I focused my previous posts on data about individuals and their activities, the so-called “personal data”. In this post, instead, I would start considering another source of data, the public administrations. Governmental agencies are considered to be the most significant data owners and providers in modern societies: their “Public Data” can be defined as “the objective, factual, non-personal data on which public services run and are assessed, and on which policy decisions are based, or which is collected or generated in the course of public service delivery.” The disclosure of such data from one side would guarantee greater levels of transparency in the public administrations and could also enable new modes of democratic engagement.
An international “Open Government Data” movement started promoting openness for public sector information. The results of such an initiative are becoming visible in various countries: through governmental portals public agencies are starting making their datasets available to the general public. There are two main prerequisites for committing to the Open Data approach: a) high availability of the data, preferably in formats that are both human and machine friendly and b) possibility to reuse the data for all (legal) purposes and with no restrictions by citizens, enterprises, and other public agencies.
UK is one of the countries which is more active in the endorsement of the open data movement principles. The portal “Opening Up Government” (released as “beta version”, in line with Web2.0 approach) makes available more than 7,800 datasets, through several access modes (downloading, browsing, searching through SPARQL, RESTful APIs, etc.). Moreover, the portal provides Apps (for different types of smartphones) exploiting the disclosed data. An example of the disclosed data is represented by COINS, a database storing the UK Government expenditure provided by government departments.
This commitment on opening public data was recently confirmed and strengthened by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, as part of the Government’s Autumn Statement.The Chancellor affirmed that opening up the public data not only will improve several sectors, such as travels and healthcare, but also will create significant growth for industry and jobs in the UK, specifically in medical research and in digital technology. The hope is that the shared data will enable building products, services, apps that can feed back into the economy and promote growth.
The action plan is focusing on the disclosure of data on critical sectors, such as medical knowledge and practice (e.g., by means of better links between data sets for individual patients), business logistics and commuting (e.g., through new real-time information on the running of trains and buses, data on highways and local roads, such as congestions, works, etc.), weather and weather forecasting, housing market (e.g., track of sales and land ownership, data on residential home sales, including prices at address level). The detailed list of actions can be found here.
This action plan on open data is complemented by the creation of the “Open Data Institute”, a new organization directed by leading open data academics Professor Nigel Shadbolt and web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee: “… The ODI will be about ensuring a flourishing environment of open data entrepreneurs. In some cases we will have to secure the research to provide the tools, skills and methods to support the creation of new value using open government data… In other situations it will be about supporting new and innovative companies that are seeking to exploit open data… There is a substantial training program to provide a cohort of individuals with open data skills.”
If you have any doubts on the applications that can be developed by enabled by opening data owned by public administrations, maybe you can change your opinion by visiting the showcase of the applications developed by exploiting the open data related to San Francisco area.