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ODI criticises political parties on open data

05/06/17

Head of policy says general election manifestos lack a real appreciation of how opening up data can improve policy and services

All the main political parties have fallen short in furthering the cause of open data in their election manifestos, according to the head of policy at the Open Data Institute (ODI).

Houses of Parliament seen from across riverPeter Wells levels the criticisms in a new blogpost that says there seems to be little understanding about how opening up public sector data can create new ways to deliver policies.

He acknowledges that a few relevant ideas have emerged, such as the Conservative proposal to open up data about land in the UK, and the plans from Labour and the Scottish National Party for beneficial ownership registers.

But he says that bigger things are missing from the manifestos.

“The need to tackle energy and water markets to make them work for consumers has been agreed upon but the ongoing market failure of access to data has not been recognised,” he says. “This market failure will stunt new technologies such as artificial intelligence and driverless cars.”

Technology absence

This is part of a broader absence of the role of technology in the manifestos, which Wells attributes to politicians maybe feeling they could not explain the role of technology to voters, or that voters would want to hear easy answers that they could not provide.

“Whatever the reasoning, the omission of the role of technology in manifestos has led to the wrong outcome,” he says. “At elections politicians need to show that they have learnt from the past and can tackle immediate challenges – such as Brexit – but they also need to show leadership by openly debating the futures they aim for and helping voters choose which future they want for their country.”

He adds that the failure of all three parties to publish data about their candidates is also discouraging, and that while the manifestos suggest consultations and big policy changes, they do not recognise the need for policy trials to produce data that would help assess an idea against its theoretical promises.

Image by McKay Savage, London, CC BY 2.0 through Wikimedia Commons

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