In October 2010, the Government announced plans to abolish, merge or substantially reform hundreds of public bodies.
These organisations hold huge amounts of unpublished data, in some cases going back many years. Taken together, this amounts to an enormous wealth of information, much of which will continue to be useful to inform public policy and debate. Some of it will be invaluable to those who take on the work of the abolished or reformed bodies, whether they are in the public, private or third sectors. Most importantly, these are public bodies, and the data they hold belongs to the public. It should be made available to the public now for use in the future.
Specific steps will need to be taken to ensure that the as yet unpublished data held by these bodies is not lost or unnecessarily withheld from publication. The Local Public Data Panel proposes that the Cabinet Office should ensure that quangos that are reformed, merged or abolished take the following steps to identify and publish the data they hold.
We assume that data and information already published on the websites of the organisations concerned will be archived by the National Archiving Service. This guidance specifically addresses data that has not yet been published. This may include, for example:
- Raw data gathered by the organisation in the course of its work.
- Internal data about the organisation’s finances, performance and people.
- Data about the governance of the organisation, such as board meeting agendas, papers and minutes, and records of decisions made by and within the organisation.
The following steps are based on the Open Data Principles agreed by the Transparency Board (http://data.gov.uk/wiki/Public_Data_Principles).
It should be possible for these steps to be completed at minimal cost and without presenting a significant burden of work, since it does not require any additional data to be gathered - it will simply involve releasing whatever data is held by the organisation other than private, personal data.
The steps that should be taken are as follows:
- Ensure that the organisation produces and publishes a complete and up to date information asset register (IAR). All Crown organisations should already maintain an IAR, so this should not be a burdensome task. The IAR should be published in a re-usable, machine-readable format, rather than in a PDF or Word document. Guidance on IARs is available from the Office of Public Sector Information (http://www.opsi.gov.uk/iar/).
- Identify any data that cannot be published for privacy reasons and remove it or redact the datasets. Removals or redactions should be the exception rather than the norm - the presumption should be that all data will be published unless there is a specific and genuine reason not to do so.
- Publish all the remaining data through data.gov.uk in a machine-readable, re-usable format (see below), under an open license that allows people to re-use the data without unnecessary and restrictive copyright restrictions. This license shoudl be based on the Open Government License that has been developed for local authority spend data and general public sector re-use.
The approach that should be taken to releasing data should reflect the Tim Berners-Lee progression from taking the first step of publishing data in whatever form to the goal of providing linked data:
* publish the available data on the web in whatever format
** make it available as structured data, for example in a spreadsheet rather than a pdf document
*** publish it in a non-proprietary format such as comma separated values (csv)
**** user URLs to identify items so that people can ‘point’ to them
***** link the data to other data to provide context.
It should be possible for most of the data held by quangos to be published at least at level ** - ie in a structured format that is re-usable and machine readable. However, any difficulty in achieving stage ** is not a reason to delay or not to do stage *.