For some time now I have held a public appointment at Communities and Local Government in the UK as a member of the Local Public Data Panel, which is part of the Government’s open data machinery. At that panel I tend to bang on about the need for citizen engagement in local data so that people use what you publish, as a counter-point to the endless, publish, publish, publish mantra. I wrote a blog post on this theme that some people liked.
Committees, like Dr Johnson’s dictionary are dull work even when the people on the group are fabulous, as they are here. It helps if every now and then you can get stuff off your chest.
To improve the TOR of the Local Public Data Panel I wrote this Local Public Information Manifesto that was in large part based on frustration formed in years of civic action at the hegemony that the local state, quasi-state and corporate interests have over data when you are trying to get them to listen/change things. One or two other Panel members contributed but I won’t embarrass them here nor by any means say this is the view of the Panel. I present the manifesto below as a draft – if you think you can sign up to it append your name in the comments or suggest amends.
Draft Local Public Information Manifesto
An informed community needs accurate timely information to make good local decisions. In 2012 it remains challenging for a citizen to find the information they need to take part in local decisions about the public realm. Personal, life changing decisions about schools and social care are shrouded in an information fog, public social issues such as land use planning, the licensing of pubs, clubs, betting shops suffer desperately from not having enough resident involvement. All too often one finds that people just didn’t know about critical developments at a stage when they could have influenced them.
All public bodies use internet-connected IT and 80% of citizens use the internet. Yet the bedraggled paper chitty tied by string to some railings or a bulky document in a library remain pivotal to publishing public information. This might have been acceptable in 1912 but in 2012 it is embarrassingly out of date, undermining Britain’s claim to be an information society.
This manifesto seeks more informed communities, better equipped with basic information to make the tough choices facing people in austerity Britain. By the end of this parliament we think that people across the country should be able to access the basic information held by local public bodies that people need to drive local democracy and help make tough public service choices. We call on local and national public bodies to publish as open data the basic data underpinning critical services in the following areas:
Schools – help third parties provide decent school application information processes – publish data on places, intake and catchment areas
Health – better information to support tough decisions on local social care as local authorities assume responsibility – publish detailed expenditure and performance data on social care and create pro-actively transparent local health and wellbeing boards.
Crime – people able to see that justice is being done in their community on issues they care about. Who is appearing in local courts for local crimes, what happens to them, sentences and when people are being released.
Planning and built environment – citizens can’t get involved if they can’t easily navigate applications and case histories about nearby planning applications. People need to know what is going on near them to contribute to neighbourhood plans on an informed basis. Local planning lists and decisions should be published in real time as open data.
Licensing – citizens need to be equipped with basic information to use new powers to control bars, clubs, pubs, adult venues, gambling venues. Publish as open data applications for all classes of alcohol, entertainment and adult services licences. Also data about the trends and (criminal) behaviour of the licensees and premises.
Environment – inform people’s decisions about levels of pollution in their daily lives so that they can avoid or campaign to change it. Publish pollution levels data from all local monitoring equipment. Bins and recycling collections can often be baroque, publish timetables and services as open data.
Transport – getting more out of largely fixed local transport infrastructure and shrinking services can only be done with better information. Publish local timetables, parking/waiting places, usage rates, subsidy and restrictions as open data.
Often public bodies cite cost and IT complexity as preventing them from putting decent information services online. But in the modern world hard pressed public bodies themselves need no longer present a ‘retail’ service to citizens. They can opt for a much cheaper, almost free option of publishing the underlying data itself or for more complex information an online interface to that data. Then third parties can deliver these information services instead, companies doing this can create jobs and new information services and assets. Companies and civic groups are often much better at telling people data exists than public bodies.
This manifesto is not intended to be exhaustive but we feel that good, modern local authorities and public bodies that desire more citizen engagement will want to do the above and more. A small number already are, the challenge is for all to do this using smart thinking within current budgets.
As ever this is my own personal views and does not reflect the views of any of my clients etc etc.
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