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Ambassador's keynote speech at the “Open Data Days” in Kyrgyzstan

On 18 November Ambassador Judith Farnworth delivered the keynote address at the “Open Data Days” in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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Prime Minister Otorbaev, Minister of Economy Sariev, UNDP Representative Sharma Pradil, and Ambassador Judith Farnworth
Prime Minister Otorbaev, Minister of Economy Sariev, UNDP Representative Sharma Pradil, and Ambassador Judith Farnworth

I welcome Prime Minister Otorbaev’s initiative in convening these Open Data Days in Kyrgyzstan. It is clear from the impressive turn-out that there is a high level of support and interest both domestically and from international partners.

I’d also like to thank you, Prime Minister Otorbaev, for inviting me to share some insights into why open data is so important and why the UK has chosen to be amongst the greatest champions of open data both nationally and internationally. It is a real honour.

In July 2011 Prime Minister David Cameron stated:

Transparency is at the heart of our agenda for Government. We recognise that transparency and open data can be a powerful tool to help reform public services, foster innovation and empower citizens. We also understand that transparency can be a significant driver of economic activity…

Since the initiative was launched in the UK in 2010, the process of becoming more transparent and opening up data has delivered many advantages.

Greater accountability: Releasing data and allowing it to be Open to the public means that citizens get the opportunity to analyse it and share it with others, something which is an important aspect of a well-functioning democracy. The ability of the public to access freely this information, such as civil service salaries, expenses and contracts, puts the government under much greater scrutiny and makes it much more accountable. This transparency and accountability has the potential to strengthen the relationship between citizens and their government by fostering trust and making the government more receptive to the needs and concerns of the public.

The UK government is harnessing today’s new digital technologies as an essential aspect of this process of engagement. Members of the public can respond by using these media to voice their opinions, comment on government policies and connect with others. This is a fundamental element since open data is only meaningful if the public is able to use it to enhance the quality of their lives. The internet is the perfect platform through which the public can access this information. And most UK politicians, ministers, even Ambassadors – myself included - now regularly communicate through blogs, YouTube, Flikr, Facebook and Twitter.

Better delivery of public services: Opening data benefits the public and enhances the delivery of public services. Releasing data on, for example, school results, court sentences or hospital waiting times, is a good way of measuring the effectiveness of government policies. However, it also improves the government’s own coordination, productivity and efficiency by making data from different agencies and departments easier to locate, evaluate, combine and compare. This saves money and contributes to reducing the UK budget deficit.

Economic and social growth: Today’s new digital technology means that data can be turned into a real asset for the state, utilised to drive improvements in public services and create innovative new services which can provide real value both socially and economically. Open data gives businesses and public service authorities much broader and more rapid access to research and data which they can use to identify areas of improvement and foster greater levels of quality and successful outcomes. In terms of economic growth, the report by McKinsey Global Institute into transparency predicted that Europe could increase GDP by up to €250 billion (£200 billion) every year if they capitalised on their public data.

Let me give you a few concrete examples of the positive benefits of open data in the UK:

  • 1000 fewer deaths during heart surgery;

  • 85% reduction in hospital infections;

  • 58:1 return on public sector investment through releasing Open Data about transport services in London, with the creation of 5,000 new jobs;

  • Open Data on individual crimes has made police.uk one of the UK Government’s most popular websites with 25 million visitors a year and 1/3 of UK adults aware of it;

  • Opening tender and contract data have increased the number of SMEs bidding for public sector work;

  • At least one £1 billion (USD1.6 billion) company created from use of Open Data (Zoopla);

From the outset, the UK Government acknowledged that it could not push through this initiative alone. It has been working closely with partners such as the Open Data Institute to help businesses that want to use public sector data to create new products and services. And I’m delighted that ODI is represented here today by Ulrich Atz who will be talking to us later this morning.

The UK has also been working to promote open data internationally, particularly as one of eight founding members of the Open Government Partnership.

In the three years since its creation, OGP has become a valuable forum to engage emerging powers and others in constructive dialogue on accountability and transparency to improve public services and governance, promote innovation, reduce corruption and drive sustainable economic growth. The FCO works closely with DFID, UK Trade & Investment, the Cabinet Office and international partners in the OGP to promote open government to generate prosperity and stability around the world. There are a number of eligibility criteria to be able to join the OGP, including a commitment to support the principles of open government by signing the Open Government Declaration. This holds that states must commit to:

foster a global culture of open government that empowers and delivers for citizens, and advances the ideals of open and participatory 21st century government.

It seems to me that in initiating this event, the Kyrgyz government is showing its commitment to these values.

So in closing, I encourage participants to consider over the next couple of days whether the Kyrgyz Republic should join the Open Government Partnership.

I wish you fruitful and very concrete discussions.

Thank you for your attention.

“Open Data Days” in Kyrgyzstan
“Open Data Days” in Kyrgyzstan
Published 19 November 2014