Policy

Improving the transparency and accountability of government and its services

Issue

The government produces a lot of data that describe the services that the government offers and how well those services are performing. There is also data on how people use these services and who those people are.

There are many reasons why government data is useful; data introduces transparency – in a democracy it is important that we know what the government is doing.

Data about public services’ performance, such as school grades, court sentences or hospital waiting times is a good way of measuring the effectiveness of our education, justice and health policies. By releasing public data, the government allows people to see how the government is doing.

Transparency isn’t just about access to data. People need to be able to use that data, to share it, and combine it with other data to use it in their own applications.

Used in this way, open data can create value by providing an opportunity for businesses to take the data released and produce goods and services from it.

Actions

To achieve a more open, transparent government, we will:

  • make sure that every government department includes specific open data commitments in their business plans

  • introduce the right to public data in legislation to make sure that all the government data that can be published, is published in an accessible format

  • publish data sets on www.data.gov.uk that show: how public money has been spent and on what (monthly); who does what in government and how much they are paid (6 monthly), and how government is doing against its objectives and goals (6 monthly)

  • establish the Public Sector Transparency Board to challenge data standards across government and provide guidance through a set of shared public data principles - these principles show departments how to maintain inventories of data and release data based on public demand

Funds supporting the release of data

In December 2012, we set up the Release of Data Fund to speed up open data proposals by helping government departments, agencies and local authorities to overcome short-term financial barriers. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has also set up the Open Data Breakthrough Fund to overcome short-term financial barriers to the release of open data.

Read guidance and find out how to apply for both funds.

Using data for growth

We will work with the Open Data Institute to help businesses that want to use public sector data to create new products and services – commuters are already using apps based on transport data released by rail and bus operating companies to plan their journeys (using real-time information to adjust their trip by taking account of delays).

We will improve access to data by ensuring that data is released in anonymised, open formats to enable people to use the data and encourage the development of a market for services based on public-sector information for entrepreneurs and businesses by 2013. Data from the Department of Transport is being used to run Smartphone applications that help people to find their way around cities across the UK.

We will create an open licensing model which enables the use and re-use of public sector information - this licence will cover any information that a data provider offers for re-use under its terms and conditions.

Data.gov.uk

The government regularly publishes open data on: central and local government spending, senior staff salary details and how the government is doing against objectives. This helps people monitor government performance, make informed choices on the use of public services or hold the government to account.

Data.gov.uk has more than 17,000 datasets on it already, including local crime statistics, sentencing rates, hospital infection rates and GP performance.

Data published by the Department of Health has been used to create tools that compare GP surgeries by the quality of health outcomes they achieve and their level of patient satisfaction.

The Home Office and Ministry of Justice publish data that lets people see where crime is happening in their local area, and the level of reoffending after a conviction and court sentences. The website, www.police.uk, also allows people to compare crime levels for a certain borough or district.

Background

In May 2010, the Prime Minister wrote to all government departments instructing them to become more transparent and open, by releasing data on finance, resources and procurement in an open, regular and re-usable format. A second letter in July 2011 concentrated on data releases from major public services including health, education, crime and justice, and transport.

Transparency and open data formed an important part of the second phase of the government’s Growth review, published in November 2011. In this, we outlined plans to release more aggregate data and set up the Open Data Institute (ODI).

Who we’ve consulted

We ran ‘Making open data real: a public consultation’ in August 2011 to look at ways for making the government more transparent through releasing data.

The ‘Making open data real consultation - summary of responses’ showed public support for transparency but questioned how publishing public data might work in practice.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) consulted on the draft ‘Anonymisation code of practice’ in 2012. The code sets out how effective anonymisation of personal data is possible.

Who we’re working with

We have set up the Open Data User Group (ODUG) to review, prioritise and petition the government to release data sets that aren’t available, on behalf of people and businesses that use data.

Open Government Partnership (OGP)

The UK is leading this initiative until October 2013.

The Open Government Partnership is a partnership of 58 countries and civil society organisations. It asks governments to become more open by committing to promoting transparency and access to information to enable citizens to hold their governments to account more easily.

Civil society from each country works with its governments to develop new OGP commitments. The idea behind this is that people are best placed to identify problems in their communities, and also to come up with solutions.

Video: From Commitment to Action: The Open Government Partnership’s first year: Bringing together governments and civil society organisations

Public Sector Transparency Board

The Public Sector Transparency Board was established in 2010. Its purpose is to set data standards, encourage the release of more government data, and provide guidance through a set of shared public data principles. These principles show departments how to maintain inventories of data and release data based on public demand.

International Development Sector Transparency Panel

The International Development Sector Transparency Panel was set up by the Department for International Development (DFID) to challenge, influence and advise DFID on its approach to international development transparency.

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