These days the UK government seems unusually savvy when it comes to technology, open source and open standards. Now they've embraced another open movement, that of open data. And they've appointed Sir Tim Berners-Lee, father of the World Wide Web, to help.
In March 2008, the UK formed the Power of Information Taskforce, a body whose official description is, "To advise and assist the government on delivering benefit to the public from new developments in digital media and the use of citizen- and state-generated information in the UK."
As the Taskforce works toward this goal, they will address the following questions:
- How can government further catalyse more beneficial creation and sharing of knowledge, and mutual support, between citizens?
- What more can and should be done to improve the way government and its agencies publish and share non personal information?
- Are there any further notable information opportunities or shortfalls in sectors outside government that those sectors could work to rectify?
The Initial Plan
The Taskforce identified two different focus areas for their work: enablers and exemplars. They describe the enablers as "the structural barriers to innovation that exist at the moment." For example, before June 18, 2008, UK civil servants didn't have a clear civil service code for blogging or participating on forums professionally. When this barrier was removed, UK civil servants were enabled to work with online communities in official capacities.
Exemplars are "small projects demonstrating the Power of Information principles in action." The three exemplars chosen to start with are criminal justice, health and education. However, while the Taskforce is interested in information created both by citizens and the government, they're not charged with issues around people's private information. For example, they won't be dealing with medical records in their health project.
Tim Berners-Lee's Involvement
It's important to remember that Berners-Lee is not just the father of the web, he's also the father of the semantic web, whose entire purpose is to give information on the web more structure and context. In his new role as Information Advisor, Berners-Lee will help drive these projects forward. He and the Digital Engagement Team are charged with:
- Overseeing the creation of a single online point of access
- Working with departments to make using this point of access part of their routine operations
- Helping to select and implement common standards for the release of public data
- Developing Crown Copyright and 'Crown Commons' licenses and extending these to the wider public sector
- Driving the use of the Internet to improve consultation processes
- Working with the Government to engage with leading international experts working on public data and standards
For more on Berners-Lee's vision for the semantic web, watch his TED talk here: