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The National Information Infrastructure: Where are we?

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As long as I’ve been in the Civil Service there has always been an assumption that ‘it’ll be quieter over the summer’ but it has never proven to be the case. 2013 is no exception as departments are currently working on Stage 1 of getting to the National Information Infrastructure (NII). Departments have committed to creating as complete an inventory of the datasets they hold as possible (you can read the guidance here). This will include:

  • The datasets they have already published;
  • The datasets they will be publishing and when; and
  • The remainder of datasets which they own but will not be published, and the reasons why

Believe you me when you consider the size of some Departments and the number of Arms Length Bodies they have, pulling together this knowledge is not a straightforward task.


At the same time as looking at what they hold Departments are also pushing to publish as much as possible of what is currently unpublished. This will obviously be an ongoing process but will be done in the spirit of simply getting the data out.


So Stage 1 takes us to the end of August. Stage 2 will kick off properly on Monday 2 September when we will be asking everyone to help us identify the key, most impactful datasets that constitute the National Information Infrastructure.


Ed shared the criteria the Government proposed for the NII in his blog last month. These were first described in the Government response to the Shakespeare Review. Now we know that we (Government) are not necessarily the best placed to simply state what datasets constitute the NII. That top down approach does not work when we do not know best. But there is a wealth of knowledge and expertise out there which we want to tap into to, simultaneously with Departments, assess datasets against the criteria of:

  • Economic growth
  • Social growth
  • Effective public services
  • Connective reference data
  • Other key data


There is a short window of opportunity to do this assessment but then the timescales for this exercise have always been challenging. The assessment will initially be open from 2 – 16 September to allow time for the clearance process to happen in time for a 31 October publication of the NII at the Open Government Partnership Annual Summit.


I should say that publishing the NII on 31 October does not mean that all the datasets which constitute it will also be released on that date. I have no doubt that some will already be available, some will be available from that date but some will absolutely require further discussion before they are released. The other thing to be clear on is that we are not, at this point, looking to create new datasets. The inventories and the NII will invariably change over time as more data is collected and released, either through new policy development or commissioning.


We’ve come a long way and we still have a long way to go to create that culture shift which will negate the need for the Cabinet Office Transparency Team, but this is a good start and a real shift, in my opinion, to greater openness and transparency in Government. So, stand ready for 2 September and help us to determine what the NII is. 

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  1. Comment by exstat posted on

    Where has the "challenging" deadline come from?  Personally, I'd give more priority to getting it right (or at least better) than having something which can be put together to meet some sort of artificial deadline.  I know the counterargument is that if you don't impose a deadline things might just drift.  But what is the science behind the choice of date?

    • Replies to exstat>

      Comment by Olivia Burman posted on

      The NII will be published as part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) UK Nationl Action Plan (NAP). The deadline for the publication of NAPs for all members of the OGP is 31 October, the date of the annual summit. The NAP will look at more than just open data but the NII will be key to the open data part of the plan.

      Does that help?

      • Replies to Olivia Burman>

        Comment by exstat posted on

        Thanks, Olivia.  Does it help?  Well, it does and it doesn't.  It explains that dates already in existence for a summit and a publication date.  But that could be seen as confirming that the challenging deadline has been imposed on the process that might have a better outcome if longer was taken.  Maybe it's fine for everyone inside and outside government who ought to be contributing.  I just worry when people say something like "it's a challenging deadline but I'm sure we can meet it" that it has become paramount to tick a box that a deadline has been met.