Open Governance: A Look at UK’s Initiatives

The Open Government Partnership is a global, multi-government commitment to improving governance and lowering corruption through data transparency and active citizen feedback. The UK open data initiative positions the UK Government as one of the key leaders in the Open Government Partnership. By mid-2012 the UK had 8,300 data sets posted to its government-owned data site, as opposed to the US posting of 5,786 datasets.

Let us look at some of the successes and challenges of the UK web-facing transparency implementation.

Formal Commitments Have Largely Been Met
 
In May 2010 the UK Government outlined 25 key commitments for data categories that should be released to the public. It has since made good on 23 of those commitments. They include items such as street-level crime data, all central government contracts, personal/earning information of all senior civil servants with salaries above £150,000, and complete organizational charts for all central government staff.

Crime Data Has Received the Most Public Demand 

It is perhaps not surprising that the UK Government crime map has received more visits than any other offered data source. Within six hours of release it had three million views, and has accounted for more than 47 million views overall. One limitation of the crime map is the lack of real-time information, which many users discovered when they flocked to the site during the UK riots of 2011.

Traffic Has Been Alarmingly Low 

Other data is not being accessed nearly as much as the crime map. Some public services, such as the UK Department of Education school tool, receive reasonable use, but data from departments such as the Ministry of Justice only account for one hundredths of a percent of traffic to data.gov.uk. This is troubling when taking into account the costs of making this data publicly available, and also when considering that open data is meant to stimulate economic development through investments in tech companies that make use of the data.  

From the UK experience, it appears that the overall success with the initiative has been mixed, but the efforts go a long way into showing how the public relates to open data. When the policies were in development, senior civil servants wanted to include a decree that stated that data could not be released until quality was assured. Rohan Silva, policy advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron and central proponent of the initiative, refused this demand. The call for data quality guarantees misses the point that transparency is part of an ongoing cycle of feedback meant to improve everything about the relationship between people and government – including the quality of transparent data itself.

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