Open data and transparency discussed at Future of Public Sector ICT event

The Future of Public Sector Information Management and ICT event, organised by Inside Government, was held on June 19th in London to discuss “new technology innovations such as cloud computing, and the government’s commitment to opening up access to data which will have a direct influence on data and information management policy and practice”.

Amongst the speakers were David Munn, head of IT at Greater London Authority (GLA), and Dr Sally Howes, executive leader for digital and innovation at the National Audit Office. The event was chaired by Steve Halliday, President of Socitm and head of ICT at Solihull Council.

Munn spoke about the importance of transparency and open data in governance and showed the audience the London DataStore, a GLA initiative which provides real-time transport data – often used by smartphone apps that provide users with train and bus times – as well as datasets for categories like environment and planning.

Making this information public and also interacting with citizens via social media means that government representatives are putting themselves out there and must be prepared to deal with all kinds of questions, as well as have sensible responses prepared. Moreover, social media is not just good for engaging with citizens but also for observation purposes: to see what the public is talking about and interested in.

Speaking about Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Munn was of the opinion that making so much data available to the public meant that his opponents could collect more ammunition against him, and hence this was a brave step on his part.

He said that the aim of the GLA was not only to make everything accessible to the public but also to be able to get the opinion of citizens on policy work.

“Transparency is not a fad, it is the new reality,” he concluded.

In response to scepticism from the audience about who would be interested in so much data, Halliday was of the opinion that all possible information should be put out there and it should be left to the public to decide what it wants and does not want to view. “It’s about the principle,” he said, and it is only natural that certain issues will attract more interest than others.

When asked if the public sector was being left behind when it comes to technological innovation, Halliday said that it is in fact well ahead of the private sector when it came to businesses like Jessops and Blockbuster and is well placed to make the most of it.

Dr Howes spoke about being a tremendous achievement for the government, with all departments coming under a single domain, despite many departments being traditionally set up and dealing with bureaucracy and hierarchies.

Referring to those in the country who do not have internet access, Dr Howes said that it was about 15% of the population who came under this bracket, half of which could go online with help from family and friends, adding that it was not always a cost concern, but one of lack of willingness to go online. She added that the older generation is warming up to the internet as often it is the only way they can speak to their grandchildren.

She added that lack of access should not overwhelm the vision of making government data and services available online. The major concern was that of disabled people, which she said the Government Digital Service is trying to tackle via its Assisted Digital programme.

Halliday said that many people did not have homes but had an email address because they had smartphones, which form an important part of their identity.

Other speakers at the event included Martin Liddament, IT head at the Health and Social Care who spoke about ‘Managing the NHS Information Revolution’ and Diane Downey, Assistant Head of ICT, Sunderland City Council who dealt with ‘Transforming Public Services through Technology and Information’.

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