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Gordon Brown on data.gov.uk and Open government


UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke about the recently released data.gov.uk, and opening up government during a speech yesterday at the RSA (forward to 15:19).

On Citizen empowerment

But the test of our commitment to democracy is not merely the changes we make to the institutions at the centre: it is how far we are prepared to give power away; to give citizens themselves greater control over their lives.

That is why citizen empowerment must be at the heart of the new politics I want to see.

That means opening up government, with much more control and information held by the public and not concentrated in Westminster and Whitehall.  Over and above our commitment to transparency through FOI we are committed to progressively reducing the time taken to release official documents – ensuring the public have access to public papers far quicker than ever before.

And we can now open up government in new transformative ways not open to us a decade ago.

We have brought public services closer to people in the internet age through the direct.gov website.

On data.gov.uk

And last year I invited Sir Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, and Professor Nigel Shadbolt, to work with us on opening up even more government information to all the people of the country.

In a short space of months we have now created data.gov.uk which already opens over 2,500 data sets to enable people to hold us to account and make decisions about their public services – from monitoring traffic accidents locally to seeing how your local schools are performing.

But this is just the start of creating new, more transparent public services and public sector bodies.

Public services will not only be more personal in future but they will be more interactive – with the ability of the citizen enhanced to make their views known directly and influence the way our communities work.

Already as a result of the Berners Lee /Shadbolt initiative a transformation is at work. A myriad of applications are being developed on the web by citizens for citizens – new websites on health, education, crime and local communities – that inform, enrich and enliven our democracy.  It is truly direct democracy in action.

Over the next few months we will be releasing more and more information; we will make it easier to link different datasets together so that you can assess the overall picture of public services in your community; and Nigel Shadbolt is working with local government to extend the same principles there

Data and Apps

Data.gov.uk has nearly 3,000 data sets (three times more than data.gov) available for developers to build applications and mashups. The data varys widely from military datasets e.g. Suicide and Open Verdict Deaths in the U.K. Regular Armed Forces, to House prices and to Air passenger experience information .

There are also dozens of applications available using data made available through data.gov.uk. These include:

  • Safer streets – a website to tell your local council and police teams where you feel safe or unsafe in your local area and to view local safety information
  • Oneplace – provides independent information on local issues in England, including  assessments of each area, of different local public services and a wide range of information on how these public services are performing.
  • mycounciltax – a third-party mash-up, which was built using data.gov.uk data. it makes it easier to find out how much council tax you pay for your property.
  • Renewable Energy map – The renewable energy map  is the most complete listing of major renewable and alternative energy projects in the UK.

The site is encouraging people to sign up and become part of a community. Members can submit contributions to the site discussion forum; Create and edit wiki pages; Submit comments across the site on blog posts, applications and ideas; and contact other members for private discussions. Citizens, public services and communities are at their best when working together for a collective (civic and social) purpose. Encouraging a community concept with the site resonates with the Prime Minister’s ambition of ‘citizen empowerment at the heart of the new politics’. Politics is after all about working toward a common good through collective action.

Open government and data.gov.uk are a means through which power can be dispersed into the hands of citizens, thus advancing the Prime Minister’s commitment to a more active civic society:

But the test of our commitment to democracy is not merely the changes we make to the institutions at the centre: it is how far we are prepared to give power away; to give citizens themselves greater control over their lives.


For more on the launch of data.gov.uk check:

  • [Video] Stephen Timms MP talks at the launch of data.gov.uk
  • [Video] Making Data Public: Presentation by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Prof. Nigel Shadbolt
  • [Video] Tim Berners-Lee on the UK national data website launch
  • [Video] Panel Discussion – the Power of Apps
  • Vivek Kundra on data.gov.uk
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