When the first International Open Data Day happened in 2010, things were very different. The data.gov.uk portal had recently been launched, and Prime Minister Cameron had asked all government departments to open up data on spending and civil service salaries. The UK was the world leader in open data – data that anyone can access, use, and share, writes Jeni Tennison, CEO, Open Data Institute.
Now, the UK is in the bottom half of the OECD’s open data ranking. Its scores are on a downward trajectory in the Open Data Barometer from the Web Foundation. The Institute for Government has documented increasing delays in the publication of transparency data – when it is published at all.
Of course not all data should be open. We have to respect everyone’s rights to privacy and security. But a government’s approach to open data is a good indicator of the ambition and coherence of its vision for data. For example, the new European Data Strategy includes commitments to open up high-value public datasets alongside a €4-6 billion investment to improve Europe’s data infrastructure.
Working with Diane Coyle, Bennett Professor of Public Policy at the University of Cambridge, the ODI has examined how data generates value by informing our decisions as individuals and organisations, in turn benefiting our society, economy and environment. In general, that value increases as data is made more open and accessible. Openness means more people can use it, but more importantly more possible combinations of data from different sources, and exponentially more insights. The return on investment can be huge.
Open data from Transport for London saves time worth £70m-£90m for passengers every year, improves accessibility, and encourages the use of greener transport options. It has also boosted innovation, with companies like Citymapper adding £12-14m to the London economy and supporting over 500 new jobs. All for a £1m/year investment.
In health, OpenPrescribing.net uses open data about prescriptions to provide recommendations to GPs about how to prescribe drugs to save money without compromising care; those that subscribe save over £40 per thousand patients per month: a potential £26.8m saving for the NHS each year. The latest European Data Portal figures estimate the value of open data for the EU28+ in 2019 was €184bn.
The coalition Government’s data ambitions of 2010 focused on transparency. The 2019 Conservative manifesto had a different, and welcome, emphasis. It promises to “improve the use of data, data science and evidence in the process of government”, and incentivise “investments in cloud computing and data, which boost productivity and innovation”.
Trustworthy Access to Data
Data can be used to improve public sector policy making and delivery. It can fuel the UK’s tech sector and increase the productivity of traditional businesses. But getting there requires this new Government to think about data differently from its predecessors: as a new form of infrastructure. Just as the Government is driving investments in the UK’s physical infrastructure such as railways, 5G, and broadband connectivity, it needs to drive investment – both public and private – in the UK’s data infrastructure.
The first indication of this Government’s commitment will come in the March Budget. We would like to see investments to improve data and trustworthy access to data, across the economy, including incentivising the private sector to share more of the data it holds.
Currently, some big companies in the private sector capture a large chunk of the value of data as profit. The Government could use competition policy to open up data-driven markets to other providers. But it could incentivise data sharing in other ways too, within its own procurement or through tax credits for example, particularly where data from the private sector would further government priorities.
International Open Data Day 2020
Later in the Spring, the Geospatial Commission will publish the UK’s geospatial data strategy. Set up in 2018, the commission was tasked with unlocking £11bn of value each year by making mapping data more open, supporting industries including construction, sales and marketing, and transport.
Doing that requires moving some venerable data institutions, like the Ordnance Survey, into the 21st century. It means helping them adjust to a changing market and providing direction to prioritise opening data for long term economic gains over restricting access for short term revenue. In Denmark, a study commissioned by the Danish Enterprise and Construction Authority found that the direct financial benefit to society of opening Danish address data amounted to roughly DKK 471m (€62m) between 2005 and 2009, set against relatively small costs of DKK 15m (€2m) across the same period.
Based on our research on challenges and trends in the UK’s geospatial data infrastructure, we would like to see the Geospatial Data Strategy provide an ambitious vision that recognises the importance of private sector and community data holders, rather than simply tweaking the current operation of public sector data holders.
UK’s National Data Strategy
Finally, later this year, the UK’s National Data Strategy will be released.
Announced in 2018, it has been developing through a series of ministerial changes at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
We would like it to bring coherence to the Government’s various data initiatives, which span from the Office of National Statistics’ Secure Research Service, through APIs developed by the Government Digital Service, to the work of the Office for AI on access to data. To ensure they make progress and sustain momentum, these should be focused on wider ambitions such as leveling up the country, beneficial trade deals, and achieving carbon neutrality.
It is exciting to see the new Government recognising the importance of data. We are hopeful they will take bold steps to build a data infrastructure that works for everyone.