The Government has launched two consultations focused on improving public sector openness, transparency and accountability through improved access to public data.
The first of those consultations, "Making Open Data Real" sets out a series of proposals aimed at establishing a culture of openness and transparency in public services, including a 'right to data' and how public sector providers might be held to account for delivering Open Data. The Government has said, however, that transparency will not be extended at the cost of privacy. Views are sought in a number of areas including how to improve access to data, transparency standards, accountability, and the collection, publication and use of Open Data. The consultation has been welcomed by the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, who commented that “the information rights regime needs to adapt to the new realities of the digital world”. The ICO has recently highlighted its intention to contribute to such adaptation, specifically through increasing access to public data, by announcing that freedom of information requests made via Twitter to authorities with valid Twitter accounts are acceptable.
The second consultation focuses on the data policy for the proposed Public Data Corporation (PDC). The Government announced its plans to create the PDC in January, and a transition board has been established to oversee its establishment. The PDC is seen as an important step in opening up government data so the benefits can be felt by the wider economy. The Government plans to use the PDC to bring together Government bodies and data into one organisation, deliver improved access to data for developers, businesses and members of the public leading to more opportunities to develop innovative products and services - and ultimately to drive further efficiency in the delivery of public services. The consultation seeks views on key aspects of the data policy, how to charge for, license and regulate the data that the PDC will make available and sets out some of the options available for each. It is presently envisaged that a mixed charging model will be required with some information charged for (including potentially some of that held by organisations such as HM Land Registry, Ordnance Survey and the Met Office), and some available for free.
These consultations sit as part of a wider range of initiatives the Government has launched to explore what more it can do to maximise growth opportunities from public sector data, as part of the second phase of its Growth Review, which will include a specific section on the economic opportunities provided by Open Data. It is expected that, following the consultation period, a White Paper on the subject will be released in the autumn. The deadline for responding to both of the above consultations is 27th October 2011.