Last year, in response to the two pronged approach to the publication of open data suggested in the Shakespeare review, the UK government launched a proposition to create a National Information Infrastructure (NII); containing the data held by Government which is likely to have the broadest and most significant economic impact if made available and accessible outside of government. A preliminary list was published on data.gov.uk.
Close to a year after launching, we remain steadfast in our commitment to the NII and are seeking views from users to inform its next iteration. To help with this, we have set-up a series of discovery workshops with representatives from businesses, civil society, the development community, academia and local and central government. The first workshop took place on Monday 8th of September at TechUK premises.
We are exploring anew three key aspects:
Why have an NII and what should it be?
Criteria/Mechanism and Guarantees:
How does a data product get into the NII and what guarantees should apply to that data?
What should the internal organisational structure of the NII be?
Workshop 1 was filled to capacity and oversubscribed (we had to limit the numbers near the day to make it manageable) with 44 people participating in a variety of exercises and a plenary discussion. This workshop focused on two basic questions; why do we need an NII (its potential benefits) and what shape should the NII be (its attributes and scope).
Very early in the process it became evident that participants saw the concept of the NII as more than just a list of datasets that have importance. Upon further discussions, participants pointed out that an infrastructure, by definition is about the organisational structures a given service, society, the nation needed to operate. In this case, the data necessary for the nation (economy was also suggested as a good choice) to function and its underpinning structures, not just the list of data.
The element of connectivity was also frequently mentioned. There seemed to be an expectation that the NII would not only have an aspect that listed key, core datasets, but also facilitate the interconnectivity of these, both, by providing the technical services required to link data, but also by standardising it across formats, vocabularies, codes, etc
The benefits of why we need the NII became self evident as we discussed what it should be (rather a circular argument at some points) but it was clear that supporting critical services, finding efficiencies by assessing/comparing performance, and providing a reliable raw material for companies were some of the most often cited.
Other examples to draw from
Another interesting point supported by many attending the workshops was the practicality of looking at existing similar propositions, such as the APPSI authored ‘A National Information Framework for Public Sector Information and Open Data’, which was published in 2012.
The key points raised during the discussion are as follows:
Why have an NII?
1) If properly configured, the NII can play a part in the running of mission critical assets across the nation and even help save lives (health data was cited as a good example, together with things like flooding, disaster recovery and service improvements)
2) It can provide the data required to facilitate benchmarking across services, something that will benefit both government and the private sector
3) Save money by allowing the analytical/usage power of the private sector and the citizens to shed new lights in existing and future problems faced by government both central and local
4) It can Increase democratic engagement and trust in government as well as accountability and transparency
5) It will allow us to identify gaps in the data (what we are not capturing that we should be)
6) It will prevent duplication of key data gathering across government (aiming for one version of the truth)
7) A proper data framework with a comprehensive premium data list will make open data-driven businesses investable
8) It will increase competition as good data will drive good services/apps
9) Will help with savings, not by cutting cost but by finding new ways to do something better
What should the NII be?
1) It needs to abide by standards
2) It needs to be open to access
3) Not everything on the NII needs to be under an Open Government License
4) It needs to be flexible (so it can expand and contract according to the natural changes of government)
5) Flexibility also means that it can expand to cover any blurred lines between purely government and private sector data as time goes by
6) Private sector data has a role in the NII, although it is clear that for starters, it should focus on getting key government data framework right
7) A reliable service with conditions applied to its data products (publish on time, standardised quality thresholds, etc)
8) As an infrastructure It should be an accurate reflection of core data (economic value and social value in themselves are subjective, it needs concrete criteria)
9) It needs very good governance (governance structure should be a part of the NII documentation itself)
10) It should have local authority data
11) An infrastructure is not a list of data products with conditions, it is a comprehensive connectivity framework that defines the landscape under which key data operates, the factors that affect it and the conditions under which the products exist and identifies those products.
12) NII should be a framework documenting:
(a) the standards used
(b) the legislation that impacts the data (privacy, etc) and that which makes the collection of the data happen
(c) the governance for the NII
(d) any vocabularies and codes lists pertaining to the data assets
(e) a maturity model for the management of the data by publishers
(f) a well defined criteria for why it data goes on the NII
(g) a publication schedule
(h) a series of conditions for the data products once on the NII
(i) a connectivity layer
13) NII should aim for connectivity across its data assets
14) Authoritative (what government use to make decisions not a subset)
15) The data assets in the NII do not need to be a long list
16) Citizen centric; easy to find, easy to use, like a lego piece; either provide some bits already built along with all the other pieces or provide all the pieces so others can build it.
17) Needs an owner in government who can push it, protect it and evolve it with the mandate required
18) The NII should not be a portal, it is a framework. A portal will be an aspect of discovery, but the aim should not be a web site, it should be an infrastructure of interconnected data products and the services around it.
The workshops will run through the month of September and I will be updating everyone here on the outcomes and views of each. The second step will be a collaborative effort with several actors, including the Open Data User Group and the Open Data Institute to arrive at a proposition paper, we intend to update on progress through blogs like this.
We look forward to the next workshop, any views you wish to share with us on the NII please do so using the comments section below.
Some of the institutions participating in the workshops
Varied government departments
Sedgemoor District Council
St George’s, University of London
Cedar Tree Advisory
Shakespeare review of public sector information
Government response to Shakespeare review
The National Information Infrastructure
Strengthening the National Information Infrastructure (NII)
APPSI Discussion: A National Information Framework
Follow on workshops