Two consultations on open data are being launched today.
The first is on the 'data policy' for the proposed Public Data Corporation (PDC) and will be available later today at discuss.bis.gov.uk.
(Interesting to note that the consultation is on the website of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the sponsor department of the Shareholder Executive which is leading on the PDC work. It isn't on the website of the Cabinet Office, which is leading on the open data agenda.)
When initial details of the proposals were published in March, I wrote about how the government itself seemed unclear about what it was actually hoping to achieve by creating the PDC.
The Cabinet Office press release strangely skips over the details of this consultation, so it will be worth reading closely when it is available.
It might provide the first clues about how the government intends to resolve the tensions between releasing data and generating some kind of financial return from it.
Thursday's press release says it will "bring together government bodies and data and provide more freely available data at the point of use, year on year within the constraints of affordability". So those tensions seem as real as ever.
A second consultation, to be available on the Cabinet Office website, seeks views on:
- How the government might enhance a 'right to data', establishing stronger rights for individuals, businesses and other actors to obtain data from public service providers.
- How to set transparency standards that enforce this right to data.
- How public service providers might be held to account for delivering open data.
- How to ensure collection and publication of the most useful data.
- How to make the internal workings of government and the public sector more open.
- How far there is a role for government to stimulate enterprise and market making in the use of open data.
That is an interesting set of questions, and has the potential to conflict with the PDC proposals.
For example, one option discussed for the PDC has been charging the people who create the data rather than those who use it.
Unless that option has now been rejected, it could have a clear impact on the issue of "ensuring collection and publication of the most useful data".
So while the PDC and open data might have different institutional homes in Whitehall, it seems strange that the consultations have not been integrated (I stand to be corrected once I've actually read them).
The other point to note in the open data consultation is the question about making the internal workings of government and the public sector more open.
My initial impression is that this may have the potential to be more radical than anything yet done on UK open data.
But much will depend on the details.
Update: These are the key sections about the PDC in the open data consultation
6.7 It is our intention that data already provided for free re-use should not be charged for, and there is no question of charging for data required for holding public bodies accountable or for "key data about public services, user satisfaction and the performance of all providers from all sectors. This will include data on user satisfaction, spending, performance and equality."
6.9 Any charging should follow existing rules in Managing Public Money (MPM) guidance. MPM guidance states that much information about public services should be available free, or at low cost, in the public interest. The guidance explains that where re-use of data is charged for the norm is to charge at marginal cost and for value-added data and information currently sold by trading funds the norm is to charge at full cost plus an appropriate rate of return. Other value-added data services may also be charged for, for example: services commissioned in response to particular requests; services where there are statutory powers to charge; and publications processing publicly gathered data for the convenience of the public, through editing, reclassification or other analysis.
6.10 The norm for all information supplied by trading funds is to charge, within the constraints of MPM guidance, although the Government is committed to moving to making more data freely available, within the constraints of affordability and value for money. The implication for a Public Data Corporation (PDC) is being explored through a public consultation.
6.11 Over time, we would expect costs to lower in most cases, particularly as the ICT-related costs of providing data lower. There will also be benefits which may offset costs in the medium-term from reductions in bureaucracy through transparency of data; reduced FoIA requests for the data published; and some reduction of data where collection is considered to be unnecessary. To mitigate costs during a time when the public sector must be particularly mindful of public funds, we propose that the emphasis be placed on releasing new data rather than old, and on releasing data 'as is', rather than spending time and resource on improving quality immediately.
6.12 In the autumn, when the response to the consultation and full strategy is set out, we will include a full Impact Assessment of costs and benefits of Open Data, including consideration of any opportunities and burdens on public bodies and public service providerswhich will inform the policy development.