By CivilServiceWorld

19 Dec 2012

Professor Nigel Shadbolt

UK Open Data Adviser; Chairman and Co-Founder of the Open Data Institute

Which events or policies have dominated your attention during 2012?

The government’s open data policy has continued to occupy my attention this past year. I am particularly proud of the Public Data Principles, which appeared in the Open Data White Paper and are now government policy. These enshrine the assumption that non-personal public data should be published in a reusable “machine readable form”. The principles are fundamental to building a national data infrastructure.

A second area of policy has been the ‘mydata’ programme that I chair for BIS. This aims to empower consumers by giving them access to the data companies hold on them. The applications that will flow from this redistribution of information will help consumers make more informed choices and decisions.

A significant event was the launch of the Open Data Institute in Shoreditch. [Worldwide web pioneer] Tim Berners-Lee and I secured funding for the ODI last year, with the aim of fostering entrepreneurship and building capability in both the public and private sector to exploit open data. I also lead a research group back at the University of Southampton.

How have the shape and capabilities of your department changed during 2012?

I have no department to run, but what I have observed in my role as a government adviser is a clear need to build a public technology capability. This is happening in parts of government – the Government Digital Service (GDS) has grown substantially to provide the applications that citizens need in their interaction with government. It is not enough to procure these services without understanding how they will change, transform and disrupt the fundamental workflow and processes of government. Which brings us to the next question.

Which aspects of the CSRP are most important to your department?

The Plan recognises the need for specialists. I gave evidence at two separate PASC inquiries in 2012. In the first I argued for agile procurement: procurement that is open, transparent and accountable. In the second I argued for specialists who can enable a transformation in the delivery of government. This is entirely consistent with the CSRP. We see at the GDS a new approach to the construction of applications using rapid prototyping and agile methods. We need a segment of our Civil Service who are comfortable in this emerging space and have the skills to develop these opportunities.

What are your main challenges for 2013?

One challenge is to continue and extend the flow of high-quality information needed to develop our national data infrastructure to support health delivery, improve transportation services, enhance policing and the rest. A second challenge is to invest in public technologists so as to realise this potential at a time of austerity.

In my role as chairman of the ODI, the challenge will be to help train some of these public technologists and to foster a generation of open data entrepreneurs outside government who will build the demand side that is the surest way to ensure a steady flow of high quality data from government.

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