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Open Data is not a one off process: what the UK needs to improve

Published 20 December 2017

Wendy Carrara from Capgemini Consulting, manager of the European Data Portal, explains why the UK has been losing ground in this year’s open data rankings and pinpoints how it can become a front-runner again


A few years ago, countries such as the UK, Canada and USA prided themselves in being at the forefront of the open data movement, but little can be said about this now in 2017. This year’s open data maturity rankings indicate that the UK is losing ground. We are now ranked 9th of 28, right after Slovenia and Italy and just before Romania. Though the UK ranks 6th on understanding open data’s impact, we are only 14th for user engagement and 16th for sustainability. 

The results are far from glamorous. They clearly indicate that much more than just a high-level approach to open data is required. Many countries are getting away with high level approaches and impressing by making high volumes of data available multiple public sector domains.

But providing meaningful open data is not a one off process – it involves far more than just throwing a few datasets onto a website.

Making it meaningful

Since 2003, Europe has been setting up a legal framework to support sustainable and effective data publishing from governments. With a revision of the so-called Public Sector Information Directive in 2013, this framework has evolved to include additional sectors and provisions regarding machine readable data, as well as marginal and zero-cost charging models. To ensure the legal framework offered is still relevant, the European Commission measures the state of play of open data maturity across its 28 Member States, as well as in partnering countries and neighbours.

The measurement is based on two core indicators – the first assesses open data readiness, exploring the conditions underpinning sustainable data publishing and data reuse. The second evaluates the maturity of open data portals. Overall, the measurement methodology is defined together with government officials who contribute toward the data collection and validation process.

Learning from success

So what are the other European countries doing so differently that puts them ahead of us? For starters, many have small dedicated teams that have an appetite for change and update. Some are even open to learning from their neighbours, exploring what others are doing and learning from their successes and mistakes. Increasingly, data policies as well as portals are being woven into a broader digital agenda for the public sector. This encourages positive spill over effects in attracting and diversifying the use of open data. For instance data related topics could be linked to policies addressing innovation, smart cities, and urban planning and developments.

In short there’s a lot we can learn from our cousins on the continent. Here are five steps the UK can take to become front runners in open data again:

  • Enhance the UK data portal: As the UK ranks 17th out of 28 on portal usability, this is one priority focus area for the UK. Action has already been taken to enhance the data portal and increase its user friendliness. However, the portal should be tested and reviewed by peer countries to capture a variety of feedback to ensure the portal is fully optimised for all users.
  • Develop automated mechanisms to support the upload of datasets: Developing automated mechanisms is also a good way to make sure your data is up to date. This will not only help smoothen the publishing process but also ensure higher levels of metadata quality.
  • Document the impact of open data: Although the UK scores well on impact, efforts should be invested in recording impact more systematically for example regarding the economic benefits as well as qualitative impact such as inclusion and environmental aspects.
  • Take advantage of local initiatives to drive user engagement for a comprehensive approach to open data: The open data scene is quite active at the local level, which could help guide national initiatives in this respect.
  • Use data as driver for digital transformation and innovation within the public sector: Building on the above recommendations, developing a data infrastructure within the public sector is becoming critical. This will improve process automation as well as sharing of data across departments for decision-making purposes.

Wendy Carrara is principal consultant at Capgemini Consulting and manager of the European Data Portal




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