Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Government publishes open data principles

Out-Law News | 28 Jun 2010 | 3:49 pm | 2 min. read

The Government has fleshed out its plans for sharing Government information with the public and has laid down the principles that will dictate what information is published, when and how.

The Government pledged to make more public information available and within a month of the formation of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition had published the Combined Online Information System (COINS), a database which details public budgeting and actual spending.

The Public Sector Transparency Board (PSTB), the group set up to monitor and encourage the publication of data, has met for the first time and has published a set of principles which it wants to govern publication. The PSTB said it wanted potential users of Government data to comment on and improve those principles.

To ensure that any released data is actually usable, two of the principles addressed the technical and legal format in which they will be published.

"Public data will be published in reusable, machine-readable form," said the principles. "Publication alone is only part of transparency – the data needs to be reusable, and to make it reusable it needs to be machine-readable. At the moment a lot of Government information is locked into PDFs or other unprocessable formats."

"Public data will be released under the same open licence which enables free reuse, including commercial reuse," they said. "All data should be under the same easy to understand licence. Data released under the Freedom of Information Act or the new Right to Data should be automatically released under that licence."

The PSTB said that any data used as a basis for Government websites should be made available to the public for re-use. It also said that publication must follow open standards to ease its re-use.

The principles also prioritise speed over accuracy, because accuracy can be fixed later. "Data will be released as quickly as possible after its collection and in as fine a detail as is possible," the principles said. "Speed may mean that the first release may have inaccuracies; more accurate versions will be released when available."

The PSTB is chaired by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and includes as members world wide web pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee and mySociety founder and open data campaigner Tom Steinberg.

"In just a few weeks this Government has published a whole range of data sets that have never been available to the public before," said Maude. "But we don’t want this to be about a few releases, we want transparency to become an absolutely core part of every bit of government business. That is why we have asked some of the country’s and the world’s greatest experts in this field to help us take this work forward quickly here in central government and across the whole of the public sector."

The group also defined public data at its first meeting.

"'Public Data' is the objective, factual, non-personal data on which public services run and are assessed, and on which policy decisions are based, or which is collected or generated in the course of public service delivery," its principles said.

The data that the Government will publish will be available at www.data.gov.uk as well as on the websites of the public bodies publishing it.