UK Number One For Transparent Open Government

World Wide Web Foundation concludes the United Kingdom to be the most open and transparent

The Data Revolution and Government Transparency

The World Wide Web Foundation published the Second Edition of its Open Data Barometer fifty days ago. The report found UK government organizations to be the most open and transparent in the world with their data. In the fifty days since the release of the report, has the open data landscape dramatically changed? Are we where we need to be in terms of data freedom?

Open Data Barometer (Second Edition)

The opening paragraph on the first page of the website for the Open Data Barometer (ODB), immediately highlights that they feel there is much more to do for the, "political and social impacts of open data .. to be realised".

Open Data Barometer
(Second Edition)

Of the summary report's key findings, two sentences jumped out to me. Firstly, "Open data initiatives that receive both senior-level government backing and sustained resources are much more likely to achieve impact". This you may think entirely obvious, and though the case, it is worth highlighting nonetheless.

The other sentence, "For data to be considered truly open, it must be published in bulk, machine-readable formats, and under an open license" is less innocuous than it may first appear. Parking the legalistic licensing side of data publication for one moment, a true appreciation of the implications of following through on this, requires the foresight to identify what would be involved to delivering on this.

Linked Open Data

Publishing in bulk, implies [yet admittedly does not specifically state] publishing all data, not just a subset of that which can legally be published. Not holding data back, nor only publishing information (which is always the formation of data into a representational view, built to up-front requirements, based on someone's perceptions and ideas of what end users need and want, or what the data provider wishes to issue (to perhaps push a particular viewpoint).

Linked Open Data cup

"Linked Open Data cup"


Publishing in machine-readable formats, can be achieved simply by offering the media, commercial enterprises and the public at large, 2-star and 3-star data (as outlined on the Linked Open Data cup). However, to take such information (again I use the term information as it is not raw data) and transform that into data suitable for one's own purposes is an onerous activity. I know from my own professional experience.

To truly support interconnectivity between disparate data providers and consumers, a sea change in the cultural attitudes towards Linked Data is needed within the public sector. I specifically highlight linked data, as there is a propensity, at present, to decide to offer Open Data datasets, which are not necessarily either linkable or raw.

5-Star Linked Open Data  is my second post in this series on The Data Revolution and Government Transparency

The Barometer Data

The report itself is a somewhat dry read. Did you expect anything else?

Opening up the available CSV files in your preferred spreadsheet application, you can reorder the data by those categories which are of interest to you, and use the ODB's Method page for explanations as to methodology behind the scoring mechanism of each metric.

The top 20 ranked countries are exclusively, high income, in nature. Dear old Blighty comes out ahead of everyone else, followed by the United States (which you might well have expected), in third place Sweden, and in joint fourth [yes joint] France and New Zealand.

Yet in terms of 'the extent to which open data has had a noticeable impact on increasing government efficiency and effectiveness' (ODB.2013.I.GOV), whilst the United Kingdom does well, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland do better. That said the partner metric, 'the extent to which open data had a noticeable impact on increasing transparency and accountability in the country' (ODB.2013.I.ACCOUNT), has the UK and US back in first and second place.

A criticism I have of this report, as someone who has been looking into semantic enrichment and linked open data for a while now, is that the report is available in PDF and CSV formats (1-star and 3-star formats respectively). This is hardly leading from the front, if you want others to publish (and consume) data in more useful machine-readable formats (ideally as 5-star data) then you should really do so too. If the report's data does exist in 5-star format, then that data should be published alongside the other formats on the Data page.

The barometer website contains an interactive Country Explorer visualisation tool, which is good as most open data datasets only start to become interesting when visualisations are applied to them. This particular visualisation allows users to easily see how different countries compare against the report's criteria. A quick glance at the opening world map alone, demonstrates the lack of data for some east European, near East and African countries.

BBC Interview with Mark Easton

Mark Easton (Home Editor)

BBC News

January 20, 2015


The UK government is the most open and transparent in the world, according to global rankings looking at public access to official data.

On the release of the Open Data Barometer's Second Edition, Sir Tim Berners-Lee talked to the BBC's Mark Easton, to discuss the findings of the report. Although the clip on the BBC website is very short (2m32s), and they do not cover the report in much detail, I include it here because during the conversation Tim does come out with a couple of endearing phrases that convey the modesty of this great man.

Tim Berners-Lee

People come out of the woodwork doing things because they're just excited about the final world that they're building. Those are the people that I'm proud of. 

Tim Berners-Lee (Web Inventor)

World Wide Web Foundation

January 20, 2015

On the topic of government control and surveillance of the internet, Mark asks whether Tim is an optimist about the future with regard to such things, to which he replies, "The web is humanity connected, and when it comes to humanity, yes I'm an optimist."

When Mark, suggests to Tim that he must be, "immensely proud that [he is] the father of the web", Tim says "Well of course it's been created by this massive collaboration internationally of people, that's what's been really really exciting. I'm proud of all those people out there who've decided to put together a website ... People come out of the woodwork doing things because they're just excited about the final world that they're building. Those are the people that I'm proud of."

That ladies and gentlemen is true modesty!

By way of a reminder, Tim invented the World Wide Web in 1989, whilst at CERN, to enable scientists to share information between universities and institutes, located around the world. It wasn't until 1993 that CERN put the World Wide Web in the public domain, but from that point to today his invention has undeniably changed the world.

For those interested in what the world's first website looked like, and who could blame you, feast your eyes on this The world's first website.


So to return to the questions posed at the start of this posting. The first, 'Has the open data landscape dramatically changed in the last fifty days?' Well no it hasn't but organisations such as Open Data Institute (now in its second year) are raising the profile of the open data cause; there is cross-party support for public sector bodies to go further; and within public sector organisations many more people are now persuaded, acknowledging that work to provide data alongside digital services is on their horizon.

As to the second question, 'Are we where we need to be in terms of data freedom?' Well no, there is still a long way to go. The ODB Findings point this out and I have to concur.

Richard Fortune
Written By

Richard Fortune

A seasoned Lead Architect delivering complex distributed cloud solutions with four decades coding experience.