policy needs to sit alongside operational implementation — it can’t be abstract. Writing to your MP can be powerful — but especially if you can explain to them how it will help your business or help economic growth.

Open data as infrastructure

Open data should be part of Kier Starmer’s commitment to infrastructure. Previous efforts to share data between departments has not gone well. To fix that, we need the minister, and you need collective responsibility to pay for it. And there needs to be a cultural commitment to it across government.

Right now, the three biggest property datasets are not open. It would take a massive commitment to open them up, but it would make a massive difference. Should the utilities companies pay for Ordnance Survey, rather than commercial use of closed data? Those who modify the data should pay for it being updated and opened up, and the utilities are the obvious example here — they’d barely notice it.

A controversial topic: national ID cards. Does the immigration issue being so hot open the door to do it? Could that solve some data problems?

100 days to get open data on the agenda

The new MP for Kensington and Bayswater, Joe Powell, has a history of with open data, via Open Government. Should we be talking to him?

At the moment, sharing between departments is a complex process of memorandums of understand and agreements. It’s not a neat process. It’s not a fast process. Not only that, but it’s custom every time. Open data is just published. It’s so much simpler. It solves so many problems.

We need a continual push on data standards, so the data can flow more freely both in and outside government, and we can identify and solve problems.

The first 100 days are likely to be quite topsy-turvy. Take the opportunity of that chaos to get open data on the agenda. But don’t rely on a single MP. Liz Truss was a champion of it at one point…

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