Local Public Data Panel – Twelfth Meeting 17 January 2012
Panel: Professor Nigel Shadbolt (Chair), Roger Hampson (London Borough of Redbridge), Chris Taggart (Openlylocal.com), Janet Hughes (Greater London Authority), Jos Creese - Hampshire County Council, Dennis Skinner (Local Government Association), Tim Allen (Visiting Professor, Birbeck), Conn Crawford (for Dave Smith, Sunderland DC), Nick Aldridge (Missionfish) Ex Officio: Shehla Husain (DCLG), Olivia Burman (Cabinet Office for Pete Lawrence).
Apologies: Baroness Hanham (DCLG), Dave Smith (Sunderland City Council), Pete Lawrence (Cabinet Office), Liam Maxwell (Director of ICT Futures, Cabinet Office ), Emer Coleman (Government Digital Services), Will Perrin (TalkaboutLocal).
Other Attendees: Juliet Whitworth (LGA), William Barker (DCLG), Steve Peters (DCLG), David Steer, (DCLG),
Secretariat: David Plant (minutes) and Padma Juggapah (DCLG).
Item 1: Welcome and Introductions
Nigel welcomed Olivia who was standing in for Pete Lawrence, and Juliet who was presenting on LGInform.
Item 2: Minutes of last meeting and Action Points Update
Minutes of the previous meeting were agreed, and progress on Action Points reviewed.
It was noted that minutes of the Transition Board were not published. Nigel asked Olivia to take back that, in the interests of transparency, at least a summary of the issues considered should be published. Action point to be amended accordingly.
There was also concern that the Arms Length Bodies progress report had not been produced. Again Olivia was asked to take this back. Action point ongoing.
Janet provided an update on Making a Difference with Data (MADwD). There are two audiences for this 1) Those who use data; 2) Those who work in local government and are interested, but don’t know what open data is, what they can do with it, or what value it may represent to their organisation. For the latter group what was important was efficiency and saving money. Janet and Steve had initially drafted a paper on bringing together Data4NR and MADwD, however, on further consideration it had been decided that these were two separate but related tracks, and they were therefore revisiting their paper on this basis. This approach was endorsed by the Panel.
Item 3: Presentation on LG Inform (Juliet Whitworth)
Dennis introduced the presentation by explaining that LG Inform is a sector-led initiative designed to help with benchmarking and comparability.
LG Inform pulls together performance and contextual data from a range of government and other sources, and produces reports and dashboards. The Metrics Library contains around 700 data items. It can provide detailed reports for an authority and make comparisons with others e.g. other authorities of the same type, other authorities in the area, average for area etc. The headline report brings together around 30 key metrics that tell the story of an area e.g. burglary rate, employment rate, proportion of waste recycled, proportion of planning applications completed on time, and proportion of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs. There are also pre-prepared theme based reports e.g. housing, planning, waste, and users can define and build their own reports.
The next phase, for September 2012, is to make the system slicker, faster, more responsive and intuitive, with the metric reports open to the public. It will also enable integration with third party sites, e.g. it will be accessible from council websites. Councils will also be able to input and share additional data they choose.
Juliet explained that it was not possible to make the system accessible to the public yet as the current platform did not support high usage. Integration with Knowledge Hub will resolve this.
There were concerns that the datasets behind the data visualisations could not be downloaded at present. However Roger emphasised that it remained the responsibility of public authorities to publish their data, not LG Inform’s responsibility to republish. The panel asked that the origin of the data behind the visualisations be clear so that it could be sourced from the public authorities.
Jos asked about continued LGA support for LG Inform in the future: Juliet clarified that there was commitment from the LGA to continue to support LG Inform, both in relation to the web-based tool, but also the development of definitions and standards for new data items identified by the sector.
Tim pointed out that local politicians find LG Inform user friendly, whereas the undigested raw data is not. Janet asked if it could be broken down to ward level. At the moment, it can’t but there may be scope to enable this later on.
Action: Olivia to see if this could be highlighted as a good news story for use of open data?
Item 4: Discussion on FOI
Janet introduced her paper, emphasising that the Justice Select Committee was carrying out a post-legislative scrutiny exercise to review the operation of FOI, and was seeking written evidence by 3 February.
While the MoJ memorandum to the Committee did consider the extension of FOI to publicly funded services it seemed to consider it too difficult a problem to resolve. With the Panel’s agreement she proposed to re-present the Panel’s Position Statement, with additional evidence, to the Committee. She would welcome any further examples of problems that occurred when information was not available due to contracting out.
Jos stressed the bottom line that where services were publicly funded there should be transparency. However it needed to be recognised there were many different ways services could be part privatised. Roger agreed, adding that local government contracts were relatively easy – you just needed to ensure the contract stipulated that the contractor should treat FOI as if they were the authority; but there were some PFI type schemes where the relationship was unclear e.g. Academy Schools. Janet asked if DCLG were able to mandate procurement principles for local government.
