The emphasis in opening government data is to “push the information out there and enable people to use it in whatever ways they see fit,” rather than being over-cautious in ensuring that the data is exactly right and conveniently packaged, says government CIO Brendan Boyle.
At the beginning of the exercise, he told Computerworld, “there was a desire by people with a strong information management background to make sure that the information was really accurate, robust, well designed and well packaged. I think we’ve moved beyond that now.”
Boyle was speaking at a symposium on record-keeping organised by the Association of Local Government Information Management (Algim). Computerworld had asked him to identify the factors holding back increased openness with government information and increased centralisation onto all-of-government ICT.
Also, Boyle says, there was concern that government agencies would just be adding another layer of management complexity that would just require more resources at a time when they were being asked to economise. However, public release of data in itself encouraged greater efficiency, economy and accountability, he suggests.
One of the first public demands for releases of hitherto confidential information pertained to the expenses of ministers and agency chief executives on their credit cards. “As that information has gone out there, it’s probably caused many of those holders of credit cards to think a bit more carefully about their use over time.”
Overall, “I think resistance [to opening information] hasn’t been significant,” Boyle says. “There have been some valid questions raised about the way the information is packaged and structured,” but improvement in that respect “will come over time”.
Release of government data has the occasional “unintended consequence”, he told the symposium; the UK government, in its early days of openness, had released details of aircraft movements over the country - with sensitive military data naturally omitted. An amateur analyst had deduced the track of a Stealth bomber on as test flight “simply by looking at where the data was absent.”
Opening the processes of government, however, has far more benefits than snags, he says. Putting more information out not only enables public scrutiny and increase in confidence in the government, but allows members of the public to play an active role in forming government policy – “enabling them to contribute to solving the problems the public service has to deal with.”
Openness will also improve cooperation between agencies and the breaking down of “silos”, with resulting improvement in efficiency and effectiveness – but with a constant focus on respecting the privacy of the subjects of the information, Boyle says.