Open Data and Accountability
Open Data is a big thing right now. The last government, and the current government, have been committed to making non-personal information held by government open and accessible to citizens.
Open government data could be:
- Details of government spending;
- Performance statistics;
- Information on where services are;
- Organisational charts of central and local government
Much of the data government has made available can be found at http://www.data.gov.uk - including a large number ofdatasets about children in care and other datasets about young people and education.
In a recent open space discussion session at the CROA conference we talked a lot about the release of government spending data. All local authorities have to publish spending over £500 by January next year (guidance and consultation). Sites like Armchair Auditor and Openly Local are taking the spending data that has been published already - and are making it easy to browse and search.
With the Audit Office being abolished, government expect that citizens will be auditing what councils spend money on - using this open data to cast a critical eye over government spending and to set priorities. We talked about how advocates could enable young people to scrutinise open spending data, and other open datasets. Wider participation projects also need to think about how they will use open government data in their work - and how they will empower young people to be part of the citizen groups scrutinising government activitiy.
There is potentially a tension between data and voice/participation when it come to influencing the way services and communities are developed and governed. The idea that the story told by 'data', and the story told by children and young people can differ will hardly be an unfamiliar idea to many people who have worked to support youth participation. Is the right response to reject the use of data in driving service reform? Or to better equip young people to be interpreters of data - shaping statistics into stories that represent their lived-lives, and not that steamroller over the complexities and contradictions of growing up in many challenging contexts.
In the open space discussions with CROA we talked about events like Young Rewired State where young people have created impressive tools with data, such asGovSpark (focussed on energy saving); but we also talked about the importance of asking the right questions with data. We discussed the importance of not just relying on central government to provide data - but how CROA members may also hold important data and information that could be used to drive the improvement of services. By using shared lists of categories for issues and interventions, CROA members could put together their own datasets.
A practical suggestion from the open space session was that we should set up a workshop to explore data, advocacy and participation more (certainly something I'd be keen to get involved in!). Would you be interested in such a workshop? Let me know.