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The last 18 months have seen dramatic developments in the release of open government data (OGD) across the world. In the UK, datasets ranging from crime statistics to transport data, school locations to government-wide spending data, have been placed online in machine-readable formats, licensed for re-use. At the preview launch of the UK data.gov.uk data portal (Cabinet Office 2009), Director of Digital Engagement Andrew Stott outlined four agendas driving the development of the platform and surrounding policy[1]:

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  • Promoting transparency and accountability
  • Empowering citizens to drive public sector reform
  • Releasing the economic and social value of information
  • Putting Britain at the leading edge of semantic-web developments.
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For these agendas to be realized, OGD must be put into use in some way. That data.gov.uk launched with a ‘developers beta’ reveals a particular expectation that technology developers will be the primary users of datasets. Whilst economic incentives are expected to encourage developers to pursue commercial exploitation of OGD[2], the expectation that developers will make widespread use of OGD in civic contexts requires further justification and the connections between OGD and democratic empowerment or public sector reform need to be outlined in more detail.

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This exploratory case study of data.gov.ukdraws upon participant observation; survey data; qualitative interviews and documentary evidence to identify how, since the beta and launch of data.gov.uk, OGD has been used in practice. It asks: Who is using OGD? How are they using it? Why are they engaging with OGD? What technical approaches are being adopted? And what are the implications of all this for democratic engagement and the reform of public services?

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Through looking at uses of data from data.gov.uk, it seeks to draw out findings that can be tested in the case of other OGD programmes, both in comparable national contexts; and in the local OGD contexts presently emerging across the UK.

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Footnotes:
[1] Paraphrased from authors own notes from bloggers briefing on data.gov.uk developers launch on 1st October 2009.

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[2] The market for the re-use of OGD has been extensively explored in work on Public Sector Information (PSI) re-use around the EU PSI Directive (European Commission 2003b; Dekkers et al. 2006; Uhlir 2009)