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Hood and Margetts (2007) offer a functional model of government as operating through two sets of tools: detectors and effectors. Detectors gather information (and data) from society, and effectors seek to influence individuals and society (p. 3), often (but not exclusively) through dissemination of data and information. Beniger (1986) argues that since industrial revolutions in manufacturing and transportation in the 19th Century, governments have sought increasingly advanced data collection and dissemination systems, responding to a ‘crisis of control’ created by increasingly complex societies. From the post-World-War-II era onwards the Weberian bureaucracy computerized (ibid. p.6), with government effectors and detectors becoming increasingly data-driven. Governments now manage vast data resources, frequently, in digital forms. The Measuring European Public Sector Information Resources  (MEPSIR) study identified six domains of data/information[1]: Business, Geographic, Legal, Meteorological, Social and Transport (Dekkers et al. 2006). Alongside administrative data, governments also generate large amounts of ‘political’ data and information (e.g. records of parliamentary discussions; voting records of elected representatives).

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Historically, many European governments have closely controlled their data/information resources (PIRA 2000; Weiss 2004) releasing only limited content, often in costly and inflexible formats (e.g. printed documents) or under restrictive licenses and through trading funds (De Saulles 2005; Pollock 2009). Restrictions on access to public data/information have origins both in cultures of governmental secrecy (Bennett 1985; Worthy 2008), and progressive attempts by governments, following recognition of it’s attractive and exploitable features (datasets with universal coverage, long-term time-series and high accuracy levels etc.), to capture some of the commercial and social value of PSI (Burkert 2004). However, over the last decade open data movements have made considerable progress calling for government data to be available as raw-data under open licenses and in re-useable formats. Advocacy has come from both European-level lobbies focused on developing markets for PSI (Aichholzer Burkert 2004) and from open government and freedom of information (FOI) activists in domestic contexts, drawing upon examples and inspiration from other countries. Fig. 1 outlines key events since 2003 contributing to developments in UK OGD policy and platforms, within wider European and US contexts (For an overview of developments beyond the UK and US, see Davies and Lithwick’s report for the Canadian Parliament (2010) covering OGD initiatives in seven countries).

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[1] Public Sector Information (PSI) can generally be taken to be a term inclusive of data.