Action: Janet to make a submission to the Justice Select Committee review of FOI, seeking additional supporting evidence.
Action: DCLG to clarify position regarding ability to mandate procurement.
Item 5: Cabinet Office Update (Olivia Burnham)
Senior Officials Group (set up to provide a forum to review and inform the status of the Transparency and Open Data agenda at both cross-cutting and individual Department levels) - 1st meeting took place on 12 December, and the next one would take place next week.
1st draft of Departmental Open Data Strategies were due at the end of the month, with final publication end of March/early April.
Nigel queried whether it was intended that every Secretary of State should have a related Sector Board? Currently only Local Government, Crime and Justice and Transport sector boards existed – although a Health one was about to be commissioned. Olivia agreed that it was expected most large Ministries of State would eventually have sector boards.
Open Public Services White Paper - the Summary of Responses would be published at the end of January, with the Government’s response in the spring.
Open Government Partnership – the UK would be taking the Co-Chair from the US later this year. The OGP had raised the profile of open data and transparency. Nigel and Chris both expressed concern over its lack of focus so far. It needed to get a focus on specific areas.
Public Data Corporation – the Autumn Statement announced the creation of the Public Data Group and the Data Strategy Board. The latter was to be a commissioner and champion for Open Data. Details available on Cabinet Office website “Open data measures in the Autumn Statement 2011.” http://bit.ly/y0OWVS
The Transition Board is due to meet tomorrow (18th) to discuss the responses to the PDC consultation and the Terms of Reference and establishment of the Data Strategy Board and Public Data Group.
The Panel stressed that it was important to be clear what core reference data needed to be freely available, but accepted that some key datasets were unlikely to be made available under an open licence.
The Data Strategy Board would have oversight of the process and decide what must be made available. Tim felt it needed a neutral respected adjudication, which weighed in the balance the costs of making the data available for free, against all the benefits, including secondary benefits.
Action: Nigel and Janet to formulate a statement from the Panel around the Autumn Statement, considering the progress made and the expectations still to be met.
Item 6: Crime and Justice Board update
Unfortunately no members of the Board were present to update. Nigel said that it was the intention that the Crime Map site would be providing more information around particular crimes and various Points of Interest and reduce the address clusters from 12 to 8.
Item 7: Digital Collaboration
William Barker gave a presentation on a number of initiatives which were being taken forward under the “Digital by Default” banner. For Central Government there were - the Government ICT Strategy, Government Digital Service and Open Data Transparency. There were also a number of separate initiatives from the local government side, with SOCITM and the LGA leading on these. The purpose of the presentation was to put these strands onto the Panel’s radar.
Chris was concerned that there appeared to be little contact with people outside of the government power structures. It could end up as a compromise that isn’t customer focused and is rooted in the past while the rest of the world has moved on.
Jos highlighted that the presentation showed there were groups out there that the Panel could be influencing and using to help achieve its aims.
Action: It was agreed Chris and William would talk further outside the meeting regarding public participation.
Item 8: Discussion on Role of CIPFA (including the Benefits of Open Data)
Nigel widened the discussion to include the Paper presented by Tim and Roger on “Realising the Benefits of Open Data”, which Tim introduced.
Accountability through Transparency was not just about armchair auditors, but also empowering locally elected politicians; and those who run bodies benefit most from Transparency as it enables them to better understand their own organisations.
Participatory democracy is also enhanced by transparency, which enables citizens to see the decision-making processes, and gives them new ways of interacting with the State.
Unlocking innovation needs to be facilitated by the public sector, but does not come from the public sector. There is a need to look at business models. There is a cost to supplying datasets – how do we foster information that will not necessarily itself serve the public sector.
Roger emphasised that there are cash benefits from transparency and from greater citizen involvement in the decision making process. Redbridge i was testament to this.
There was a need to better incentivise people to use data and make money from it.
Roger discussed future plans for Redbridge i including building a front end which enables people to log in and see all their transactions with the local authority, and linking this to a semi-smart card. They are also setting up a citizens’ panel via YouGov, and when large enough, significant decisions will be run past the citizens’ panel for their input.
Their datashare device is up and running, and other authorities can use it.
Janet agreed to pull together a paper, developing Tim and Roger’s original and adding additional evidence of benefits. To be circulated for additional input and then brought back to the next meeting where perhaps half the time would be set aside to discuss.
This discussion would also consider the economics of open data, and the position on privileged access to data such as applies to CIPFA and Spotlight on Spend.
Action: Janet to develop the paper on the Benefits of Open Data, and circulate for further comments. Paper to be discussed at next meeting.
Item 8: Any other business
Nigel suggested a future piece of work, half for discussion around “Opportunities” and principles to aspire to, and half on challenges we have to face up to. There is also a need for further work on data valuation and data markets.
There should be further consideration of appointing additional members to the Panel.
Dates of Future Meetings:
Friday 2nd March 13.00 to 15.00.