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August 3, 2011 / Jo Ivens

Open local data – where is the leadership?

I’m blogging from the dappled shade of St James’ Park following a stimulating Whitehall chat about Transparency, in particular about Open Data, its potential to stimulate economic and social growth and the role of government in this.

The government will soon release a brace of consultations on Open Data. One on a Public Data Corporation and one on wider issues thrown up around open data in relation to the Open Public Service White paper. I’m particularly interested in the Local chapter of the latter, of course. And hope to hear some more developed thinking than was in evidence at the Transparency session a couple of weeks ago when the response from policy makers and commentators alike seemed to be “Yeah, local stuff’s really difficult”…

So, I suspect the key consulation question for government is: what is central government’s role in open data for economic (in particular) and social (as an addition) growth? Beyond releasing the information, is there one?

For me it’s more important to be debating local government’s role in open data. How can local government both facilitate social and economic growth through open data, while maximising its impact in the areas that it is itself responsible for? The social ones.

I still think there is a gaping lack of leadership on this issue from local government, with the LGA seemingly consumed with internal politics and ongoing HR wrangles, struggling to deal with the fall-out from it’s (almost-) hari kiri response to the last year and the seismic shift in local finances.

The Local Data Panel in CLG, a sort of local version of the Transparency Board (which is extremely centre-focussed), seems to have either stopped meeting, or stopped publishing its minutes on data.gov.uk. I’d be really glad to hear from anyone involved in this work, anyone with information on sightings, on its whereabouts, on its safety…

Local authorities, as always with any large group, are a very mixed bag, with some seeming to embrace the agenda, some goodnaturedly jumping in without really understanding what it means, some taking small, collaborative considered steps, and some stonewalling completely.

So who steps into this gap? It is clear that central government is not interested in leading on the practicalities of this work, and perhaps they should not be getting their hands mucky with this. Herein lies the opportunity for both local government and the voluntary sector. Let’s work out what it means, what the opportunities are, and what’s needed to get there.

As always we must use the tools at our disposal, which means responding to the consultation with enthusiasm and grab the lever that it and any future Open Data White Paper will give us.

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