Following an aggressive push by government to open data to the public, two reports came out last week examining the cultural and economic implications of the move for the public sector.
In its briefing, Open Data and Transparency, No Turning Back, local government IT leaders' body Socitm argues that greater transparency will reduce public sector expenditure and expose waste. However, it says the move to open data will be as disruptive for government as the internet has been for the media industry.
From January councils will be required to publish data on all contracts and spending over £500 as well as job titles, salaries and expenses of senior officials. And it is unlikely to stop there, according to the report: “Pressure to publish increasing amounts of data is certain to follow.”
Socitm argues the move could lead to better spending decisions. For example, where suppliers are able to see the value of existing contracts they will be able to provide competitive bids for new business, and incumbent providers might be embarrassed into reducing their costs.
The release of data sets will see the creation of useful applications in the mould of Patient Opinion, a site that collates patient comments regarding their experiences of the NHS.
Local activists will also be able to share information about the performance of public services that could translate into pressure for improvements in efficiency and effectiveness.
Chris Head, author of the Socitm briefing, said: “Organisations will need to improve corporate understanding of open data issues and promote a transparency culture."
A similar report from KPMG, Dynamic Technologies for Smarter Government, gives details of how organisations can create a technical infrastructure that supports transparency and foster a culture that welcomes it.
The report also argues that web 2.0 has been a major driver of this trend towards transparency, but that its impact converges with and has been enhanced by other trends that compound the pressure for openness. These include empowered customers, the growth of creative knowledge workers, the importance of informal learning, user-driven innovation, the move from hierarchy to network-based forms of organisations, and the "consumerisation" of IT.
The report argues that one of the barriers to increased transparency is loss of control over the movement of data across an organisation and outside it. However, it says this should not be a concern as collaboration already exists between colleagues and ex-colleagues and staff working in different organisations.
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