Open the data, Maude

April 3, 2012

In an interview in Computer Weekly dated 20-26 March 2012, Francis Maude the Minister for the Cabinet Office takes hubris and hyperbole to new levels when he compares the generation of ‘open data’ with the use of raw materials during the industrial revolution. This is an extension to the regular comparison between the development of the Internet and movable type. The connection between either is far from direct – both (printing and the industrial revolution) had dependencies upon scientific development and both had effects upon the economic and social well-being of many people in the world.

Open data may have some benefits in awareness raising but it will be far from revolutionary!


Open warfare

March 4, 2012

Two different but interesting pieces in the Computer Weekly of 28 February 2012 on the topic of ‘open’. The first is an opinion piece by Tony Roberts entitled ‘The problem with open data’ and the second by Mark Ballard on open standards. Tony Roberts states that open data as currently practiced is likely to increase the digital divide and that what is wanted is actionable open data, along with training on how to use it. I don’t think anyone can argue that the exercise in openness to-date has probably had little impact on the average citizen.

Mark Ballard examines the cleft stick facing the government having proposed that software using open standards should be preferred when procuring systems. One would have thought this would be quite an easy path to follow but the government has even been threatened with expulsion from the International Standards Organisation who thought their version of ‘proprietary’ was in jeopardy. The government has at least one Member with a vested interest in trade protection, and thus not entirely into open standards. Whilst the Coalition has launched a consultation to define open standards, there exists a body that I’ve already blogged about OASIS that has probably already done that (for the web and cloud anyway)but doesn’t get a mention in the article.

If, as reported, 70% of all software licences bought by the UK government are for Oracle something certainly needs to be done. One can move to Office Libre rather than Open Office to get away from Oracle on the desktop, but what does one do in the database market. Even in the local government market Oracle rules the roost, when as well as charging a lot constrains the use of virtualization platforms other than its own by its extortionate licensing model. Oracle does claim an interest in open standards with MySQL and other open source products, but developers need to be weaned off the costly commercial stuff.

Open data manual

February 2, 2012

Whilst I’ve blogged more than 40 times on the subject of open data, I don’t believe I’ve covered the Open Data Manual. A hat-tip to jacques.raybaut at! The manual outlines what one should expect of open data, either presenting or using it.

Coincidentally, the UK Government published the summary of the feedback on its open data consultation on the 30 January 2011. The consultees include Socitm which was rather critical of the proposals. A key point that was made in the response was that “Socitm believes that open data issues need to be treated within a broader approach to information management and evidence-based decision-making”, unfortunately this general (and very important) point does not appear to be captured in the report.

So, we’ll see what comes next…

It works both ways!

September 6, 2011

With the central government pressure on  local government to be transparent and provide open data (thank you Mr Pickles), it’s about time someone considered it the whole way around. If local government is providing data for people to do wizzy things with, as in Fixmystreet or Fixmytransport, shouldn’t this be reciprocated, and those taking data provide the feedback or reciprocal data in a suitably open format rather than emails. Similarly, if we are providing all this open data at the government’s behest shouldn’t that be an end to form-filling? Rather than endless submissions to government departments every year, can’t they just suck in a CSV or XML file living on a website?

When I was writing my dissertation there was lots of ways of looking at e-government for example G2C or government to citizen, C2G being the reverse. There was also G2G, in which case if we push out data for central government and they suck it in, we can then take back their data feeds in electronic form. Such a solution would prevent a lot of double keying across the country, once the schemas are agreed and developers have developed a single or very few sets of interfaces.

Lets see an end to open data as a one-way street and build up to at least it being bi-directional, if not a motorway!

Open, and better, data

August 7, 2011

Open data is frequently promoted as a ‘good thing’, rather in the sense of the Sellar & Yeatman classic “1066 and All That“, where something is either a ‘good thing’ or a ‘bad thing’. As is explained in “Open data is not enough” by Raka Banerjee from the World Bank in his July 2011 blog, open data that is inaccurate and biased is a ‘bad thing’ and rather than being of not much use, such data can actually cause harm when used by statisticians and researchers to inform policy.

Scientists are normally quite clear about data quality but when open data is becoming part of a demand culture, unless those supplying it are aware of and sensitive to the outcomes that may result by its use, the citizens are in more danger from the production of the data than from its absence. About a year I posted upon the topic of “Council Web Costs“, following a newspaper report employing Freedom of Information data, where the person requesting it had limited knowledge of either web development or local government. The resulting figures were unhelpful to say the least.

Imagine a similar context where health policy was being decided based upon data that had been extracted similarly, not only would money be wasted investing in the wrong places, but underinvestment might take place where support was urgently needed. Open data is only a ‘good thing’ when we are assured that the data is good, and that is the job of both the requestor and the supplier.