This is the first of three posts in which I'm going to examine a few issues around open data.
I'm starting here with a look at what the government is seeking to achieve, then I'll consider what is actually happening so far, and I'll round off this trilogy with some thoughts on what more needs to be done.
So the government has said it is committed to greater transparency, and is in the process of delivering this on two fronts.
The Cabinet Office is planning a new 'right to data' and requirements for public bodies to publish their information in standard formats.
And the Ministry of Justice is planning to "amend the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to cover more organisations and support cross-government measures to provide greater transparency".
On a superficial level, these have been linked together in that the legislation to amend the Freedom of Information Act will also be the legislation used to implement the Cabinet Office proposals.
Yet there seems to be little joined-up discussion of the consequences of more open data for related areas such as freedom of information.
And there is also little focus on whether the opening up of more data can fully achieve what ministers hope.
So to begin, it might be useful to consider what the aims of opening data actually are.
First, there is the ambition to unleash "armchair auditors" who can scrutinise spending decisions.
In a May 2010 podcast, David Cameron said:
"If there's one thing I've noticed since doing this job, it's how all the information about government – the money it spends, where it spends it, the results it achieves – how so much of it is locked away in a vault marked sort of private for the eyes of ministers and officials only.
"I think this is ridiculous. It's your money, your government, you should know what's going on.
"So we're going to rip off that cloak of secrecy and extend transparency as far and as wide as possible. By bringing information out into the open, you'll be able to hold government and public services to account. You'll be able to see how your taxes are being spent. Judge standards in your local schools and hospitals. Find out just how effective the police are at fighting crime in your community.
"Now I think that's going to do great things. It's certainly going to save us money.
"With a whole army of effective armchair auditors looking over the books, ministers in this government are not going to be able to get away with all the waste, the expensive vanity projects and pointless schemes that we've had in the past."
And to their credit, ministers have said they are prepared for some short-term discomfit about individual spending decisions in order to bring about a longer-term increase in efficiency and effectiveness.
In his podcast, the prime minister also set out a further goal for the transparency agenda.
"I also think transparency can help us to re-build trust in our politics. One of the reasons people don't trust politicians is because they think we've always got something to hide.
"Well, by the time we've finished, there will be far fewer hiding places."
Rebuilding public trust in politicians must be a longer term goal, but to the extent that the secretive parliamentary expenses scheme caused a loss of faith, openness could help to reverse that.
Another outcome that the opening up of data is intended to achieve is boosting the economy.
The Conservative technology manifesto spelled this out:
"In addition, our plans to open up government data and spending information will not only help us to cut wasteful spending, but according to new research by Dr Rufus Pollock of Cambridge University, the lead author of the HM Treasury report on the economic value of open data, it will also create an estimated £6 billion in additional value for the UK.
"This boost to British jobs will come from the synergies and positive spillover benefits that result from businesses and social entrepreneurs building new applications and services using previously locked-up government data."
Greater openness can also be used in tandem with market-based competition as a driver for improving service standards.
Giving the users of services more choice about their schools or hospitals means little unless there is also information available on which to make informed decisions about which is the best option.
In his July 2010 speech on accountable government, Cameron said:
"We're shining a light on everything government does, not just the pay, the perks and where public money is spent but on how well that money is spent, too - on health outcomes, school results, crime figures.
"That way people can see the value they're getting for their money and hold us to account for it."
So openness about performance data can help citizens compare institutions and make choices which force failing bodies to raise their game.
These are the explicit goals that government has set for open data and transparency, and they are well worth striving for.
But there are interesting question about how far they are deliverable.
And this in turn raises the question of where these goals have come from?
Is it what politicians expect from the open data movement, and if so are they expecting too much?
Or is it what the open data movement has promised to politicians, and if so is more being promised than can really be delivered?
In tomorrow's post I'll look at what progress has been made in the early days of this experiment.