In May 2013 the 'Shakespeare Review' was published, looking at what we should do to get the greatest social and economic benefit from the data revolution. The government's response was very positive, accepting most of the recommendations.
Since then I have seen drafts of two strategies, one from theTransparency Board (of which I am now a part) addressing the need for a blueprint of what data to publish and when; the second from BIS addressing the capability issue. I obviously cannot comment on them directly as they are still in draft form but I am pleased to say that both represent a significant advance for the government's approach, and demonstrate continuing commitment both to openness and to creating an infrastructure that enables us to capitalise on the opportunity.
My review stated that we are at the start of a new phase of the digital revolution and, faced with a choice between a cautious approach and a radical one, we should have no hesitation in choosing the radical path. The economic value is enormous, especially for the first-movers: why should Britain not reap the benefits of our special position just as America's silicon valley 'won' the first phase? Britain has the largest coherent datasets in the world, for example in the area of health; the country leads the growing consensus on data-sharing; and it has some of the best data-scientists.
To be the winners now – not just economically but socially (the fields of health, education and employment will be hugely enhanced by open data-sharing) – we need a speed-crazed Whitehall throwing caution to the wind. My suggestion of a twin-track approach (the most important data published to the highest standards, the rest published quick-and-dirty, then moving as much as possible from track two to track one) is a way to get things moving while improving standards. And I also suggest we stop allowing unfounded fears about privacy to hold us back.
How can we get on that high-speed track to open data? We still need a way to find some external pressure. Dissolving the Data Strategy Board into the Transparency Board removed an outsider voice from the system. It's a bit like running a plc without an independent Chair. The government is genuinely, intelligently, commendably committed to a right to data, but how will it make it happen at the speed and quality that the shareholders – the public – require?