Francis Maude: Open data and government transparency speech in São Paulo

Speech by Minister for Trade and Investment Lord Maude at an event with the São Paulo state government, São Paulo, Brazil 17 November 2015.

The Rt Hon Lord Maude of Horsham

Thank you.

I’m delighted to be here to launch these important guides on open data, which are the result of a jointly-funded project between the UK government and São Paulo.

It’s great to see that you are also launching a Portuguese version of the Open Data Institute maturity model today.

I look forward to hearing in the future of the impact of these guides as they are shared across other states in Brazil.

Open Government is a priority for both of our countries.

We were founding members of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2011.

And worked together to create the Brazilian Transparency Portal.

I’m pleased to be back here in São Paulo today to discuss anti-bribery legislation and access to open data.

The last time I was here was in 2012 for the Brasilia Open Government Partnership Summit. I visited São Paulo and it was interesting then to hear what was being done on the role of open data.

Open data and transparency are central features of the fight against corruption.

Four years ago the OGP agreed to work towards

  1. Greater transparency of government
  2. Greater engagement of our citizens in decision making
  3. Greater standards of integrity
  4. Greater access to technology for all people in all countries

And since 2011, we’ve made significant progress.

There were 8 founding members. It was a privilege to work closely with colleagues in the Brazilian government as 2 of the first chairs of this group, the UK as junior co-chair with Brazil as second lead co-chair. There are now 71 participating governments.

And it is not just government, there are hundreds of civil society organisations working with us.

I want to say a word about civil society. In some places, the relationship between government and civil society can be adversarial. Civil society organisations can sometimes see themselves as in opposition to government.

But government is not homogenous: every government has reformers and resisters. Civil society can provide a support network for the reformers. The role of the reformer in government can be lonely, and you find in every government the same resistance to change. So it is important to give credit for the changes that the reformers do manage to deliver, and civil society can give support to them to drive reform forward.

Since 2011, the OGP has taken on a life of its own. Participating countries represent one third of the world’s population, and together we have made more than 2,000 open government reform commitments.

So let’s take a moment to acknowledge how far we’ve come.

Brazil’s commitment to this agenda was very obvious from the start and is demonstrated through reforms like the Brazilian Transparency Law of 2009 and Brazilian Anti-Corruption law 2013.

The UK shares your commitment, and like you, we know that we cannot achieve open government without open data. Open data should be at the centre.

That’s why we put open data at the heart of our most recent OGP National Action Plan.

And I’m pleased to say that just as the UK led the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, we’re leading the world on the open data revolution.

For the second year running the UK is top of the World Wide Web Foundation’s Open Data Barometer.

And last year we were No. 1 in the Global Open Data Index.

Key to our leadership is our commitment to innovation, invention and entrepreneurial spirit.

And just as innovations in printing ended feudalism and increased access to information in the 19th century.

So too is the Internet democratising the availability of data today.

And isn’t this exactly what Sir Tim Berners Lee envisaged when he invented the World Wide Web not much more than 20 years ago?

Today, it is easier than ever before for the public to demand access to data.

Easier than ever before for the public to use that data to inform their choices in public services and demand better from the governments who serve them.

Easier than ever before for entrepreneurs and businesses to use data to create new and innovative products and services.

Easier than ever before for governments to provide data.

And these are all good things.

But governments don’t always choose to share data.

After all information is power, and traditionally even the most liberal government has been reluctant to share that power.

In a speech I made at the launch of the OGP in 2011, I made the point that it is easy for politicians to talk about transparency when they are in opposition.

In opposition transparency is a brilliant idea.

And remains a brilliant idea for the first 12 months of being in government, because all you are really doing is exposing what the government before you has done.

And then it gets to the point of explaining what you yourself have done.

Then it gets harder and too often politicians at this stage lose their nerve and retreat into their comfort zone.

But the comfort zone rarely fosters creativity and innovation.

So we owe it to the people we serve to get uncomfortable, to create that accountability and share data to drive innovation, growth and jobs.

We have the data, let’s use it, and ensure that all people have the opportunity to help shape public democracy.

And once we start down the road to openness, transparency becomes irreversible.

So although at times transparency challenges us and brings discomfort, I feel privileged to have been part of a government in Britain that has worked with other reforming governments of all political positions to press ahead.

Government that wants to implement change knows that transparency is their friend.

Open data is important.

  1. It makes governments more accountable, which strengthens our democracy
  2. It drives efficiency, it helps you understand the cost of services and see what money is being spent on. We can share best practice across departments
  3. It informs choice over public services. Taxpayers deserve to know how their money is spent. It allows them to exercise control
  4. It’s a raw material. The industrial revolution was fuelled by coal and iron. The raw material of the current revolution is open data. It feeds economic and social growth, jobs and commercial success

So now we work on the presumption that everything should be published as a matter of course, unless there is a compelling reason not to.

And when I talk about compelling reasons, I’m not talking about saving embarrassment for the government. I am amazed at the creativity used in the reasons for not sharing data. If the same creativity was used to release data, we would all be in a better place.

I’m talking about the balance between openness and protecting information that if released would genuinely endanger lives and security.

Not releasing data is a last resort. Often the quality of the data being poor is used as an excuse. In my view, you release it now and you will soon find that the data improves with scrutiny.

The data on which decisions are based and the evidence on which decisions are based absolutely should be published.

UK transparency publications include government spending over £25,000, government contracts over £10,000, details of hospitality, salaries of senior civil servants, objectives of permanent secretaries.

