Welcome to the Open Data User Group

Back in October I wrote about a UK government consultation on the subject of the proposed Public Data Corporation. The government has now responded with one of its well-written documents [pdf]. Here's part of the executive summary: Charging €...


Back in October I wrote about a UK government consultation on the subject of the proposed Public Data Corporation. The government has now responded with one of its well-written documents [pdf]. Here's part of the executive summary:


€¢ Many respondents wanted all data to be released for free.

€¢ However, a number of respondents and those who took part in workshops held alongside the consultation felt that a Public Data Corporation should be able to charge for value-added services, and in some cases core data (where a high cost was involved in collection). In addition, although there was no overwhelming preference from respondents for any specific charging approach,there was a preference expressed in the responses for ‘raw data' to be made available free with theoption of charging for value-added services.


Many respondents felt that complex licensing can be a barrier to accessing datasets – in fact many felt this was more of an issue than charging per se. A good number of respondents supported options in the consultation which suggested that, where possible, standard licence terms should be common and consistent across PDC members licences.


€¢ Many respondents felt that the regulatory framework around data policy was already complex andrequired simplification.

€¢ Many also highlighted the importance of separation of Government functions customer,
delivery and regulatory) and the need for clear objectives for all parties involved.

It's actually well-worth reading the whole document (it's relatively short), because it shows a healthy engagement by people with this important area. In all, there were 116 detailed, question-by-question responses, and a further 296 responses from individuals who commented on the key issue of how data should be charged for (if at all). Given the apparently dry nature of the subject, that's a rather good sign, I think, as are the generally sensible comments that the report refers to.

The UK government's response can be summarised as "we are still thinking about the details" of how more open data can be released, but that doesn't mean the whole exercise was just a fob-off. There are two concrete actions that the government is committing to: the creation of a Data Strategy Board (DSB) "to maximize the value of data from the Public Data Group (PDG) Trading Funds in order to attain long-term economic and social benefit", and setting up an Open Data User Group.

Here's the press release on these:

A new independently chaired Data Strategy Board (DSB) will advise Ministers on what data should be released and has the potential to unlock growth opportunities for businesses across the UK. At least one in three members of the DSB will be from outside government, including representatives of data re-users.

The DSB will work with the Public Data Group (PDG) - which consists of Trading Funds the Met Office, Ordnance Survey, Land Registry and Companies House – to provide a more consistent approach to improving access to public sector information. These organisations have already made some data available, which has provided opportunities for developers and entrepreneurs to create imaginative ways to develop or start up their own businesses based on high quality data.

The Government is making £7m available from April 2013 for the DSB to purchase additional data for free release from the Trading Funds and potentially other public sector organisations, funded by efficiency savings. An Open Data User Group, which will be made up of representatives from the Open Data community, will be directly involved in decisions on the release of Open Data, advising the DSB on what data to purchase from the Trading Funds and other public organisations and release free of charge.

Naturally, the part that interests me here is the Open Data User Group, since this is a formal recognition of the importance of engaging the open data community. That emphasis on the community is new, and is something that hitherto has been lacking in not just this field, but everywhere.

The Open Data User Group home page expands on this theme:

In addition to the formal membership of the group, the ODUG will be empowered to use the most appropriate channels of engagement with the broader users and re-users of open data, in order to reach out to all those organisations and individuals with an interest in increasing the amount of open data released by the public sector.

As is only right, people's views on how that engagement should happen are being solicited on yet another page:

In advance of appointing a Chair and Members of the group, the Cabinet Office wants to bring together suggestions for how the ODUG should go about this engagement with wider users and re-users. We are looking for ideas about things like how the ODUG should gather evidence for the release of open data, how it should develop it's advice to the DSB, how it should run its meetings and how it should keep the wider community up to date on developments (as well as other ideas you have). These ideas will then be considered by the new Chair and Members as soon as they are appointed so that the group can get up and running as soon as possible. In addition to this, we are also setting up a Twitter account (@odugUK) for the ODUG which will be taken over by the group when it is up and running.

We are keen to hear your views on how users and re-users of open data should be engaged by ODUG. This is your opportunity to co-create this process and make sure that it is as tailored as possible to the needs of the community.

That's great, although when I tried to add my own suggestion the system wouldn't let me enter all the required information for some reason. Let's hope it's a temporary glitch, because in general this latest open data initiative seems to be doing everything right, and augurs well for the health and continuing development of open data in the UK.

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