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ODI outlines devolution and General Election data hopes

Neil Merrett Published 08 May 2017

With London set to appoint its first digital chief and a General Election looming, the institute outlines how parties could better prepare for upcoming challenges from data use


The Open Data institute (ODI) has urged London’s yet to be appointed first chief digital officer to build up open data infrastructure to benefit public and private sector innovation as part of wider calls for a political rethink of information management and access ahead of the general election.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan last week announced plans to recruit a CDO for the capital to lead collaboration between his office and local authorities to push forward with common standards for data and technology.

Welcoming the move, the ODI praised Khan for following the lead of other major cities in playing up the importance of technology and data initiatives, but stressed a need for working across the public and private sector so that corporations, start ups and communities can all benefit from a strong data economy.

ODI policy associate Peter K Wells cited the examples of London’s early adoption of open data for public transport as a good demonstration of the potential benefits to citizens and service providers through considered use of tools such as Google Maps and CityMapper.

“The next wave of transport innovation will need data held by the private sector to be similarly opened up while respecting privacy. There are huge potential benefits but, as shown in a recent report we produced with the Transport Systems Catapult, it will need support from government and cities to make that happen,” he said.

Wells argued that data was also supporting new means of encouraging or supporting physical activity in London.

“Leisure operators are opening up their physical activity sessions data so that innovators like MyLocalPitch, imin and the Get Active portal can make it easier for people to find activities,” he said.

“The OpenActive initiative is convening the sports and physical activity sector to make this change happen. The local authorities and cities that take part in this initiative now are the ones whose residents will receive the benefits earlier and are most likely to receive the economic benefits too."

With the application date for interested suppliers for the CDO role set for May 23 and a General Election then scheduled for June 8, the ODI has also outlined the key commitments it would hope to see from parties and authorities to better prepare for a changing data innovation and policy landscape.

In a post on the implications and hopes for data policy under the next UK government, Wells played up the need for pro-actively considering how opening up systems and data may help to better tackle funding and planning challenges.

While accepting that not many voters would ultimately choose a candidate solely based around their views on data, the ODI argued manifestos provided a better view of each candidate’s understanding of the changes facing society beyond June 8 resulting from changing technologies and their impact on policy delivery.

Wells said the ODI hoped to see commitments from all candidates around more open data infrastructure, such as providing map and address details, as well legislation that recognises core information sets as seen in France and Denmark.

The ODI also hoped to see focuses around digital skills and data literacy, ideally as part of a broader strategy to better meet challenges facing the public sector around staff capability.

Wells called on parties to play up plans for using open data and standards at a central and local government level, particularly in the style of sector specific innovation programmes like OpenActive.

From an ethical standpoint, the ODI hoped to see recognition of the need to ensure better public trust in how data is being used through the establishment of a data ethics board to advise on policy formation, as well as commitments to increase funding for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).  The organisation hopes that expanding finances for the UK’s data regulator may allow for a role in dealing with data ethics.

Wells also backed pledges to guarantee an ongoing national debate supported by central, devolved and local government bodies to create a more wide reaching shared data approach.

Based on its manifesto recommendations, the ODI argued that strong policy could have important ramifications for policy delivery.

“The Open Data Institute works to build a strong, fair and sustainable data economy in which data gets to the people who need it. We believe that openness is a vital mechanism to create a data economy that works for everyone. We are a global organisation but our headquarters are in the UK,” wrote Wells. “The UK’s practices – particularly around data – are followed worldwide, so we want to get data to people to help them make informed decisions on who to vote for in the UK general election.”

Related articles:

Sadiq Khan launches hunt for London's first chief digital officer

ODI argues data must be part of critical infrastructure plans

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