Sunday, April 27, 2008

Creating Public Access to Information- A View form UK

In 2007, a report published by the United Kingdom recommended that the government begin to work directly with the public to re-use government information. In The Power of Information the authors review the ways in which user communities are able to use information to improve people's lives and explores strategies for how to work effectively with these communities.

Here is a slightly edited excerpt from the report:
"This is an unusual review in that it is a story of opportunities rather than problems. It takes a practical look at the use and development of citizen and state-generated information in the UK.

Public sector information underpins a growing part of the economy and the amount is increasing at a dramatic pace. The driver is the emergence of online tools that allow people to use, re-use and create information in new ways. ...This is the first review to explore the role of government in helping to maximise the benefits for citizens from this new pattern of information creation and use.

When enough people can collect, re-use and distribute public sector information, people organise around it in new ways, creating new enterprises and new communities. In each case, these are designed to offer new ways of solving old problems. In the past, only large companies, government or universities were able to re-use and recombine information. Now, the ability to mix and 'mash' data is far more widely available.

Since 1990, when the World Wide Web first made the internet usable by mass audiences, the number of users has risen from virtually none to 61% of the UK adult population. The impacts of this transformation are diverse and profound. TV consumption is falling and internet usage is rising fast, and as many prospective online shoppers now consider a search engine as important as talking to a trusted friend when making purchasing decisions.

The largest websites are now often those that bring together information created by the people who use them. The proportion of people using such sites to help themselves and others is now on a par with the friendly societies and mutuals of the nineteenth century.

This report argues that government could now grasp the opportunities that are emerging in terms of the creation, consumption and re-use of information. Current policy and action is not yet adequate to grasp these opportunities. To this end, the report recommends a strategy in which government:
  • welcomes and engages with users and operators of user-generated sites in pursuit of common social and economic objectives;
  • supplies innovators that are re-using government-held information with the information they need, when they need it, in a way that maximises the long-term benefits for all citizens; and
  • protects the public interest by preparing citizens for a world of plentiful (and sometimes unreliable) information, and helps excluded groups take advantage."
I think you could substitute "university" for government in many of these sentences and you would begin to get the idea of what is meant by open research, open education and open engagement.

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