What can Open Data do for public services?

The Wales Audit Office is holding a Google Hangout on Open Data. It will look at how Open Data can help public services to deliver joined up, transparent and effective public services. In this blogpost, Dyfrig Williams looks at why the Good Practice Exchange is interested in the topic.

Last year the Effective Services for Vulnerable Groups team at the Welsh Government approached us about the possibility of doing some work around highlighting good practice around effective data sharing. When we held a scoping meeting, we found ourselves being drawn into two slightly different discussions – one on sharing personal data, and another on the merits of Open Data. To do justice to both, we decided to hold two separate events. The event on personal data really helped bust some myths around data protection, especially where the Assistant Information Commissioner for Wales got to grips with the issues that public services face.

Open Data was subsequently added to our list of events for this year. At the same time, we found out that the Office for National Statistics was interested in running a webinar the topic, so in the spirit of collaboration, we’ll be running this Hangout jointly with them.

So what is Open Data?

Open data is data that anyone can access, use or share. When big companies or governments release non-personal data, it enables businesses and citizens to make improvements to their communities. The Open Data Institute has produced an introductory video to explain some of the benefits of Open Data.

Open Data Impact have identified four ways in which Open Data is changing the world:

  • Improving government (by tackling corruption, increasing transparency and improving public services)
  • Empowering citizens (to take control of their lives through informed decision making)
  • Creating opportunity (by fostering innovation, promoting economic growth and creating jobs)
  • Solving Public Problems (by giving access to new forms of data-driven assessment of the problems at hand. It also enables targeted interventions and enhanced collaboration)

What does this mean in reality?

There are lots of case studies of where public services have released Open Data to benefit wider society. Transport for London released data that has seen a 58:1 return on investment, which has led to the development of companies like Citymapper.

In Canada, open data exposed one of the biggest tax frauds in the country’s history through an examination of the publicly available Annual Information Returns.

There are also some great examples in local government. The Leeds Data Mill have a fantastic City Dashboard, which shares open data feeds through simple graphics to give a snapshot of the city at any given moment. The Hampshire Hub has undertaken lots of work, including how public services respond to a pending weather event. It also identified GP surgeries who’ll be most under pressure due to increases in demand.

So why isn’t everybody jumping on the bandwagon?

One of the issues is around understanding. Dan Slee has written a great post on why jargon and a lack of understanding is a big issue when it comes to sharing good practice around Open Data. And if like me you’re not a particularly techy individual, it makes it difficult to apply the learning to real world public service delivery.

Organisations also need to be clear about why they’re releasing data and the outcomes that they want. What does success look like? How will public services evidence the difference it’s made to their communities? The National Audit Office produced a fascinating report on Implementing transparency in 2012 that found that “government needs a better understanding of costs, benefits and use to assess whether transparency is meeting its objectives of increasing accountability, supporting service improvement and stimulating economic growth.” I suspect that the UK Government is not alone in that.

How can a webinar help?

This webinar with the Office for National Statistics will help us to examine how Open Data can help public services deliver joined up, transparent and effective public services. We’ll be looking at:

  • What Open Data is
  • How we can make data open
  • The tangible benefits
  • The next steps

The panel will include Rob Davidson from the Office for National Statistics, Esko Reinikainen from the Open Data Institute Node in Cardiff, and Helen Wilkinson from Natural Resources Wales, who will share practical learning from the Lle Portal.

The Hangout will be very participative, so we’d love to hear from you and to receive your questions before and during the discussion. And if you’re already making the most of Open Data, we’d love to find out whether it’s helping you to empower people, improve services and make the communities that you serve better places in which to live.

5 thoughts on “What can Open Data do for public services?

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