Governments? Not so much…When Francis Maude  spoke at the World Bank  recently on the topic of open data and open government, he said, “The truth is governments have generally collected and hoarded information about their countries and their people…”
Today, however, the context has changed. Citizens are demanding more accountability and openness, and new technologies are making it easier to share data and information more freely. There are also sound reasons for doing this as experience indicates that having a more informed citizenry improves services, and open data has the potential to generate a host of new services and businesses.
Maude estimates that the current economic value of open data is 140 billion Euros annually across Europe, and about 16 billion Pounds Sterling in the U.K. Examples abound. Open sharing of information has sparked improvements in healthcare services for cardiac patients. More mundanely, a U.K. company, Parkopedia, has used live data to create a popular parking search product covering 20 million spaces in 25 countries.
While governments are sometimes reluctant to open up their treasure store of data, worrying about the accuracy and quality of the data, Maude believes that the race is to the swift: “Speed trumps accuracy every time.” He noted data quality improves once the data is released and open to public scrutiny and feedback.
Although governments are often challenged by opening up data, a growing number of them are becoming convinced that the benefits outweigh the risks. In fact, about 50 countries have signed up for the recently launched Open Government Partnership . Some interesting examples include Latvia, which partnered with its citizens online to create new legislation, and Mongolia, which published all its mining contracts and found that with greater transparency, more money has flowed to education and health.
Citizen privacy and anonymity are real issues, and have to be dealt with. However, they have often been used as a cat’s-paw for not opening up. Maude sees this process as inevitable and irreversible: “Governments are finding transparency risky, difficult and uncomfortable. But transparency sticks – it’s irreversible once you start… I believe transparency will become the defining characteristic of future public policy.”
Picture credit: flickruser tsevis