February 22, 2011 | Javier Ruiz

Cabinet Office opens consultation on Public Data Corporation: come to our workshop

The Cabinet Office has started a public consultation on the Public Data Corporation. We very much welcome this development, which breaks a period of suspense where nobody seemed to know quite what was going on. ORG had in the meantime set up its own public consultation wiki to deal with the lack of a formal space to talk with government officials; and we will be continuing this process with a workshop on Wednesday 2 March

Although we welcome this consultation on the Public Data Corporation, we have to raise a couple of issues that in our view may limit the opportunity for the public and interested parties to contribute to the fullest extent.

For a start, the engagement website has not been widely publicised, as far as we understand only on Twitter. We would be happy to be proved wrong as this is not about point scoring, but about the future of Public Sector Information in UK. Given that the closing date for responses is the 11th of March, this may hamper participation, as news take time to filter from Twitter to blogs and specialist news outlets.

Besides, however popular Twitter may be nowadays, in a public consultation you have to be careful not to narrow your respondents range by using a single medium. Several people very involved in open data in UK did not know about it when we contacted them.

Also, the range of questions asked is in our view a bit narrow and focused on showing evidence of demand for specific data sets. The engagement website states that they are looking at some particular areas such as business registration, environmental science and natural hazards, critical infrastructure and the built environment. Then it sets out questions about process, availability of data, etc.

This exercise is very positive and useful in setting where the PDC should focus its energies, and how it should work at the level of interfacing with data users. However, it does leave very little room for thinking about its ultimate aims and objectives, structure, governance, relation to existing trading funds, decision process for which data will be open, the setting of profit targets, etc.

In fairness, there is a question asking “what success would look like” for the PDC, but this kind of general question tends to get a very general answer, particularly with such complex policy issues.

Also, while we understand the PDC is quite focused on the economic aspects of public information, we would like to see more explicit consideration for the social aspects and participation potential. In the questions, social utility is raised obliquely and only in relation to new datasets to be produced. For example, urban planning and corporate pollution data seem to fall under the remit of the current range of data considered, and have clear importance beyond commercial value.

Finally, we find that the whole process of the establishment of the PDC has been difficult to follow. Although the engagement website is a very welcome move, there are people who are confused by suggestions that consultation meetings are taking place, but no information on how this works and if they can participate. For example, see here and this twitter page.

We want to encourage everyone with an interest in Open Data to go to the official engagement website or send them an email with your views. The potential economic implications for the UK sector are huge, in the hundreds of millions, and the final shape of the PDC will become an international reference that may help or hinder the Open Data movement in other countries as well.

We would like however to have a wider discussion about the PDC that can cover issues not raised in the official consultation. We welcome everyone to engage in our public wiki and come to our open workshop on the 2nd of March at 6:30pm, at The Hub in Kings Cross. 

Free registration here. 

Please pass this link on to others who may be interested.

Official engagement site

ORGs public wiki