In celebration of International Open Data day, we want to highlight the unique impact ‘open data’ can have on improving public services. Within a public sector context, ‘open data’ generally refers to a set of values and policies which promote transparent visibility, access, and usage of government-related data to all citizens. This represents more than just a set of policies, but rather a value-shift across the public sector looking to emphasise accountability and meaningful citizen engagement with public service delivery.
As outlined in the UK National Data Strategy, the UK government (among others) recognise the multi-tiered value in taking an ‘open by default’ approach to government data. In the Strategy, the government outlines this value on three fronts: accountability, efficiency, and economic outcomes. A suggested addition to this list would be service quality, as open data can also empower individuals to experiment with information in new ways, accelerating cultural and technological innovations that improve user experiences with public services.
The broad idea of ‘open data’ - and the policies which are informed by it - can translate to a wide range of positive, practical outcomes for public services. As the open data movement has gained momentum, we’ve seen exciting examples of the potential it can have within the public sector. As an organisation committed to building better, smarter data capabilities across the public sector, we at PUBLIC have highlighted four distinct opportunities where we see open data making practical impacts on public services - championing case studies of excellence for each.
1. Open data can enhance citizens’ experiences of public services
Open government data can be leveraged in a wide range of ways to improve citizens' experiences of public services, from providing real-time information on transport conditions to improve traveller journeys, to drawing on weather data to help farmers with irrigation planning and crop modelling.
In Queensland, for example, the QLD School Zones app integrates open data on public and private school zones with data on school and public holidays to notify drivers when they are entering active school zones - this enables them to adopt safer driving practices in areas that matter most, safeguarding childrens’ safety.
2. Open data can unleash new insights and improve decision making
Integrating open data from cross-government sources in new combinations can unleash new and more rigorous insights that can improve public policymaking and service provision.
Lambeth City Council, for example, is working to improve its Food Strategy by linking and analysing datasets on multiple deprivation, child obesity, and food-related facilities across the region. Similarly, a UK government data-linking programme, Better Outcomes through Linked Data (BOLD), is working to integrate datasets on individuals with multiple complex needs held across various government departments to better understand their experiences and improve the policies and services meant to support them.
3. Open data can unlock innovation and drive economic growth
There is a growing body of evidence illustrating that “opening” government owned datasets can drive greater productivity and efficiency across the economy.
One reason is that simply releasing this data to the public enables a wider group of users to experiment with and innovate new services, driving market growth. Another reason is that by ‘opening’ their datasets, governments empower entire sectors with critical information that can improve people’s engagement with their services.
For example, 'The Open Regulation Platform - an initiative by the Better Regulation Executive - aims to structure, organise, and make accessible regulation data to allow government, businesses, and third parties to develop products and services that will help consumers navigate and comply with regulation in smarter, less burdensome ways.
4. ‘Opening’ data can accelerate cross-sector collaboration for the public good
While governments have been the main champions of open data by publicly releasing their datasets, the effort to ‘open’ data has influenced the private sector, driving cross-sector and private-public data collaboratives to address societal challenges.
For example, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) recently partnered with the mobile phone company Vodafone to analyse mobile call records to better understand mobility patterns and inform urban planning. In the UK, government, industry, and academia are collaborating to develop a framework to standardise management of data related to the built environment. This is a first step in making this data shareable across the ecosystem, which will contribute significantly to advancing the UK’s net zero carbon commitments.
While by no means exhaustive, this list of the key opportunities for impact can provide a practical framework for policymakers to use when thinking about how to translate the idea of ‘open data’ into tangible applications within the design and provision of public services.
To find out more about how PUBLIC supports public sector organisations design, implement, and evaluate world-class data strategies which serve their organisational objectives, reach out to our Data Services Lead, Mahlet (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a chat!
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