Last Monday, Gordon Brown delivered a speech in which he laid out a fascinating and bold vision for how Britain could lead the world in knowledge industries and create a quarter of a million skilled jobs within 10 years. What I found most interesting in his remarks was how he linked leadership in the digital economy to leadership in public service delivery and increasing “voice and choice for citizens”.
Underlying his message was his palpable excitement in the next generation of the web: the semantic web or the web of linked data. The semantic web is a relatively new term popularized by the British scientist and early founder of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee. Tim suggest that the web of linked data has the potential to transform the way we manage knowledge, make decisions, and understand relationships between previously unconnected phenomena. Nearly a year ago, speaking at a TED conference in California, Tim issued a call to action to public agencies and data aggregators – Free Data Now. He argued that only by freeing data into easily searchable and downloadable formats could we expose relationships between issues like housing and crime, access to water and race, or government spending and the quality of public services. From the perspective of international development institutions, imagine if we could see relationships between aid flows and poverty or even poverty at a sub-national level (say through maps) and where development projects are located in a particular country?