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UK government looks to harness the potential of open data through APIs

'Value can be extracted' – Cabinet Office minister

In a speech earlier this week, Matt Hancock, minister for the Cabinet Office, referred to data as being "no longer just a record" but a "mineable commodity, from which value can be extracted" and outlined how the UK government intends to improve its use of the information at its disposal and help others exploit the data too.

"Government data is no longer a forgotten filing cabinet, locked away in some dusty corner of Whitehall," Hancock said. "It’s raw material, infinite possibility, waiting to be unleashed. No longer just a record of what’s happened, but a map of what might be."

Hancock said he wants to ensure data is not just more readily published but that it is made more usable. He said more standardisation and maintenance of data is required and that data services need to be "built around the needs of users". He said the government would look "much more closely at how data flows into government: how it’s collected, how it links together, who uses it and how it’s made available for wider use".

The UK government said that "a programme of lunch-time code clubs" could help civil servants become "alive to the transformational power of data"

"We need to move away from government’s reliance on bulk data sharing and create an economy of APIs," Hancock said. "Our core datasets must talk to each other, built on high quality registers instead of lists of data replicated in each government department."

The UK government said that "a programme of lunch-time code clubs" could help civil servants become "alive to the transformational power of data."

"This isn’t about turning everyone into a data-scientist; it’s about making sure that departments are intelligent consumers of their own data," Hancock said.

Hancock said that the government wants to ensure that there is trust in the way data is used, and said it was the duty of the government to keep data "safe and secure". He said providing data security is not just about making information "harder to steal" but that it is about preventing the integrity of the data.

"Inaccurate or corrupted data means citizens being lost between the cracks, so it’s vital that we ensure our data is well-managed and of high quality," Hancock said.

A new "data leaders network" has been set up in government to ensure that data sharing legislation supports "open, effective, data-driven government", Hancock said. A panel of six experts, including Sir Nigel Shadbolt from the UK's Open Data Institute (ODI), Mustafa Suleyman from Google DeepMind and Xavier Rolet from the London Stock Exchange will be involved in the initiative, he said.

Hancock said he has asked the ODI to help the government "connect with the businesses, start-ups and innovators" that are leading in data economy innovation to ensure that knowledge and expertise can be "networked and interlinked".

Copyright © 2015, is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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