“Open data is not a panacea, but it is a start.”
Brian Hoadley, Twitter, 21st January 2010 (public launch of data.gov.uk)
Although most embedded cases cannot identify their direct social impact, they do posses implicit or explicit connections with different models of public sector reform/democratic change. Across the full 55 instances of OGD use, a total of 9 distinct types of civic OGD-use can be identified, set out in Table 5 and framed by the typology outlined in §2.4.
Many OGD uses fit into multiple categories. For example, Schooloscope is both oriented towards improving the quality of demand by giving better information to children and parents as ‘consumers’ of education, and could constitute a co-produced information resource. The following sections draw on instance and embedded case examples to elaborate on specific connections from Table 4.
Looking at the use of COINS we see conventional forms of scrutiny (C4, newspaper led) complemented by crowd-sourcing initiatives (C3-C4) and independent individuals (C1, C5) and companies (C2) providing their own platforms for members of the public to explore government spending, and, in theory, to scrutinize that spending. The availability of multiple education datasets also allowed an independent school governor (E5) to scrutinize a specific government policy. However, as noted in 4.2.6 much scrutiny can fall short: unless data is also used to lobby for change.
Scrutiny-type processes may however feed into individuals voting choices, or direct interaction with elected representatives and senior officials. A number of instances refer to the use of political data to explore electoral histories, perhaps for strategic voting. Data-journalist Simon Rogers notes that during the 2010 UK Election “numbers were debated every single day”, suggesting that data is coming to play an increasingly fundamental role in political debate. That role can be direct, when OGD allows citizens or media outlets to check the claims made by politicians, or may be more subtle, though no less political.
For example, the ‘Facebook Crime Quiz’ takes data on crime rates in a local area and makes a game out of checking whether a user’s perception of crime matches the reality. The ‘Awsometer’ mobile-phone application takes a user’s location and checks a variety of open datasets for positive public provision nearby, giving an ‘Awsomeness score’ to that location. The application’s developer was inspired to create it as a response to the ASBOrometer iPhone application which displays anti-social behavior statistics for a locality, describing it as a form of “digital pamphleteering”.
It was difficult from the data available to identify instances in which OGD supported significant engagement between state and citizens, or state and service providers that could be clearly described as “collaborative” or “community based” where community is understood as a community of interest or local community. Rather, loose linkages between public services and independent actors facilitated by the flow of OGD support a range of models of ‘co-production’ (Brudney England 1983; Needham 2008; Pizzicannella 2010). Co-production of information was most common, although a number of survey responses also described the co-production of planning: small enterprises using OGD resources to create environmental, education or housing reports subsequently sold to or shared with government to inform strategic planning.
The Lichfield My Area Map (E3) illustrates that informational (and other forms of) co-production may also occur between layers of government: allowing a council to seamlessly provide information on services provided by another tier of government. Few examples of co-produced services were available in the sample, but, in reducing ‘friction’ in information exchange, there is clearly potential for OGD to play a role in the functioning of commissioned-out services.
UKSchoolsMap and Schooloscope (E1, E4) are illustrative of OGD interfaces that support ‘consumers’ of services to choose provision based on their specific preferences, although the impact these can have depends on how underlying markets are functioning (and how effective market forces are in specific public service domains). Whilst demand-side market-based OGD use is more visible, a number of data-use instances, survey responses and interviews suggested OGD has a key role in stimulating a competitive marketplace for public services.
80% of all survey respondents agreed with the statement “Innovators from outside government will use OGD to build better online services than government can”. The perceived incapacity of government to develop in-house, or to procure small-scale, modular and agile services (not only online services) was a recurring theme in discussions with participants at hack-day events. As one interviewee noted, when government’s effective monopoly in specific areas of data collection is converted into monopoly control of that data it “actually drives others out of the marketplace” and crowds out innovation. When data is open then access to the data does not provide a competitive advantage to firms with exclusive data-access agreements. Competitive advantage has to come from offering innovative value-added services on top of the data.