Open data: government ‘needs to go much further’, says Cabinet Office minister

The government needs to open up far more of its information and move to a culture of making decisions based on data not targets, Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock MP has said.

During a speech in London today, Hancock (pictured) praised progress since 2010 on opening up public sector data, with 20,000 datasets now published on the government’s portal

The open data agenda was enthusiastically promoted by his predecessor Francis Maude MP, for transparency reasons but also to boost economic growth by new startups being created on the back of the newly-released data.

However Hancock admitted the government “needs to go much further”, as much high-value data is yet to be released and the data available needs to be made more usable.

He confessed there had been “some resistance” to the open data agenda in Whitehall.

“The government machine is programmed to ask “what’s the evidence base, what’s the justification for doing this?” he said.

Hancock said he would increasingly like the government to not just produce but “consume” its data as management information, using it to become better informed and improve outcomes.

“Open data is allowing us to take truly evidence-based decisions. It’s what I’ve described as a fundamental shift from a target culture to data culture…this is driving up standards in public services,” he said.

Hancock cited the examples of Windsor and Maidenhead council, which started publishing real-time data on its energy use, helping to cut energy bills by 16 percent, and the London Fire Brigade, which has a tool to see emergency response times and incidents per ward, helping to target resources.

He said the main factor pushing the government to become more open was the “digital revolution”, which have made it far cheaper and easier to release information.

“It’s not that we can be [open], it’s also that we must. All around us, power is being distributed outwards along fibre optic cables…openness is what makes modernity work,” he said.

Hancock also welcomed the “thousands of startups” he claimed have been set up off the back of government data.

He cited the examples of GeoLytix, which uses location data to help retailers pick where to open new store and an unnamed company which identified £200 million of NHS savings to be made by using generic rather than branded medicine.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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