With the publication of the Demos think piece on the importance of open data for the UK government to effectively engage with its citizens, I wanted to raise the question: How will this data be used effectively?
While the UK government should be congratulated on the steps that it is currently taking to engage with large datasets by opening up its own information and allowing feedback and comment from its citizens, it will be challenged to keep pace with the speed of response consumers enjoy from retail digital services, for example. In addition, they will be challenged like other organisations due to the shortage of talent to take advantage of “big data.” In the United States, it is estimated that within seven years, there will be a shortage of more than 140,000 people with the deep analytical skills and the know-how to analyse big data and enable effective decision-making.
Opening up data to allow access to private companies, civic entrepreneurs and campaigners will help. However, we lack an effective innovation strategy for the public sector to make the most of open big data and social media. An effective innovation strategy would have five main design principles and we are seeing progress made towards this in plans outlined. But there is still more to be done:
- Simplicity: We need ways to cut through the regulation that ensnares new services
- Risk: We need to create space in which risk-taking, putting things out in beta, becomes possible
- Speed: We need to drive innovation forward with more urgency, partly by utilising crisis
- Low cost: We need to reuse web development tools which most people already use and are familiar with, like Facebook and YouTube
- Open: We need to approach innovation in a more open and consumer-driven way
Open data, and how it’s used, can help to assign political accountability, give responsibility to citizens and even save lives...but it needs to be done correctly and with a clear strategy in place, or we risk being over-ridden by data and not gleaning the huge potential benefits it offers.