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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.

"This can lead to a more effective use of resources and a more efficient public sector. The same applies to businesses: publishing data openly can help businesses operate better with their partners and customers, and save money," Tennison said.

Rob Bamforth, principal analyst at Quocirca, agrees that open data is certainly being used innovative ways in the UK, where it is so readily available.

"Opening the right data can be very useful. It can allow new sorts of applications that combine 'snippets' with other data to create a better view, for example, councils providing street furniture locations that might be added to mapping directions," he said.

The UK government has an Open by Default' policy which means that they are trying to publish as much data as open data as possible, listed on data.gov.uk.

Publishing open data is now built into government's service delivery standards for new IT systems.

The government is also looking at more effectively targeting the data it releases. Some data, such as spending data and data about organisational structures, is mandated for regular release. Every department has created an Open Data Strategy that lists the data that they aim to release.

The Open Data User Group and various sector-specific Transparency Panels include external experts and data users and try to help prioritise open data releases on data whose publication will bring the most benefits.

The government has also put together a list of datasets to form a National Information Infrastructure of datasets that they will aim to release as open data and whose open data publication will be improved over time.

However, Bamforth said, it needs good data models and consistency, otherwise the apps that exploit it go out of date too fast.

Tennison explained there are still three big challenges for government: producing a joined-up open data strategy, data as a revenue stream and it needs to get better using the data it produces rather than just passing it on.

"Government needs a joined-up open data strategy that considers the end-to-end process of publishing open data, from collecting the right data in the first place, analysing it to create useful statistics, through to publishing it in ways that are useful for everyone," Tennison commented.

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