- Why you should use open data
- How to use open data
- Ethical implications
Open data: an introduction
More data is being generated than ever before, from apps and devices people use everyday, to the administrative data that government departments keep on their services and customers. Open data can benefit policy in numerous ways. It:
- brings in external thinking through hack days to open eyes of ministers and officials to design better solutions. This has been used at places like MoveMaker and SkillsRoute
- can help policy makers work with voices of citizens and create choice for users. Ofsted’s school dashboard has done this with schools to help parents choose
- creates a different relationship between citizen and state, increasing awareness and sometimes encourages engagement
Not all data is fully open. Like Open Policy Making there are scales of openness. The Open Data Institute (ODI) spectrum helps you to see how open you can be. Read more information about Open Data from Open Knowledge Foundation’s School of Data and Open Data Institute.
Examples of open data
Citymapper is one of the best known examples of open data. It takes data from transit authorities and the public sector around the globe to make cities easier to use and ‘reinvent the transport app for the world’s most complicated cities’.
There are also prototypes on GOV.UK that highlight how open data can be used to report on the success of a policy. These prototypes are not working yet but they do show how policy can work with digital and open data to improve understanding of the policy. View the prototype on housing and free schools
Why you should use data to understand
Data science techniques, such as clustering and predictive analytics, can help to identify an issue quickly, and allow you to make interventions earlier to avoid a major problem occurring.
For instance, by analysing comments and feedback data from GOV.UK, it’s possible to see where most complaints are occurring, who is involved and how to mitigate against the issues reported in them.
One example of this is passports. If complaints are increasing in frequency, and often contain words relating to the online service failing, it is possible to undertake maintenance at an early stage to avoid complete service failure.
How to use open data
1. Get the data
Open data is often useful to further augment existing data to improve your knowledge and cross reference information. Open data is free and available from UK Data Archive, Data.gov.uk and the Office for National Statistics.
Often the best approach is just to explore. There are many places that hold openly available data that can be used for analytical purposes. Policymakers should seek data and not be overly prescriptive about traditional methods of understanding policy issues.
2. Use data to identify policy issues
Data visualisation techniques can make your data more compelling and show where policies are failing to reach their intended targets.
An example would be the visualisation of the LSYPE (Longitudinal Study of Young People in England) survey data to show transitions between different aged cohorts. By viewing data in this way it is possible to find trends, such as the large number of people moving from family care into unemployment between the ages of 20 and 21. This highlights an area to look at further and and begin to create policy interventions around.
Data visualisation, analysis and open data are often specialist tools and working with experts is often necessary.
Ethical implications and privacy concerns in using data
There are many ethical and privacy considerations when using data. Data that is heavily aggregated will be safe to use, but will not always make for compelling or useful analysis. Personal-level data is great for bespoke tailoring of services and interventions, but creates potential issues around privacy and protecting the anonymity of citizens.
Policymakers should think about what they are trying to achieve and how it could impact on the privacy of citizens. They should ensure that they are working within the knowledge and information management guidelines set out by their departments, and the terms of the Data Protection Act.