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The rise of Open Government Data and why it matters.

Updated on June 29, 2017

A little History

The PDG (Public Data Group) was set up in 2011 as a joint initiative by the Cabinet Office, Department for Business, Innovation and Skill and the Shareholder Executive.

Following pressure from the Guardians ‘Free our Data’ campaign the coalition government at the time aimed to make data (whose collection and management was paid for by taxpayer money) freely available and more accessible. At the time the following Government Bodies were members:

  • Companies House
  • HM Land Registry
  • Met Office
  • Ordnance Survey

Though the PDG had its final meeting in 2015 and was integrated into the Department for Business, Innovation and Skill, it set a president for Open Data access in the UK.

This push for a more open government structure has increased the availability of Data from from 2,500 data sets in 2009 to over 30,000 data sets from across a wide range of Government Departments.

Benefit to the government


Knowing what the taxes we pay are funding and having access to that data, not only gives businesses and individuals access to the same useful information, it helps increase trusts between government and the governed.

Lower cost maintaining freedom of information requests

In 2005 the Department of Constitutional Affairs estimated that the cost of maintaining freedom of information requests was 35.5 million.

A later survey calculated by Frontier Economics in 2010 estimated the total cost of FOI requests to central government totaled £7.9million.

Having an significant centralised access point for the public should theoretically reduce the amount of FOI requests if individuals are willing to skilled and motivated to search for the data themselves, and in turn reduce the time required for government employees to respond accordingly to information they know is publicly accessible.

Interesting article on the cost of FOI requests:

Cross departmental data access

Open Data could make cross departmental collaboration simpler and reduce the activity cost of requesting data from other departments across government. Additionally, access to regularly updated downloads and API’s reduces the time arbitrage between data requirement and the ability to access said data.

Accountability for data driven decisions

Politicians and policy makers are more accountable for their decisions than ever before. An unpopular or failed policy that has not been put forward with the backing and analysis of relevant data is up for significant scrutiny.

On the other hand policy makers who make use of available data can use it their advantage and push through well analysed and researched policy to benefit the public and improve services.

This is mirrored by the fact that government are currently recruiting data scientists across governmental departments. One can only assume in an effort to make more use of the data they have available.

Benefit to Business

Economic impact

Micro, Small, Medium and Large enterprises now have a level playing field to some extent in regards to accessing government published data. Not only is the data freely available, but for start-ups and independent small businesses there is a range of free, open source tools that they can use before moving onto a larger scale, supported and bespoke data management system.

In 2010 Capgemini Consulting published a white paper that detailed the direct impact of Open Data on the EU27 economy was estimated at €32 Billion.

A viewpoint from government

Impact of the macro-economic environment has the potential to disrupt businesses of any size and shape. Being able to foresee and make more accurate predictions from openly published government data gives companies the foresight to adapt and adjust business models before legislative changes affect them.

In a sense the UK governments emphasis on the publication of open data, acts as a pseudo external data industry of scale (, in that it benefits all members of a market but without the distinct factor of price reduction.

Normalising API’s

Create a wider understanding of what public API’s (application programming interface) are, what they do and how to setup and query them. Developing these skills in a larger range of staff than purely IT will develop skills ready for the digital world ahead and allow staff self-service for ad-hoc data request and niche queries.

Competitive Advantage

Businesses that can glean insight from open data and spot trends before their competitors have the opportunity to commercially exploit their insight and develop a competitive advantage.

Industries where specific applications are developed utilizing government provided open data may reap more reward and see more growth than those that do not.

On a macro-economic level, countries that publish data that benefits their businesses, allow enterprises to identify global trends and opportunities that aggregate up to a competitive advantage for the entire countries economy.

Innovations across multiple industries

Data published is from a wide range of subject matter. This means there are possible applications in even the most niche of businesses. Industries that traditionally had to shill out large sums of money or commit large numbers of resources to collecting data can now afford to invest time in analysing these free data products.

Creative Selling

Businesses traditionally harvesting and selling data sets now have to compete with a large free competitor. They must add value to their product to compete or lower cost. This makes data more affordable for small enterprises and means data retailers have to up their game to provide more bang per buck to remain relevant.

Foster Innovation

From the largest corporate engines, to the smallest fledgling start-up, tonnes of data is now accessible, usable and free. Already innovations are popping up across various different industries. Who knows what long-term impact Open Data could have on society? What products and services will be available to us in the future that will enrich Industry, Healthcare, Education, Government and numerous other areas of day to day life?


If you're interested in what Open Data can do for you, your research or your business, don't be afraid to take the time to investigate what's out there. Under the OGL (Open Government License), it's your right to copy, publish, adapt, commercially and non-commercially exploit this information, however you see fit.

So, if you're not still not sure if you or your business should be making the most of open data, let me summarize the benefits:

  • It’s free!
  • You can access it from Google in about 10 seconds.
  • Many source come in multiple formats for you to download.
  • It may provide you invaluable insight that you won't find anywhere else.
  • If you believe the data you find may be invaluable to your organization going forward, you already know you're getting a return on investment before you consider wrapping a product around it, or incorporating it into your BI strategy.

Survey on OD Awareness

Did you know Open Government Data was available to you before reading this?

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