Something for nothing
The Telegraph today reports that the government is set to release 2000 data sets from across the public sector. Fantastic.
Leaving aside the usual “this could have happened years ago” snipes, this is a great move forward. But the government could go further. If the Labour and the Conservatives are serious about developing power and transparency, one or other should pledge a Swedish-style Open Data Act, which would free all public sector data by default, unless specifically censored. Of course there are costs to full transparency like this, but savings offset the upfront cost rapidly as malpractice is uncovered (think expenses). Moreover there is an important cultural value to openness.
Further, open data can be a great source of innovation. The next step is to capitalise on this data by setting up prizes for better use of public sector data. Such prizes are already making a powerful impact in hundreds of businesses (and some governments), saving billions by tapping into the ingenuity of customers and staff.
For example, Dell turned around a customer service nightmare by setting up Idea Storm (little video here), which harnesses the ideas of users to find product improvements. This need not be bureaucratic. On idea storm the community rates each other’s ideas, with Dell staff only taking a look at the best. Goldcorp is another well-known example. The mining company came back from bankruptcy to become a $13 billion business after freeing its geological data and offering half a million dollars for anyone to find new seams of gold.
There is huge potential to save money and get people involved with creating their government with the same approach in the public sector. Washington D.C.’s data prize cost $50,000 but found $2 million in efficiencies, and groups like the Social Innovation Camp show what can be done here. Tim O’Reilly has spoken of moving to government as a platform – a flexible source of data, money and skill to draw down on and combine with your own talent and energy.
This is one of the new frontiers of progressive conservative thinking: decentralised, human, lean government you feel you own. The Progressive Conservatism Project is working on the potential of crowd-sourcing like this to save money and unlock good ideas in our new project, provisionally entitled The Ministry of You. Keep checking the website for more.
The government has dipped a toe in the water with showusabetterway. It is now time for the next government whoever it may be to dive in to a world the public and business is already embracing. So good start Gordon – better late than never.