The UK government is the most open and transparent in the world, providing the easiest public access to official data, according to new global rankings.
Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s organisation compiled the table, assessing 86 different countries for how easy their governments make it for state data to be analysed. The UK topped the list, followed by the US and Sweden, however Sir Berners-Lee said our nation still has “a long way to go”.
The World Wide Web Foundation, founded by Sir Tim in 2009, accuses many governments of failing to honour their promises to ensure official data is available. It says that in more than 90 per cent of countries surveyed, data that could help beat corruption and improve government services remained locked away from public view.
“There are a lot of countries that have promised to put this basic data out there, really valuable information to cement trust between the government and citizens, but a lot of them haven’t followed up,” said Sir Tim.
In contrast with the UK, the Republic of Ireland is in 31st position in the rankings, two places lower than last year and the lowest-placed European country. Mali, Haiti and Myanmar, also known as Burma, are at the bottom of the table.
“Despite coming top of the rankings, the UK has a long way to go. The release of map data is something where the UK has lagged behind, and you’d think postcodes would be part of the open structure of the UK, but they’re not,” Sir Tim points out.
“The Post Office holds them as being a proprietary format. So, ironically, just a list of places in the UK is not available openly, for free, on the web.”
Central to the UK’s place at the top of the ranking is the data.gov.uk website, launched by the Labour government in 2010. The coalition government expanded the government files released on the site, opening up £80billion of government expenditure to public scrutiny.
However, Parliament’s Digital Democracy Commission has warned that transparency is not the same as true accountability.
“There’s actually a big difference between dumping data that’s not easily understandable and actually having open data that clever people can use to help you and me find out the information they want about the subject they want,” says Meg Hillier, a Labour MP who sits on the Commission set up by the speaker of the House of Commons.
“One of the things that MPs are trying to get government to do is to make sure data is released in usable formats. Just dumping data is not the answer, it ticks a box but it doesn’t do the job.”