Statistics and Open Data: Harvesting unused knowledge, empowering citizens and improving public services

House of Commons Public Administration Committee (Tenth Report):
“1. Open data is playing an increasingly important role in Government and society. It is data that is accessible to all, free of restrictions on use or redistribution and also digital and machine-readable so that it can be combined with other data, and thereby made more useful. This report looks at how the vast amounts of data generated by central and local Government can be used in open ways to improve accountability, make Government work better and strengthen the economy.

2. In this inquiry, we examined progress against a series of major government policy announcements on open data in recent years, and considered the prospects for further development. We heard of government open data initiatives going back some years, including the decision in 2009 to release some Ordnance Survey (OS) data as open data, and the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA) which makes OS data available for free to the public sector.  The 2012 Open Data White Paper ‘Unleashing the Potential’ says that transparency through open data is “at the heart” of the Government’s agenda and that opening up would “foster innovation and reform public services”. In 2013 the report of the independently-chaired review by Stephan Shakespeare, Chief Executive of the market research and polling company YouGov, of the use, re-use, funding and regulation of Public Sector Information urged Government to move fast to make use of data. He criticised traditional public service attitudes to data before setting out his vision:

    • To paraphrase the great retailer Sir Terry Leahy, to run an enterprise without data is like driving by night with no headlights. And yet that is what Government often does. It has a strong institutional tendency to proceed by hunch, or prejudice, or by the easy option. So the new world of data is good for government, good for business, and above all good for citizens. Imagine if we could combine all the data we produce on education and health, tax and spending, work and productivity, and use that to enhance the myriad decisions which define our future; well, we can, right now. And Britain can be first to make it happen for real.

3. This was followed by publication in October 2013 of a National Action Plan which sets out the Government’s view of the economic potential of open data as well as its aspirations for greater transparency.

4. This inquiry is part of our wider programme of work on statistics and their use in Government. A full description of the studies is set out under the heading “Statistics” in the inquiries section of our website, which can be found at For this inquiry we received 30 pieces of written evidence and took oral evidence from 12 witnesses. We are grateful to all those who have provided evidence and to our Specialist Adviser on statistics, Simon Briscoe, for his assistance with this inquiry.”

Table of Contents:

1 Introduction
2 Improving accountability through open data
3 Open Data and Economic Growth
4 Improving Government through open data
5 Moving faster to make a reality of open data
6 A strategic approach to open data?
Conclusions and recommendations