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Open data review points to UK shortfalls

16/11/17

Lead of European Open Data Portal says UK is losing ground because of lack of clear strategy and need to revamp national portal

UK government is faltering in its development of open data, according to a senior figure in the management of the European Data Portal.

Wendy Carrara, principal consultant for the portal at Capgemini Consulting – which manages the portal for the EU – told UKAuthority the UK is still among the world leaders, but lacks a clear strategy and has slipped in one of the key international rankings.

'Open data' spelled out in Scrabble piecesShe pointed to the most recent Open Data Maturity ranking from the European Commission, which shows that the UK went from sixth of 28 countries last year to ninth this year. This reflects on its readiness in the field – with policies, licensing norms and extent of coordination at national level – and the availability and usability of data through its prime portal, in this case data.gov.uk.

This comes with the publication of the third annual report on efforts throughout Europe, Open Data Maturity in 2017.

An overview on the UK’s performance says it has some of the crucial features in place, notably an open data policy, a national five-year strategy, holding more than eight events annually, and ensuring that more than 50% of data is uploaded automatically.

But it lacks a predefined approach to ensure that datasets are up-to-date, and that priority domains are identified.

Encouraging figures

The overview points to some encouraging statistics for the data.gov.uk portal, which attracts an average of 200,000 visitors per month, with 76% of the traffic generated by humans rather than computer robots, and more than 38,000 datasets available. It also refers to plans to update the portal, but the overall approach to open data has not been as strong as it could be.

“It’s been doing a lot in the past, but it has fallen backwards in terms of not having a predefined approach to updating datasets,” Carrara said. “There are a lot of activities that don’t feed into the revamp of the UK data portal.”

She said the UK effort has also suffered from two rounds of changes in the Cabinet Office team in charge of open data policy over the past 18 months, which has led to the loss of knowledge and an absence of strategy on what comes next.

This contrasts with other countries, such as Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain, updating their strategies and portals to drive the development of business around open data.

The UK’s Open Data Maturity ranking is in sharp contrast to its top position in the Open Data Barometer report from the World Wide Web Foundation, and its second place in the Open Data Index from the Open Knowledge Network. Carrara said the differences can be attributed to different methodologies, but emphasised that the UK needs to raise its game.

“It’s important to continue updating and ensure open data is embedded into the digital transformation for the public sector,” she said.

Seven steps

This reflects the seven recommendations of the report, directed at developing a sustainable approach to open data transformation. These are: enhance your data portal; sustain funding; document the impact; interact with users; drive digital transformation; explore privately held data; and offer real time data.

Carrara added: “All the basics are in place and very solid for the UK, but it’s important to reignite the importance of open data and have a more user-friendly data portal.”

On a Europe-wide scale, the report says the number of countries classed as ‘trendsetters’ has increased from eight to 14 over the past year, and that those in the EU are making considerable efforts to improve their publishing of open data.

They scored 72% in assessments on open data readiness, up from 57% in 2016, and 76% for the maturity of their open data portals, up from 66%.

Combining these, they are now assessed at 73% of the way towards open data maturity, up from 59% a year ago.

“The impressive results from the 2017 measurement show that public sector information is increasingly recognised as an asset for digital innovation in light of the data economy,” Carrara said.

Image by justgrimes, CC BY-SA 2.0 through flickr

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