Below is the text of the speech made by Francis Maude, the then Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, at the World Bank on 30 January 2012.
Transparency is tricky.
Governments across the world have long been very reluctant to do it – perhaps with the conviction it was washing dirty linen in public.
It’s a law of nature that Oppositions are very much in favour of open, transparent governments. And once in office this carries on for at least the first 12 months when new governments are all for exposing their predecessors’ failings.
After that enthusiasm drains.
Governments of every time and place have always collected and hoarded vast quantities of information about their land and their people – from weather patterns to the marriage certificates.
After he had conquered England in 1066, William the First sent men all over the country to find out how much each landholder had in land and livestock and what it was worth. The ‘Domesday Book’ – as this survey became known – was designed to find out what taxes were owed and where money could be raised.
Information, as they say, is power. Which rulers have never been very keen on sharing with the ruled – even in the most Liberal democracies.
But in the last twenty years something momentous has occurred; the world has opened up. Today citizens across the globe are demanding their data. And they are getting it.
For the first time the technology exists to make the demand for greater openness uncontainable, irresistible.
And in the UK transparency and open government is a defining passion for our government.
We believe that opening up will expose what is inadequate and drive improvement. We believe opening up will give people choices over public services that they’ve never had before.
And we believe opening up will drive economic and social growth by putting vast tracts of valuable raw data in the public domain.
Open Government Partnership
We are at the beginning of global movement towards transparency. And it’s forcing governments out of their comfort zone. By enabling citizens to hold them to account on a day to day basis not just at election time.
There is nothing soft or fluffy or cosy about transparency.
I was in New York last September when the Open Government Partnership was launched by Presidents Obama and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil.
History may come to see this as a turning point. We now have over 50 members signed up to making a reality of transparency and participation for their citizens.
And we are seeing transformational examples of what open government can achieve.
In Mongolia they now publish all their mining contracts that were previously siphoned into the offshore bank accounts of a mafia clique. The result has been increasing investment in education and health.
Latvia is one of many countries developing new modes of citizen engagement by encouraging citizens to participate online in drafting new legislation.
Transparency can also transform the effectiveness of overseas aid. In Britain we want our development budget, which has been expanded to meet the UN target of 0.7% to be spent to maximum effect.
So we have brought the principles of the Open Government Partnership into our aid programme to ensure when deciding whether governments will receive UK budget support, progress against Open Government Partnership will be an important factor.
Exposing data to the harsh sunlight of transparency isn’t easy. Herbert Agar the American writer once wrote that “the truth which makes men free is for the most part the truth which other men prefer not to hear”.
In Liberia the struggle to publish government contracts with the forestry industry prompted mafia reprisals.
In some parts of India where internet access is not available officials paint spreadsheets of welfare payments on village walls so local people can judge if the claimants are real or fraudulent.
Brazil now requires officials to post expenses within 24 hours to reduce corruption and improving public confidence in government. And as a result President Dilma dismissed six ministers in 2011 linked to corruption scandals.
Governments are finding transparency risky, difficult and uncomfortable. But transparency sticks – it’s irreversible once you start. And I believe transparency will become the defining characteristic of future public policy.
Transparency in the UK
The UK takes over the co-chairmanship of the OGP this April and this is an exciting moment for us. I believe we have a lot to offer. And that we can export transparency best practice to all corners of the globe.
The theme of our leadership will be transparency driving prosperity and combating poverty.
On one side of the transparency coin there is holding government to account; exposing waste, rooting out corruption and driving efficiency.
On the other side there is putting out raw data in the public domain for entrepreneurs and businesses to work with. Creating an information marketplace. And this is where I believe the UK is leading the way today.
Data sharing is underpinning everything we do to improve public services and to drive new waves of growth.
Firstly by making public sector data increasingly available we are giving citizens choices over services that simply haven’t existed before. Indeed how can you make a choice when you don’t know what the options are?
A few years ago the heart surgeon Sir Bruce Keogh made history when he persuaded his colleagues to publish comparable data on their individual clinical outcomes – a global first.
Seven years later dramatic improvements in survival rates are reported – with more than a third of patients living when they might have previously expected to have died in some procedures.
This bold act of professional transparency simply transformed the results of heart surgery in this country.
