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Government backtracks on key open data and FOI commitments

Derek du Preez | Nov. 6, 2013
The UK has withdrawn some of its key open data and freedom of information (FOI) commitments in its latest national plan, which aims to boost transparency, participation, and accountability in the public sector.

The UK has withdrawn some of its key open data and freedom of information (FOI) commitments in its latest national plan, which aims to boost transparency, participation and accountability in the public sector.

A review of the government's initial commitments to opening up data to the public found that legacy ICT systems and a conflicting government agenda to reduce regulation were creating problems for the plans.

The Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) carries out a biannual review of each of the participating Open Government Partnership (OGP) country's open data activities.

The OGP is an initiative aimed at securing firm commitments from governments to promote transparency, increase civic participation, fight corruption and harness new technologies to make government more open, effective and accountable. It officially launched in September 2011, with the UK as one of the eight founding members.

Out of 41 commitments the UK set out in 2011, only four have since been withdrawn. Some 17 were completed and the remaining 20 were in progress, IRM found.

Some of the withdrawn commitments were key to the UK's first National Action Plan and fail to feature in the latest plan, which was released last week.

A merged, single data inventory - scrapped
For example, the UK had been planning to create a 'single data inventory' by merging information asset registers, publication schemes and other data lists. Alongside this there was going to be an 'unlocking service', which was set to provide citizens and businesses the ability to make requests for datasets not currently published.

This commitment also required setting consistent expectations of the appropriate quality of metadata and creating standardised data co-ordinated across government - both key to allowing people to compare and connect data for re-use.

IRM found that the government carried out some work to establish a single data inventory, but the work was discontinued "in light of the considerable challenges posed by the differing structures of government departments and legacy ICT systems".

The report goes as far to say that a single data inventory is "beyond the current capacity of government".

However, a recent independent review found that if departments could quickly and systematically identify core reference data, this could provide a partial inventory of core material that could be published and kept up-to-date.

This comes in the form of the National Information Infrastructure (NII), which was announced in the government's second National Action Plan. The NII will make clear the most important datasets held by government and create a framework to help data owners prioritise their release, whilst making published data accessible to the public via an API.

FOI requests come under pressure
Another scrapped commitment was the plan to introduce new powers held by independent organisations to secure the release of valuable public datasets, with a suitable format, quality and regularity of publication.


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