We also publish progress assessments of our major projects. We publish traffic light RAG ratings of our 200 biggest projects and this has had a very interesting affect. It was a difficult decision for us; it is uncomfortable to admit when things are not going well.

But openness has built trust. If we are honest about when things are going badly, the public are more likely to believe you when you say things are going well.

So that when we tell taxpayers of efficiencies or savings we made, they believe us.

Open data ensures consistency of high performance standards across all government departments.

This has real and meaningful impact on people’s lives.

To give some examples:

  • greater openness and transparency on cardiac surgery in the National Health Services has driven up performance and saved people’s lives. It lead to some surgeons with high mortality rates ceasing to practice;
  • publishing local crime statistics helps residents demand more strategic and focused services from local police forces
  • publishing exam results helps parents find a school that’s right for their children

I know that you’re interested in public sector innovation in Brazil, and particularly within the São Paulo State government.

Today you will have the first São Paulo Pitch event, where start ups have been encouraged to present innovative solutions to public sector challenges in health and education.

In the UK we also collaborate with innovators to deliver world-class solutions.

For example, during the floods of 2014 we brought together 200 software developers and computer programmers, and gave them access to flood data previously shared at cost with a small number of insurance companies.

It took just 2 days for this group to develop a range of solutions to help citizens in times of flooding.

These included a phone service that connects people with their energy supplier in a power cut and an app that alerts Twitter users to local volunteering opportunities.

Since those floods, there’s been strong demand for flood risk assessment data to be released to help local communities better protect themselves.

And the Environment Agency makes its data open now too.

This is just one example of how we’re improving public services through open data.

We want to make sure that all government services are best-in-class for the people we serve.

That’s why the UK now has performance metrics for all 800 transactions between citizen and government, which anyone can see on the award-winning gov.uk website.

Data.gov.uk – our open data portal – now has over 20,000 datasets, covering almost £200 billion of public spending.

This covers everything from live traffic information to statistics on childhood obesity.

To encourage further collaboration between business and government, we launched the Open Data Institute (ODI), under the leadership of Sir Nigel Shadbolt and Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

The ODI supports start-up companies to use data for new products and services.

One such company, Transport API, draws together data from the main providers of transport data in the UK (Network Rail, Transport for London and the Department for Transport) to create a single source for all UK transport information.

That sounds like common sense but no one had previously done that in a consistent way.

And this start-up did it in a user-friendly, low-cost way.

To date 900 businesses and developers are signed up to use their data.

Some have even used it to create new transport apps.

So in this case, open data has brought faster, more convenient travel information to the public –fewer delayed journeys – and has built a cycle of innovation, creating several new businesses.

And because transparency matters at a local level as much as national, we introduced the Transparency Code, setting out the minimum data that local authorities should be publishing.

But we know we have much more to do.

So our next steps will include:

1) Modernising our data infrastructure, and getting better at standardising and maintaining our data.

We must build more user-friendly data services

And we’ll be looking much more closely at how data flows into government: how it’s collected, how it links together, who uses it and how it’s made available for wider use.

The National Information Infrastructure – developed in collaboration with the ODI – gives us a good base on which to build.

Getting this right is critical to the future of digital government in the UK. It can be completely transformative for the cost of government and also for services that citizens receive from government.

2) We’ll continue to build capability across the Civil Service.

In the last Parliament we set up a cross-government Data Science Accelerator Programme, to train analysts in cutting-edge tools and techniques.

Now in its fourth cohort, it’s helping to embed expertise and drive innovation across Whitehall.

But to be truly data-driven, we need policymakers and operational managers to be intelligent customers of their own data.

So we’re setting up lunch-time code clubs where civil servants can learn about and get stuck into data.

3) We will strengthen our collaborative approach to data policy and governance.

To enable this, we’re putting data at the heart of our third Open Government Partnership National Action Plan, which drives open, collaborative policymaking.

We’re also supporting a new Data Leaders Network in government.

This network will review the legislation on data-sharing, making sure it supports our goal of open, effective, data-driven government.

And because we know that openness and transparency only works if we achieve it for all people everywhere,

We’re putting Open Data at the heart of our International Aid Plan. The British government was the first major government to meet the UN commitment to 0.7% of GDP on Overseas Development Assistance.

The new Sustainable Development Framework is built on an ethos of leave no one behind.

We want to make sure we don’t.

The Open Data Charter is a key driver of transparency, because it is built on an open and inclusive global dialogue that leads to real action.

And I’m pleased that the UK will become a Lead Steward for the international Open Data Charter.


Openness is not a soft option.

It takes governments out of their normal comfort zone and requires tough decisions.

But the potential rewards are enormous:

  • more accountable government
  • smarter, more responsive, more cost-effective public services
  • new jobs and businesses. New prosperity, new wealth for the countries who go down this road
  • we’re only at the start of the journey

So government, civil society, academia and the private sector must continue to work together to ensure this is an unstoppable and irreversible journey.

Because in the future, as we face challenges including climate change, energy use, security, aging populations and migration, our critical infrastructure and services must be more aware, more interactive and more efficient.

Open data will be crucial in making this happen.

When we launched the OGP, some of you may have heard me paraphrase Victor Hugo, when I spoke about transparency as an idea whose time has come.

Indeed, I’ve used this line so frequently that my paraphrase has been paraphrased.

But Hugo also said that

There is nothing like a dream to create the future.

I know that Brazil shares the dream of an open and transparent future for public policy.

And I look forward to working with you to achieve it.

Thank you.

Rt. Hon Lord Maude of Horsham Minister for Trade and Investment

Published 20 November 2015