Secondly we are giving a new generation of innovative data entrepreneurs an opportunity to exploit large tracts of valuable data that governments would previously have left under-analysed and under-used.
And the potential prize here is considerable. A recent report estimated the current total direct and indirect economic value of public sector information at €140 billion per year for the EU27 (Vickery/ EU Commission, 2011). This suggests that similar information in the UK is already worth in the region of £16 billion a year.
Our open data commitments cover health, education, transport, criminal justice – as well as central government spending. We’ve already publicised 7,800 data sets on data.gov.uk – the largest resource of its kind in the world.
Last autumn we made world-leading commitments to open up more public sector data that will make travel easier and healthcare better, and create significant growth for industry and jobs in the UK.
At the heart of what we are doing is building is a two way data relationship between the state and individuals.
We are releasing public data – where the state is a source of information to citizens. This is generally large routine datasets from real-time transport data to routine hospital activity data.
And releasing this has the twin effect of driving more efficient public services and boosting the new mass market for smart consumer technology.
For example there are parts of the UK where the National Health Service has published data on local medical practices – this is stimulating discussion and enhancing choice for thousands of patients.
Companies large and small are also using the data to create innovative, products and applications.
Already we’re aware of 47 independent app developers working in the UK giving information to rail passengers through their smartphones – in a market that has for the most part open up in only a few major cities.
London commuters can now use their phone apps to decide whether to rush for the train or get a cup of coffee thanks to greater transport data.
To give another example a small UK-based firm started using live data from local councils to help drivers identify free car parking spaces. The firm called Parkopedia have grown to become the world’s leading source of parking information covering more than 20 million spaces in 25 countries.
The second part of the data relationship is user data – we are releasing information that enables the citizen to be a source of information for the state.
For example we are set to improve medical knowledge and practice with world-first linked-data services which will enable healthcare impacts to be tracked across the entire Health Service and improve medical practice.
And we believe this service will put the UK in a prime position for research investment
There is also a third core public data asset being release – ‘My data’, personal information that will empower each individual.
Our ambition is to transform high tech consumer information markets through provision of online citizen access to personal data including medical records online.
In short, open data is not just a grand sounding theory that is, in practise, academic. It is making a difference in all kinds of ways – from saving lives, to improving public services to simply making life more convenient.
Of course there are challenges. As we open data up we are finding some of it has been in the dark so long it’s not fit the light of day. But again exposing these inadequacies is stimulating improvement.
Our priority is to design a safe, high quality culture of data sharing which poses no risk to individual confidentiality.
We are keen to share what we consider to be the building blocks of transparency and open government with the world. I believe a lot of what the UK is doing is exportable.
And I hope to hear from you about how we might work with the World Bank to take this to other nations and offer our support.
These are the first formative years of this new age of open data. And there are risks and challenges ahead. But the prize is effective personalised 21st century democracy.
Transparency will create empowered citizens that can expose corruption, get the best value out of their governments and have equal access to valuable raw data.
So what are our ambitions going forward?
We need a much better international source book that supports Open Government Partnership members engaging with transparency.
We should be importing and exporting our transparency techniques, our open data challenges and the lessons we have learnt from our mistakes.
And finally we are moving from open government to an open society.
There is increasing pressure on businesses and voluntary groups and charities to be open and transparent. At home we are currently debating whether businesses should publish executive pay.
But businesses and other organisations have much to gain from releasing their data. Many are already finding that outsourcing data to academics and developers for free will gain them cutting edge techniques and new perspectives.
I am sure this is true of the World Bank where I know you have made your data and knowledge available to the world online.
The age of data silo is passing. As McKinsey in their big data study made clear, there is a big advantage to integrating a range of data sources and gaining new knowledge you might not have expected.
One of the co-directors of London’s new Open Data Institute for supporting businesses to use public data is Professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.
Sir Tim has pointed out that: “One of the reasons the Web worked was because people re-used each other’s content in ways never imagined by those who created it. The same will be true of open data.”
In the future as we face challenges including climate change, energy use, security, aging populations and migration we need our critical infrastructure and services to be more aware, more interactive and more efficient. Open data will be crucial in making this happen.
And I have no doubt as we become increasingly data rich we will all look back and wonder how we ever tolerated such collective ignorance in the past. There is no turning back on transparency – the future is open.