The government’s Localism Bill was published yesterday, as was a guidance document. The latter confirms that power will be devolved to the community and that data will be made public for the scrutiny of that power.
“The Big Society is what happens whenever people work together for the common good. It is about achieving our collective goals in ways that are more diverse, more local and more personal.
“The best contribution that central government can make is to devolve power, money and knowledge to those best placed to find the best solutions to local needs: elected local representatives, frontline public service professionals, social enterprises, charities, co-ops, community groups, neighbourhoods and individuals.”
Central to this is a continued commitment to releasing public data for the public to use:
“Public access to public data provides the evidence base for public pressure and action, both on the part of those proposing new ways to deliver services and on the part of service users thus enabled to make an informed choice. This is what we mean by ‘transparency’: the ability to see how government actually works – or doesn’t work.
“…there can be no local innovation without local control of resources. Nor can local decision- making succeed without access to the government data on which informed judgement depends”.
The approach is to “focus on outcome, not process, and to release such knowledge into the public domain as raw data – so that anyone can analyse and visualise the information, spot trends and make connections that would otherwise go unseen”.
I haven’t yet seen anything that puts an expectation on the voluntary sector to release data, and to do so in an open format, but if they are to deliver services that the public are expected to scrutinise then inevitably it will need to happen. And it will, rightly, need to happen across the board – regardless of whether an organisation is delivering a public service or not.
The question then is what data should be released, and how? NCVO is already encouraging charities to release data and Open Charities has opened up the charity register; the Charity Commission itself, however, seems to be lagging behind at the moment.
I expect it won’t be allowed to lag for long though. The voluntary sector may well be about to find itself under a lot more scrutiny, not just from government and funders but the general public too.
There is more discussion around open local data on the Open Local Data Blog.