Earlier this year the government invited Stephan Shakespeare, CEO of YouGov and Chair of the Data Strategy Board, to carry out a review of Public Sector Information. In his conclusions Stephan suggested that it would be helpful to set out the ‘core reference’ data held by government and to make it available. The government accepted that suggestion and in their response committed to identifying and publishing that data which would be called the ‘National Information Infrastructure’ (NII).
My team responded to this challenge in a structured way beginning by working with colleagues across government to understand what datasets were held but not yet published. We called this our inventory and listed all of these datasets on data.gov.uk, but recognised from the start that it would not be 100% complete – that will take time! I am grateful to all those across Whitehall involved in this exercise and congratulate them on what I regard as a huge success. I was hoping that we would (with a fair wind behind us) get to 1,000 datasets being listed. I was amazed and delighted that the figure has (so far!) reached almost 4,000. I don’t think I was alone in my surprise as a number of people outside of government were also sceptical about the reality of delivering such an inventory. Clearly government has moved a long way forward in the past few years and the cultural shift towards openness is happening apace.
This really is a world first, another for the UK in this agenda, and one that other countries are likely to want to emulate soon.
However, we didn’t stop with a list. We then consulted openly on what data might be useful and why asking people to rate datasets online and add comments on how they would use that data if released. In parallel to the external assessment we asked departments to think how they would use the data and similarly rate it. We have used the feedback from both inside and outside of government to discuss in more detail which datasets should be identified as being in the NII.
Once we’d identified those datasets that we thought should be in the first iteration of the NII we tested that with departments, the Public Sector Transparency Board, Open Data User Group (ODUG), and civil society. Having coming to a conclusion we of course had to clear the NII through the collective Cabinet clearance process, which was a relatively pain free bit of the process.
Today we are launching essentially two things: first a narrative describing what the NII is and how it will be developed; and, second a dataset of the datasets that make up the first iteration of the NII. The NII is those datasets that seem to have the most likelihood of providing value, if used, to improve public services or support growth. Of course others may see this differently and that is the next part of the story, so watch this space!
I believe we have the start of something really important here and I am incredibly proud to be associated with the NII. I am, however, more proud of my team for delivering this, among many other things, and to some extent against the odds – many thanks, you know who you are! I’d also like to thank all those involved from government and outside who have made this possible.
Finally I take this opportunity, and with a tear in my eye, to say a special thank you to Ed Parkes for his immense contribution to the transparency and open data agenda over the past few years. Unfortunately for me he is going on secondment to Nesta – lucky them – but fortunately for us all his passion for the work we are doing will not be lost as he will head up the Open Data Challenge Series. Thanks and best wishes Ed we will miss you!