Can open data win votes?

Some politicians seems to think so. Especially in Britain right now. Remember, there is a general election in the UK in June.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (Labour) called for smarter government back in December when he presented the reform of public sector, assisted by the legendary WWW-father Tim Berners-Lee. Brown talkes about what he calls “third generation of public service”:

The next stage of public service reform will be characterised by a radical shift of power to the users of public services, all users, not just those who are wealthy and powerful, not just those who have the resources to make the best of what government offers them. Power will shift to everyone who needs to use our public services.

In shorter and clearer words; Berners-Lee is leading the work to ‘make public data public’, and the data.gov.uk (inspired by the American data.gov) is supposed to be an “single easy to use online access point” to public data. The site is not released, but it is supposed to look like this.

David Cameron, leader of the Conservative party, is also demanding to set data free, as he said in this speech in June last year;

“We’re going to set this data free.  In the first year of the next Conservative Government, we will find the most useful information in twenty different areas ranging from information about the NHS to information about schools and road traffic and publish it so people can use it.

This information will be published proactively and regularly – and in a standardised format so that it can be ‘mashed up’ and interacted with.”

Boris Johnson (Conservative), Mayor of London, has recently launched a prototype version of  London’s datastore (it will formally launch at January 29), and more than 200 data sets will be released. This is how Johnson explains the rational behind the datastore:

The US has led the way on this idea of setting their data free for anyone – students, campaigners, software developers – to use. Now it’s time for Britain to get up to speed and I want London, as the greatest city in the UK, to be at the forefront of this revolution, that will not only increase democracy, but also provide a potential money-spinner for the city’s hugely important software development sector. (via Vox Pubica)

Basically, they are all saying the same. So how can they win votes (when you exclude all other political topics) on their identical open data policy?

5 thoughts on “Can open data win votes?

  1. I think it should be seen the other way around – Brown, Cameron and Johnson look old fashioned if they don’t do these sorts of things – they would be criticised for not doing things like this more than doing so is ever going to directly win them any votes.

    From the Tory side in particular it’s very much the case that they just want to look modern, and web stuff and open data is part of that.

  2. You might be right, Jon. I don’t think demand for open data will save many votes, but I’m still fascinated that this development has caught on so strongly in the British political environment.

    I’m glad there actually is a *push* behind the politicians to open up data, which I hardly see either in Norway, Sweden or Denmark (online in geeky groups). I do think data.gov (American), data.gov.uk, Guardian’s new World Government Data http://www.guardian.co.uk/world-government-data and other similar sites are important sources of inspiration for government, as Guardian recently wrote:
    “The UK has become a world showcase for open government data, with the launch today of a government website hosting 2,500 public data sets – more than the best-known rival, data.gov in the US.”

  3. If this saves votes or not, I wouldn’t know, but the move is quite interesting as such. The thing about information (as I see it) is that you don’t get very far by only one source; it is when you connect information from different sources you can start to paint a broader picture. (That is what insurance companies have been trying to do for years.)

    We don’t know yet what kind of connections can be made using these databases, and don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it, but lets not end up with an international version of iam.no (A Norwegian service that connects information from several different databases, but miss-connect people all the time.)

  4. @trondh,
    Privacy and sensitive personal data are of course two very important aspects when talking about public data. How to make sure you protect sensitive personal data (ex. related to health). Here is what the Bergen prosject, Fakta Først, suggested when releasing data (in Norwegian):

    “Gi personvernet spesialbehandling: Både i virksomheter i offentlig sektor og i befolkningen er det bekymring for at personvernet kan svekkes dersom mer offentlige data frigis. I prinsippene for frigivelse av offentlige data bør spørsmålet om sikkerhet for persondata gis inngående behandling, slik at virksomhetene har klare kriterier å forholde seg til når de skal vurdere frigivelse av datakilder.”

  5. Open Data is a reality and anyone negative to the concept is going to look like they are living in the past and that will cost them votes.

    Equally by being in favour of Open Data our illustrious leaders are showing that they are modern and forward looking in their thinking.
    If all parties are positive to Open Data it will level the playing field so votes are cast on other attributes.

    http://www.32PFL7404H.com

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