So the open data world pats itself on the back by learning that the UK Cabinet Secretary Francis Maude is releasing more open data. This is brilliant news for both the Open Data community and for us as citizens. Even better news from a KnowNow perspective for our own open data project WudoWud is the release of new Environment Agency datasets on realtime flooding.
I am however, still not happy. I ask myself why the open data community is still looking at open data in an Everest like awe? We seem to be taking the mountaineers excuse for climbing a mountain, vis-a-vis the riposte to the question “why did you climb that mountain?” Is often answered “because it is there!” In the open data context we seem to still be focused on doing something with data because it is available. What is missing though in the open data domain is confidence in sensible measurable value. A real reason for taking advantage of open data. So what is the answer?
The answer is unlikely to be a single measurable value that fits all open data scenarios. A range of actions is required to embed open data in our everyday decision making. This starts by having trust in the data and the answers generated. Trust will take time to accrue. Trust also needs to be justified through experience. This will not happen overnight.
Continuous improvement in open data
It is also about embracing a continuous improvement mentality because better evidence will highlight where efficiencies can be delivered. These gains provide business value and the subsidy for embracing open data. This is a never ending task, as improvement can always be found. By having actors in a position to benefit from changes in approach or service delivered, there is also the impact of increasing trust as well as making public sector services more effective and more valuable for the citizens consuming them.
Radical Step Change
The final and probably most important step we could take is slightly more radical and will involve a step change in how we interact with the political and executive leadership in the public sector. This new step requires us all to use the open data as a way of firstly identifying what policies and activities governments and the wider public sector organisations should do. Secondly, you then use open data to measure the impact of those politics. Yes this would be evidence based decision making! Ironically, this would also increase trust and reinforce the need to extract ongoing value from open data too.
Shift the Political Discourse
However, a final flourish I would like to see happen would involve a change in the political discourse. Let us shift the vetting of our political masters to one that is based on real information. Citizens will measure the performance of the political class based on:
a) the levels and targets that are set. Do we as citizens buy into that target?
b) the approach planned to meeting these said targets. Again, do we as citizens want/like/approve of this approach?
The implications could be profound and far reaching. Not only a more efficient society. But open data will have finally made it into the big wide world.
Thanks for reading, Chris