Picture courtesy of Policy Exchange

I had an interesting morning yesterday at the launch of the Shakespeare Review, Stephan Shakespeare’s independent review of public sector information.

There was an interesting panel session and discussion at the event and the twittersphere seems to have given it a mainly positive reception.

I had the opportunity, via the Data Strategy Board, to discuss the review with Stephan on several occasions and it’s great to see it finalised and opened up for a broader conversation.

It covers a wide range of important topics, but I’d like to highlight two of the recommendations here, that are particularly relevant to the work of Swirrl and have the potential to make big impacts.

One is the recommendation that all government departments should make an immediate commitment “to publish their Core Reference Data to an agreed timetable, to a high standard to maximise linkability,…ease of use and free access. They should commit to maintaining this data and keeping it regularly updated”.

We’ve been arguing for some time that making this type of data available is essential infrastructure for the broader exploitation of open data: allowing other datasets to be built on top of the core, enabling diverse data sources to be connected together and providing a solid foundation that private and public sector can build useful services on top of. (And the point about maintaining it is essential).

Paul Maltby, head of Transparency at the Cabinet Office, blogged yesterday on how we might decide what should go into a set of national reference data.

There are clearly some details to be worked out in how this is implemented, but linked data certainly has an important role to play. There is an opportunity here for the linked data community to provide some guidance on how this data can be made as useful and re-usable as possible.

The other point I’d like to highlight is the recommendation that:

“We should expect systematic and transparent use of administrative data and other types of PSI in the formulation, implementation, monitoring and adaptation of government policy and service delivery, and formally embed this in the democratic process”.

There’s a huge potential for the public sector to exploit it’s own data to make development and evaluation of policy more effective – a huge amount of money is spent by government. Few would dispute that it makes sense to try to measure what works, and increasing data availability and the capacity to analyse it effectively can make this possible and practical in a way that it hasn’t been hitherto.

There’s a lot of other important points raised in the review. Not all with simple obvious solutions, but raising areas that should be investigated and debated: for example reform of the trading funds and finding a balance between privacy protection and making effective use of anonymised personal data.

I’m looking forward to seeing the government’s response to the review – and hope the bulk of the recommendations are taken forward for implementation.

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