Open Data: the policy problem

Open Data: the policy problem

Owen Boswarva

There used to be a strategy board and an open data user group, and many other groups steering open data at the policy level. But most of these have now gone away. The one that seems to have survived in the Data Steering Group – but that has a wide range of interests – and we don’t know how interested they are in open data. Other groups seem to have evaporated. None of them have met since 2013/14.

Some sector boards still seem to be in effect. Should these surviving groups be steered from inside or outside government? There are some clearly missing. There’s a good pool of practitioners – but how do people outside the community find out about open data now? And how do we push for more release?

We have the Open Data Institute and Open Knowledge – how confident are we in these two main organisations? Do they represent the whole of the open data community?

Tom Sternberg has written:

Meaningful transparency is only ever beaten out of governments with a stick made of pure power politics.

General Discussion

Is there a meaningful difference between the ODI and the ODI nodes? Maybe – they could be an independent voice. The nodes are quite community-driven. They may have the ODI sticker on them, but they are community groups driven by the community.

ODI HQ talks to a central point in local government and through them to the node. There is a huge opportunity with the nodes for everyone here to get involved and shape what they are. The ODI seem to genuinely mean it when they say “run it yourselves”.

The ODI is very London-centric – because they’re dealing internationally. It’s up to the nodes to get local. They blog, they run events, they get community engagement going. What does your local area need? Devon, for example, can’t support centralised events – it’s a dispersed rural community.

Those boards that Owen talked about – they weren’t beneficial to the process. They cherry picked what they wanted to hear from the people they invited in. And that’s pretty much what they’re already doing. They ignore anything hard.

A network of nodes

The ODI will be monitoring the government’s performance on its open data commitments. That’s an important role. The nodes need to be semi-automous and develop their own styles, based on local needs. They’re a network in the sense that the internet is a network. Don’t wait from proclamations from on high.

Open Data Camp is bring loads of voices together, capturing their thoughts and disseminating them. This is another voice. It’s difficult to see what the ODI is now – they have so many roles, it’s difficult to see what they are.

Many of the user groups weren’t user groups – no-one in the groups were actually using data. But there weren’t many people using data then – and there still aren’t now. It feels a little like a religion at the moment – everyone has the open data religion, but how do we turn that into practical use. The groups are all very technical.

Outside or inside?

Is it useful to be outside the council pushing them onwards? Or is it more useful to partner or be on the inside? The outside thing isn’t really working. People are still getting locked out, even though this is quite a small community.

Part of the strong of the nodes is the network. Do we need to reclaim it form the ODI a little? There are some problems about demarcation – can you have a Hampshire node and a Southhampton one?

Open data and government

Open data is certainly not “business as usual” in most parts of government. It’s not necessarily the ODI’s role to lead – but that’s kind of the impression we were given when all the advisory boards disappeared. We could be at a point where that’s a problem, because the cabinet office seems to be shying away from open data.

The hunt for the cabinet office

The cabinet office data team is still finding its feet. But how do we make the open data wave survive regime change? Before the general election it all seemed to be going the right way. How do we get to the point where we build information infrastructure like we do road infrastructure – for the long term?

Can we get to the point when outputs become self-sustaining? That can’t come from the top – it’s people on the ground who build things.

Skunkworks for the smelly projects

Is there scope here for skunkworks projects? Ed Summers, , whose blog/website is at, put library of congress subject headers on the web as linked data – but was told by his manger to take it down. There was such an outcry, it went back up officially.

The Government Digital Service was a skunkworks when it started. Take the idea – but don’t call it a skunkworks.

We need to find all possible routes into the place son power that control data – and thus data release. And the routes might not be as obvious as you think. We need people who identify with open data – but have their feet in two or three other domain areas. We need to attach open data more to current issues. Every week we see open data stories in the media – but they don’t mention open data.

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