Data Gov UK

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= UK-based Open Government Data project


Description

"data.gov.uk is a UK government web portal providing access to data gathered and maintained by UK government and related public agencies. In June 2009 Gordon Brown announced that Tim Berners-Lee – the man credited with inventing the world wide web – was joining the Government as an expert advisor2. Since 1999, Berners-Lee has been developing the idea of a “semantic web” based on linked data facilitated by metadata standards. In March 2009, Berners-Lee had made a call at the influential TED conference for data gathering bodies around the world to release “Raw Data Now!”3.

For several years previous to Brown’s announcement, the UK Government had been under pressure from civil society – and in particular a vocal group of “civic hackers” responsible for the development of grassroots political engagement websites – to release its data openly and in machine-readable formats. This pressure – sometimes exerted through traditional advocacy, but also exerted through demonstrator projects – had led to internal policy reviews and initiatives such as the Power of Information Review (co-written by mySociety’s Director Tom Steinberg) and the Power of Information Taskforce (championed by Cabinet Office minister Tom Watson MP and led by Richard Allan, a former Member of Parliament and at the time a policy advisor to Cisco systems).

These initiatives succeeded in fostering collaboration between civil servants in the middle layer of government administration and civic hackers of many different stripes, for example in regular GovDataBarCamps, and through competitions such as “Show Us a Better Way”, which attracted around 500 entries, including the budget tracking website WhereDoesMyMoneyGo?4. However, there was strong resistance from a small number of Government agencies, and in particular the Government’s mapping agency, the Ordnance Survey, who were funded from revenues from the commercial exploitation of public data (so-called “Trading Funds”). The Power of Information Review had recommended a detailed cost-benefit analysis of the Trading Fund model, which was commissioned jointly by HM Treasury and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and published in February 20085. Despite that study finding strongly in favour of abandoning the Trading Fund model6, and despite the Power of Information Taskforce recommending reform on the back of its findings, positions against re-examining the trading fund model within government remained entrenched.

This situation eventually changed in early 2010. data.gov.uk was launched in beta (invitation only) on 30 September 2009, with an official, open launch in January 2010. On 1 April 2010, the Ordnance Survey announced that it would make crucial data assets openly available through data.gov.uk7. It is unclear whether the change of heart on Trading Funds derived more from mounting evidence – including internal Government development of a database to cater to the UK census – or from simple political will. Nonetheless, the announcement was seen as a victory for the open data community, and the UK is now witnessing a flourishing of postcode-related campaigning and political engagement sites, in particular of sites geared towards the forthcoming General Election. Currently, data.gov.uk lists 3,241 datasets, and hosts 49 derived applications8 (although many more applications which make use of the data – and particularly the geospatial data - are hosted elsewhere on the web). Departments are not compelled to publish data via the portal, rather, it is presented as an aspirational choice for government departments wishing to open their data to the possibilities of data mashups and the semantic web." (http://www.soros.org/initiatives/information/focus/communication/articles_publications/publications/open-data-study-20100519/open-data-study-100519.pdf)