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Consulting welcomes UK government's open data white paper

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London: The open data white paper, published by the UK government yesterday outlining its commitment to transparency in government and public services, has implications for consultants engaged in public sector work and promises an explosion of data driven consulting.

Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, said public services would become more personalised and efficient, and public bodies would use the data they hold in much smarter ways.

The white paper was immediately welcomed by senior consulting figures.

Among the aims outlined in the paper are easier access to public data, more standardised data formatting and a "presumption to publish" most data.

The paper was published alongside a series of new commitments from across government to release more data.

New data release commitments include:

  • information showing GP practice performance in handling cancer cases, enabling patients to compare survival rates between neighbouring practices;
  • increasing transparency around grant funding by publishing data on which organisations receive public money from Civil Society Programmes;
  • data on the management and use of EU funds in the UK to increase accountability and encourage better management of EU funds; and
  • new datasets which show the results of international aid projects and detailed maps of aid projects, so people can see where money is being spent.

The Cabinet Office says it has put in place a series of support measures to strengthen access to data and improve its usability, including:

  • the Public Data Principles, which set out that public data policy will be driven by the public and businesses who want and use the data, will be officially adopted as government policy;
  • open data released by government will be marked against Sir Tim Berners-Lee's 5 Star Scheme for data quality and reusability; and
  • a complete overhaul of the data.gov.uk site to include better search facilities, simpler ways to access information, an advanced GIS data search and better tools for developers, such as API access to the catalogue holdings.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said, "Data is the new raw material of the 21st century. It allows citizens to hold governments to account, drives improvements in public services by informing choice, and provides a feedstock for innovation and growth.

"We promised to be the most transparent government in British history — and we are doing just that. With nearly 9,000 datasets on our flagship portal data.gov.uk the open data story is only just beginning.

"We will keep putting more data, of higher quality, into the public domain so everyone can reap the benefits of transparency and open data in the future. The prize — better public services and a more prosperous UK — is just too good to ignore.

"And to ensure that privacy concerns are at the centre of all discussions on data releases today we are announcing the appointment of a privacy expert to the Public Sector Transparency Board."

Costi Perricos, Deloitte Analytics public sector leader, welcomed the initiative.

"The Government's commitment to open data is good for the UK economy. The white paper will be one of the catalysts that helps raise public awareness about the benefits and use of open data, both for individuals and businesses.

"Our own experience has shown that open data does not just increase transparency and accountability. It can also be used by businesses to boost existing goods or services, or introduce new ideas and commercial models to the market", he said.

"We believe open data will lead to the emergence of an entirely new breed of business, where strategies — whether related to growth, new markets and industries, or innovation — are based solely on the use and publication of data."

However he also offered a word of caution.

"Equally important is the emphasis the white paper places on responsible data use and protecting individual rights to privacy. Learning how to properly use and prioritise data is a street that the Government and the wider public will have to cross together.

"Government data owners will need to provide citizens and businesses with information, training and tools to ensure ethical and responsible data use that benefits the greater good. Aspects surrounding how to keep data anonymous will need to be addressed, and the reasons why and how the data is being used should always be clear. Safeguards to protect privacy should be at the heart of any open data strategy."

As part of the government's strategy, the new Open Data Institute, headed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Prof Nigel Shadbolt, is expected to work closely with both public and private sectors to unlock commercial value from data.

The open data white paper is available here.

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