This morning the UK media trumpeted the launch by the Police of their new crime map, which lets you see crime levels for your postcode area. That’s all very well, but what are we expected to do with it?
I, for one, will probably ignore it. I’d rather be blissfully ignorant of local crime potential than live in constant fear of it.
Of course, this map is just one application of the underlying data. For example, linked data could allow an agency to take the crime figures and overlay them with poverty data so that connections between the two begin to emerge.
But what’s the point of publishing them for all to see? Sure, it provides service deliverers with greater insight with which to make better decisions; but how does it help ‘ordinary’ members of the public? Well, it’s all part of the government’s Big Society agenda for transparency:
“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”.
But ‘decision-making’ is about more than ‘informed judgement’. It’s about understanding the complexities of a situation, being able to put other interests before our own and seeking effective and constructive solutions.
Making information open and available publicly is just the beginning. Next we need a culture of interrogation; consumers of information need to be inquisitive, to acknowledge that a given representation is only a small part of the story and to engage with information critically and responsibly.
At the moment these skills of critical evaluation of information, and the exploration of the social, ethical and cultural implications of information technology, are in the school curriculum: within citizenship and ICT.
However, both of those subjects are under review; it is possible that neither will be in the curriculum by September 2012. So if schools are not expected to develop the skills necessary for meeting the challenges of Big Society, where will that development happen?
To my mind this will be the big challenge; making available information such as crime figures is just the tip of the iceberg.