The UK is No.1 in the world on open data, but we must not be complacent

Written by Ellen Broad on . Posted in Features

The latest edition of the Open Data Barometer confirms the UK’s global leadership when it comes to open data. Ranked first once again in the Web Foundation’s comprehensive study of open data initiatives across 86 countries, the UK continues to set the bar for countries looking to create value from open data.

But while the UK is in first place, it cannot be complacent. Other countries have made significant advances in the latest Barometer: France has moved from tenth in 2013 to fourth place, and the Netherlands is close to being in the top five. In Latin America Brazil, Uruguay and Chile are streaking ahead, with Chile alone vaulting 10 places to find itself ranked fifteenth.

How the UK became a global leader

Behind the UK’s top ranking in the Open Data Barometer is a history of strong political leadership. For more than a decade, UK governments of various political parties have built on the initiatives of their predecessors to release more open data and foster a community around it: from the launch of the Power of Information Review by the Blair government in 2007, to the implementation of the open data portal under the Brown government in 2009, to David Cameron’s letter to cabinet ministers in 2010, affirming previous progress in open data and setting out the coalition’s transparency agenda.

During their time in office, the coalition has been responsible for several watershed moments in open data: setting up the Public Sector Transparency Board (PSTB), the Open Data User Group (ODUG) and the Open Data Institute (ODI), introducing the first Open Government Licence, becoming the inaugural chair of the Open Government Partnership, shaping the G8 Open Data Charter, rolling out the Release of Data and Breakthrough Funds and initiating strategic discussion of a UK National Information Infrastructure.

Looking back at key moments in the UK’s open data and transparency history at an Institute for Government and Open Data Institute event late last year, Cabinet Minister Francis Maude described the coalition government's approach to openness on taking office:

'We really meant it, when we said we wanted to be the most transparent government ever. We needed it as our friend actually, because we faced the biggest deficit in the developed world and we were coming out of the deepest recession. And we needed to cut spending, and transparency is your friend when you start doing difficult things with departmental budgets.'

Consistently throughout the UK’s history with open data, teams in the UK Cabinet Office have worked hard to build a community of open data reformers and reusers inside and outside government.

In 2014, the ODI began discussing ways in which the UK could continue to build on its open data successes. The last decade has been about laying a strong foundation for open data in the UK. This next decade must be about realising its impact.

Introducing the ODI’s Open Data Roadmap for the UK

The Open Data Institute was set up in 2012 to catalyse the evolution of open data culture to create economic, environmental and social value. In the last two years it has trained governments and industry, nurtured start-ups, developed tools, produced research and stories, grown its international network and provided expert guidance on how to unlock the full potential of open data.  

In consultations with ODI members, start-ups and stakeholders across the UK open data community, the ODI began sketching out steps the UK could take to continue to drive progress on open data. What began as detailed plans for action across all areas of open data, spanning quality of publication, management of data assets, release of high value data and funding for data education programs, was gradually refined and pared back to a high level Roadmap for Open Data in the UK.

The Roadmap sets the tone for the next evolution of open data policy in the UK. It recognises the range of activities successive UK governments have stimulated around open data, and outlines three steps to connect and focus them. In short, it recommends the next government:

Continue to build a coherent open data strategy

  1. Clearly embed open data within a wider data strategy
  2. Appoint a Chief Data Officer for government to oversee this data strategy
  3. Build data publication into all the Government Digital Service does

Open up more socially and economically beneficial data

  1. Support UK trading funds to release more closed datasets as open data
  2. Use the National Information Infrastructure to plan for future releases  
  3. Include the release of open data in government procurement contracts

Support even more reuse of open data

  1. Commit £10m to data training for government, business and citizens
  2. Incentivise government to consume open data, not just publish it
  3. Connect research and development frameworks to open data

Each of these steps is unpacked in greater detail in the Roadmap. In the lead up to the general election in May 2015, the ODI will continue to expand on some of the Roadmap’s key themes through lunchtime lectures, workshops and online discussion. Contribute via the ODI blog, tweet using #opendataroadmap or email us directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The future for open data in the UK

The upcoming general election represents a crossroads of sorts for open data. The UK has made enormous progress shaping a policy and industry environment that’s conducive to realising the potential of open data: now the hard work of delivering on that potential should begin.

Whatever the composition of government after the election, it will include a party with a strong open data legacy. They will have had a role in the UK being ranked first in the world for its open data leadership. And the ODI’s Roadmap for Open Data in the UK, focused on maximising the impacts of open data, may help them to retain their lead into the future.  


The views expressed in the Opinion section of StatsLife are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of The Royal Statistical Society.

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