Monday 16 May 2011

Government lures US open data guru

Professor Beth Noveck, former head of President Obama's Open Government Initiative, has been recruited to the UK, Chancellor George Osborne announced today.

Noveck, author of Wiki Government, is an advocate for open data. Osborne described her as "a world class recruit" who will be "working alongside" the Cabinet Office's open data taskforce.

In a speech to Google's Zeitgeist conference in London, Osborne stressed the potential of the web to change both policy-making and the running of services. "If we make the most of this opportunity, there is no doubt that we can significantly reduce the cost of government."

The speech was notable as the first time that Osborne has engaged so thoroughly with the government digital agenda. The Treasury has been seen as a potential obstacle to freeing government data. However his speech highlighted the potential of open data for economic and scientific returns.

Over the next 12 months, he promised "to unlock some of the most valuable datasets still locked away in government servers. This is the raw data that will enable you, for the first time, to analyse the performance of public services, and of competing providers within those public services."

Examples include performance data on GPs, hospitals, schools and police forces. "Our ambition is to become the world leader in open data, and accelerate the accountability revolution that the internet age has unleashed."

Referring to Noveck's appointment, Osborne said it is the government's intention to "remain at the cutting edge of open source policy making".

The chancellor did not announce Noveck's job title or grade, but she may encounter a culture clash in Whitehall. Her 2008 book Wiki Government atttacks "institutionalised practices of confidential decision-making", proposing instead to increase the legitimacy of government decisons by involving experts and citizens in their formulation.