The purpose of the group is to act as an “intelligent customer” to the government on the release of open data. This is a bit of a misnomer, as the word “customer” implies that the group will in some way buy data that should be made open, which it’s unlikely to do. Perhaps “intelligent consumer” would be more appropriate: our task is to advise the government about which data should be opened up, and (if the commitment has already been made to open it) which should be opened first or how access to it could be improved.
One of the tasks that we face, particularly for datasets that are currently being sold by government (mostly from the Public Data Group: Met Office, Ordnance Survey, Land Registry and Companies House), is making a strong economic argument for opening up data. To do that, it’s useful to understand two things:
Over the last few months, the UK Government has been running a consultation on its Open Standards policy. The outcome of this consultation is incredibly important not only for organisations and individuals who want to work with government but also because of its potential knock-on effects on the publication of Open Data and the use of Open Source software within public sector organisations.
Unsurprisingly, Microsoft, Qualcomm and other organisations who have a vested interest in keeping the UK Government locked in to their products are responding vociferously to the consultation. They risk not only losing business to smaller enterprises within the UK but also, if the policy is successfully adopted here, in other countries in Europe and internationally that follow suit.
If we want our Government to be Open — to use Open Standards, to publish Open Data, to adopt Open Source — then we must respond to this consultation in numbers.
There are three things that you can do:
The new alpha.gov.uk website was launched recently, as a prototype for the “single Government website” described in Martha Lane Fox’s report Directgov 2010 and Beyond: Revolution Not Evolution. Apparently the real deal could go live “in about a year”.
The site is lovely, a far cry from the standard government fare. But this isn’t exactly surprising: it’s been developed using modern technologies by a top team with a set of design rules far removed from those usually applied to government websites, a budget that’s not exactly tight and using an Agile methodology. These factors mark it out from the majority (though not all) government websites. And this is part of the point, to illustrate the gap between what we have and what a revolution could bring.
There are three challenges where I am and have been particularly interested to see the alpha.gov.uk approach. These are in balancing:
It is not currently clear to me whether alpha.gov.uk has decided an approach on any of these — whether the way the site works currently is the way that they have decided it should work — or whether these are areas that are still up in the air at the moment. I’m hoping it’s the latter.
I’m beginning to think that ‘to recommend’ is an irregular verb like those that appeared every so often in Yes, Minister:
Bernard: It’s one of those irregular verbs, isn’t it: I have an independent mind; you are an eccentric; he is round the twist.
Something like: I recommend, you tell people what to do, he engages in premature standardisation.
I’m aware I’ve been quiet for the past few months. This isn’t because nothing interesting has been going on — rather the opposite. It’s been difficult to get a chance to sit down and write about the work I’ve been doing, when actually doing the work has been taking up so much time.
Most of my time has been spent on the new legislation.gov.uk website and its underlying API. There’s so much to say about this project that I hardly know where to start, so I’ll just try to do an overview and we can take it from there. Let me know what you’re interested in.
This week, the Cabinet Office went live with a preview version of hmg.gov.uk/data, available only to those who subscribe to the UK Government Data Developers Google Group. Harry Metcalfe has written a great review, or of course you can check it out yourselves.
Already, though, there are discussions starting on the mailing list about how the data is being made available, and I’m worried that these might distract us from getting things done.