The development of UK government policy on citizens' access to public sector information
thesisposted on 21.04.2011, 08:12 by Barbara Buckley Owen
The aim of the research was to investigate the development of United Kingdom government policy on citizens’ access to public sector information (PSI) from 1996 to 2010. In addition to a mapping of UK policy documents, the main research method was the undertaking of open and semi-structured interviews with influential experts and the analysis of interview transcripts. These experts came from both inside and outside government, including: policymakers and implementers; regulators and advisors; lobbyists and campaigners; academics; and the information profession. Main findings were: lack of co-ordination of information policy across government; new skills required within government to provide information in the Web 2.0 environment; uneven progress in the development of citizen-centric services; lack of information literacy policy; and low involvement of the information profession in driving forward the developments in the provision of PSI. A major gap identified was the lack of co-ordinated evaluation of information policy in general, and of the provision of PSI in particular. A framework for assessing implementation of policy was developed and tested against the Power of Information Taskforce recommendations, and suggestions were made for new measures. The research also charted the increase in the opening up of government data for re-use during 2009 and 2010, both during the run-up to the general election and subsequently when plans for transparency were put in place by the new Coalition government. It is considered significant that this increase in transparency, by both main political parties, should come at a time when trust in government was low, citizens’ expectations of electronic access to information were rising and the technology was enabling new channels for engagement. The influence of individuals was found to be considerable, not least as exerted by Sir Tim Berners- Lee, Professor Nigel Shadbolt, Tom Steinberg, Labour Digital Engagement Minister Tom Watson, and Natalie Ceeney at The National Archives. Recommendations to government address: policy co-ordination mechanisms: the role of the Office of Public Sector Information; and support for intermediaries. Those aimed at the information profession cover: new skills needed; co-ordination for lobbying on specific issues; and support for developing information literacy. This research has been the first within the information policy academic community in the UK to address how government is opening up its data in the wake of new technological innovations and is focussed on the needs of citizens.