UK OGP Plan Emphasizes Foreign Aid Transparency

22 September 2011

The United Kingdom’s plan submitted as part of the Open Government Partnership initiative drew attention for focusing on foreign aid transparency and also contains a number of other proposed activities for the home front, including on open data.

In Associated Press report leading up the May 20 meeting in New York, quoted a U.K. minister as saying that Britain might withhold future aid from countries that fail to detail how they spend international funds.

The U.K. is one of the eight founding members of the partnership who released their plans at the  official kick off in New York City Sept. 20. (See FreedomInfo.org overview.) The 46 countries joining the effort agree to write action plans containing their commitments.

The plan identifies six general areas for activity and is designed to start specifically a consultation, an element not contained in other plans. “These levers are set out for consultation, so the details below may be subject to change. This plan will be updated following the closing of the consultation process at the end of October 2011. Final policy decisions on these options are due to be published in an Open Data White Paper.”

The plan supports “stronger rights for citizens to empower them to obtain data from the public sector,” specifying such things as:

  • a new power held by appropriate independent organisations to secure the release of valuable public datasets, with a suitable format, quality and regularity of publication;
  • meaningful disincentives for public bodies and public servants found to have withheld data that should have been released;
  • maximum time limits for how long public bodies can review appeals against Freedom of Information Act (FOI) refusals;
  • altered procurement rules to ensure that data created by government is stored in IT systems which minimise the cost and difficulty of publishing data online;
  • a new, higher cost cap for FOI for data held within IT systems procured after July 2012; and
  • mandating a phased introduction of ‘Public by Default’, delivered through a new generation of IT systems and accompanying policies.

In a category called “setting standards,” the plan suggests:

  • formalising, through a Code of Practice or opt-in process, the Public Data Principles articulated by the Public Sector Transparency Board;
  • making clear the minimum that citizens can expect on publication and quality of data. This  will include compliance with the Public Data Principles;
  • ensuring a line of continuous improvement for public service providers in achieving the highest ratings for their published data when compared against the Five Star Rating for Open Data
  • setting out how citizens can challenge where there is failure in the process (although we expect the public will rarely need to revert to this because data will be proactively published);
  • having in place an Open Data compliance monitoring process which outlines how, when and where public service providers should report their progress;
  • establishing an obligation to consider and, if appropriate, act on user feedback. This will be the case even where it has been collected independently of the public body or public service provider;
  • making clear that, with very narrow restrictions, licences must cover free, commercial re-use with public service providers not normally selling data.  We will build on the successful Open Government Licence (OGL), which makes re-use of Crown Copyright and Crown Database material free for commercial and non-commercial purposes, to create one or more licences which will be prescribed for public bodies where they are making datasets available for re-use. In most cases, the expectation will be that this licence will be the OGL;
  • merge information asset registers, publication schemes and other data lists over time into a single data inventory, alongside which would sit the ‘unlocking service’ that provides for citizens and business to make request for datasets not currently published or planned to be published;
  • encourage continuous improvement by adoption of recommended publication formats appropriate to the context;
  • set consistent expectations of the appropriate quality of meta-data; and
  • for standardised data co-ordinated across government, set the definitions of the data to be provided and their context.

Regarding “Corporate and Personal Responsibility:” the plan says this will be done by:

  • introducing  a corporate responsibility at Board  level to ensure that the right to data is being met (for the organisation and all service providers in the public, private and third sectors) based on the Caldicott Guardian model ;
  • strengthening the role and broadening the membership of the Public Sector Transparency Board chaired by the Minister for Cabinet Office;
  • bringing the Sector Transparency Board model to other parts of the public sector which hold datasets of greatest value. These will bring input from experts to support and challenge government in making more data public. These boards could ensure that data publication is prioritised to deliver the maximum benefit; and
  • reviewing the existing governance and regulatory model for public sector information in government.

“Collecting and Publishing the Right Data,” another category would involve:

  • establishing a framework for public service providers to have common, consistent and transparent data inventories outlining what datasets are held, and whether they are open or not, using standards set by central government.  Inventories would need to be built in a modular way, over time, and should begin with high priority data;
  • developing a clear methodology to support intelligent inventories that are prioritised by value;
  • ensuring a clear process to support a reduction in collections of ‘unnecessary data’, which maximises opportunities to streamline the volume of data we collect, and ensures resources are focused on collecting essential data; and
  • developing data.gov.uk and identifying other digital channels to support users in finding and accessing relevant high quality data and easy to use tools and applications.
  • establishing a framework for public service providers to have common, consistent and transparent data inventories outlining what datasets are held, and whether they are open or not, using standards set by central government.  Inventories would need to be built in a modular way, over time, and should begin with high priority data;
  • developing a clear methodology to support intelligent inventories that are prioritised by value;
  • ensuring a clear process to support a reduction in collections of ‘unnecessary data’, which maximises opportunities to streamline the volume of data we collect, and ensures resources are focused on collecting essential data; and
  • developing data.gov.uk and identifying other digital channels to support users in finding and accessing relevant high quality data and easy to use tools and applications.

To “maximise the opening up of data,” The U.K. plan foresees:

  • routinely publishing evidence and databases behind policy statements in the way that currently happens around Budget statements;
  • routine publication of the data underlying surveys at the same time as the survey analysis is published; and
  • examining ways for improving the use of existing published data for policy and research purposes.
  • routinely publishing evidence and databases behind policy statements in the way that currently happens around Budget statements;
  • routine publication of the data underlying surveys at the same time as the survey analysis is published; and
  • examining ways for improving the use of existing published data for policy and research purposes.

The stimulate the market for innovative use of open data, the plan says, “Public service providers are to report each year on how they are building collaborative relationships with the user community, including the commercial sector, which promote use of data.”

Development Aid

The U.K. government said it “will include the OGP eligibility criteria and related datasets in our overall assessment processes which determine the readiness of partner governments for UK budget support” and take other steps to encourage transparency in budgets and other areas.

“We will publish aid information from all government departments who spend overseas development assistance (ODA) in line with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standards, extending coverage to other departments in addition to the Department for International Development. Within 12 months, we will have agreed a clear timetable for publication of aid information with relevant departments.”

 

Transactional Tools

 

The Government also said it “will work to make citizen-focused transactional services ‘digital by default.’ “ The plan lays out a number of potential actions including open standards.

 

“The Government will open its data and application interfaces in ways that encourage businesses and social providers to develop new market opportunities. For example, the website Mumsnet uses Directgov tools built on standardised interfaces to provide their users with official up-to-date information on schools and family services.”

An annex describes data sets to be released.

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