Out-Law News 1 min. read

UK government minister: open data agenda 'needs to go viral'

The UK's Conservative government must press ahead with its 'open data' initiative, which will allow it to reap the benefits of better accountability, better information to work with and a more informed public, the new Cabinet Office minister has said.

In a speech in London, Matthew Hancock said that the UK's next national action plan on the use of open data "must itself be an exercise in open government: collaborative in design, transparent in process".

"There's still much more to do," he said. "Much high-value data has yet to be released, and what's out there already needs to be made more usable."

"But open government is more than just open data … This is an international agenda and we need to make it as easy as possible to share best practice and replicate success. Open government needs to go viral," he said.

'Open data' is a term that emerged during the previous government to describe its policy to make data it held available publicly, in a format that facilitated its re-use, unless there was a compelling reason not to do so. The government's open data portal, data.gov.uk, now hosts over 20,000 open datasets covering topics from live traffic information to statistics on childhood obesity.

In his speech, Hancock praised the policy, which he said had allowed the government to "take truly evidence-based decisions".

"By putting the information out there - and crucially by making it usable - we ourselves have become more sophisticated consumers of data," he said. "So not only are we more accountable, we're also better informed … It’s what I've described as a fundamental shift from a target culture to data culture."

He also highlighted a number of examples of how open data had been used by the UK public and private sector both to increase accountability and to improve processes and procedures. Among those was the decision by Windsor and Maidenhead Council to publish real-time data on energy use in public buildings, which helped them to cut their energy bills by 16%.

"Thousands of startups" were now "finding new and innovative uses for government data", he said. Among these were a company called GeoLytix, which uses location data from public bodies to help retailers forecast the best places to open new outlets; and an unnamed "small analytics company" which identified £200 million of NHS savings that could be made by using generic rather than branded statins by analysing prescription data, he said.

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