The world is witnessing the growth of a global movement facilitated by technology and social media and fuelled by information – one that contains enormous potential to create more accountable, efficient, responsive, and effective governments and businesses, and to spur economic growth.
Open data sits at the heart of this global movement.
What is open government data?
Open government data is data held by government that has been published online, in a machine-readable format, under a permissive licence. The licence grants anyone, worldwide, the perpetual right to copy, publish, distribute, transmit, adapt or otherwise exploit the data for any purpose, including commercial purposes, and to combine the data with other data or include it in a product or application.
Why should the States of Jersey publish open data?
The new Council of Ministers strongly supports openness, transparency and accountability in government and has an agenda to secure improvement in this area. As part of this agenda, the States of Jersey will begin to publish some of the data which it collects as open data.
The opening up of government datasets can contribute to:
- Citizen engagement
- Improved efficiency and operations of public services, for example through better decision making
- Increased transparency and accountability
- Economic growth, business innovation and the creation of businesses and jobs
Implementation of open data globally
Governments worldwide have been making data that they hold available on an open basis for the last circa 6 years. The UK is a leader in this regard, with over 25,000 open datasets available on its data.gov.uk site.
At the June 2013 G8 summit, those governments adopted an open data charter committing them to a policy of making their data open by default, to make that data readily available, and to encourage its use.
It is not only rich nations that are adopting open data policies: 97 countries featured in the global open data index in 2014 with countries such as Romania and Burkina Faso making strides towards the same goal.
Organisations such as the OECD, the World Bank and the European Union have published recommendations on adoption of open data policies and global consultancies including Deloitte and McKinsey as well as the Caribbean Open Institute have published studies on the economic impact.
During 2015 there have been requests from Islanders for the States of Jersey to open up some of its data. People have taken to the Digital Jersey LinkedIn group and the TechTribes Slack online discussion forum to campaign for access to specific data (such as exam results) as well as more generally. Some people have emailed ministers on the subject.
I have been watching developments in open data in other jurisdictions, particularly the UK, since 2012, but it is only this year that there has been the active demand from Islanders, political mandate and eGov funding that we need to move forward in a tangible way.
That is not to say that nothing has been happening. We have anticipated the likely demand and some preparatory work has taken place, including:
- work over a 6 month period to re-architect various data feeds to use a publisher/subscriber model, which culminated in the go-live of data.gov.je in the summer of 2013
- trialling open source software
- instigating conversations with departmental data owners
- considering open data when creating new government services e.g. the publication of the Eat Safe food premises hygiene data last October
- obtaining legal advice
- engaging with the Jersey tech community to assess demand
- preparation of a capital bid for funding as part of the Medium Term Financial Plan 2016-2019.
I believe we are now at a significant milestone in Jersey open government data. There are several factors contributing to my optimism:
Firstly, Jonathan Williams (Director, Business Change) agrees that open data aligns with, and should be part of, the eGovernment agenda. That is key to gaining the resources (money and people) needed to put the project on a proper footing.
Secondly, we have political sponsorship from the Chief Minister and Senator Ozouf. Both are enthusiastic supporters, and it is heartening to hear that they are keen to make as much progress as we can within this political term.
Thirdly, there are some departments where we are “pushing against an open door” – the Statistics Unit and the Environmental Health department for example are very keen to be in the first wave of datasets to be published.
Fourthly, we have recently made great progress on the legal framework needed to release open data (more on this below).
Lastly but not least, some of the tech community have volunteered their time, energy and skills to help where they can, which is much appreciated.
It is easy for people who are enthusiastic about open data and think it is a “no brainer” that SOJ should be open by default to gloss over some of the essential but less exciting pre-requisites.
The States of Jersey currently publishes a great deal of information online via gov.je. There are three key differences when we make data open:
- It is published under a permissive licence, enabling people to use it in pretty much any way they can imagine, with only a couple of caveats.
- It is generally made available in one or more machine-readable formats.
- The data is likely to be more comprehensive and detailed, rather than being a summary or aggregate, which may make it possible to identify personal data about individuals contrary to their right to privacy and in breach of the data protection legislation.
A licence is a necessary pre-requisite so that the licensee can be clear on what they can and cannot do with the data, and so that people consuming data after it has been re-published can be clear on its source and authenticity.
One might assume that it would be each chief officer or minister that would licence the use of their department’s open data. But it is actually the Chief Minister who is (in most cases) the owner of copyright and database rights in works produced as part of their official duties by Ministers, States employees and most statutory public bodies pursuant to Article 183 of the Intellectual Property (Unregistered Rights) (Jersey) Law 2011. It is therefore the Chief Minister who offers to license the re-use of information under the terms of the licence.
A very good starting point in producing an open government data licence for Jersey is the UK Open Government Licence for public sector information, developed by Her Majesty’s Stationary Office which is the copyright holder for Crown Copyright information in the UK. We are fortunate indeed that the solicitor that drafted the first version of that document now works for the States of Jersey in the Law Officers Department and has produced a Jersey version.
Anyone who publishes open data needs to first ensure that opening the data will not lead to a leakage of personal data. Those who work with statistical data will already be aware of the potential for the “mosaic effect” where the combining of a number of different data sets can lead to individuals’ right to privacy being inadvertently compromised. Since we live in an island with a relatively small population, the potential for the mosaic effect is heightened. “Statistical Disclosure Control” is the term for the work that has to be done to balance the need to provide users with statistical outputs and the need to protect the confidentiality of respondents. We will need to make sure that information governance officers are fully familiar with these techniques, providing training where necessary.
The open data strategy and a plan for implementing it will be the subject of a subsequent blog post. Stay tuned!