Why is an open data policy so important?

Following Tim Berners-Lee’s quest to open up data, we take a look at why it’s important the UK government gets a formal policy in place.

Earlier this year, Tim Berners-Lee revealed the UK had the world's most successful open data policy, allowing the public and businesses to access data held by the government.

Now, the Open Data Institute, headed by Sir Berners-Lee, is setting its sights on further improving the government's involvement in opening up data it thinks the public has a right to know about, using the information to offer accountability, enable businesses to produce new products and provide economic benefit.

Jeni Tennison, technical director at theODI.org, says the institute categorises the benefits of open data in three broad ways.

Publishing data openly can help businesses operate better with their partners and customers, and save money.

"Publishing open data is one way of being more transparent about what you are doing (whether you're government or another type of organisation). More transparency can help with being more accountable for your decisions, help engender trust, and (for government data) encourage democratic participation", Tennison explained.

Releasing public sector spending data, or data about supermarket supply chains, are examples of open data publication targeted on transparency and accountability.

Opening data up and being more transparent, ultimately creates opportunities for organisations to innovate and create new products and services.

"Because it is usually free, it lowers barriers for small companies who can start to provide novel offerings. It also lowers the costs for existing businesses that use data, enabling them to save money both directly by no longer paying for data and indirectly by being able to get hold of more data on which they can base their decisions," Tennison added.

This provides a general economic benefit, for example, the release of core transport information has led to a plethora of apps that help you know when your next bus is going to arrive or where there are delays in the London Underground.

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