Open Government Data – international comparisons

An impressively diverse international audience at the Open Government Data Camp in London (organised by the Open Knowledge Foundation) sharing a commonality of purpose – that public government data should be released for re-use and re-purpose by the digital community to enhance accountability and transparency and generate new services.

The tone of the day however tended to focus on the former, accountability, rather than the latter, the generation of new public value, in many cases as a direct result of the “buy in” of the Government concerned.

The Canadian keynote set the scene with talk of “carrot and stick”. Open data in Canada is ground up movement, and a growing trend at municipal level (see, but the spread is generally a result of activism (the stick) rather than a recognition by federal government of economic potential (the carrot) – for example,, scraping public spend data and, tracking pollution, are focused on political disclosure rather than public service.

In Finland an “Apps for Democracy” style project has resulted the investigation of potential by Government ministries, and experiments such as the Helsinki Region Infoshare. Compare that with the experience of delegates from Hungary and Mexico who reported their government institutions making data re-purposing technically impossible – this despite an independent project in Mexico analyzing farm subsidy data and uncovering millions of dollars of waste. In Italy the movement is very small, with little engagement by the national or municipal administrations.

The constructive and proactive open data programme,, commenced under the Labour administration and continued by the Coalition stood as a marked contrast, with the Government spend data release last week acting as a case in point. Whilst still early days there is a matching local level momentum and enthusiasm for the creation of new public services through the re-purpose of public data – see London Datastore, Open Data Manchester and the B-Open scheme I am involved with in Bristol.

Under the B-Open scheme we are developing three new projects based on Bristol City Council data, for example, Mobile Pie are developing a game, Blossom Bristol (think foursquare meets farmville meets farmer’s market) which analyses the data of the city and draws attention to environmental impacts – and whilst it might not quite be applicable to the upcoming TSB Metadata investment call, the Open Data movement is a prime example of the extraction of additional value from information through smart interrogation.


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