Nigel Shadbolt hunts for government open data uses

News Analysis

Nigel Shadbolt hunts for government open data uses

Rebecca Thomson

Computer science professor Nigel Shadbolt is hunting for innovative new ways of using the public data that continues to flood the internet as the UK government attempts to increase transparency.

He says the most surprising, innovative ideas are not likely to come from big companies or government organisations, but independent developers, entrepreneurs or members of the public.

Shadbolt is working with web inventor Tim Berners-Lee on the UK's government's open data initiative, which will eventually see any suitable data generated by public institutions automatically uploaded and made freely available on

The Open.Up competition wants to generate awareness of the information published on and the social and economic potential it holds. Nigel Shadbolt is one of the panellists judging entries and the winner will get £1,000 and see their idea developed into an application.

Shadbolt says: "We have lots of data becoming available and the obvious question is what value is there locked up in this data? Governments and businesses are not always the best places to go to find out the answer."

This January will see an influx of data from local authorities, which must publish spending and salary data by then. Shadbolt is on a drive to boost awareness of the data and engage a bigger pool of developers, although there are some challenges to overcome before it becomes clear what direction the initiative will take.

"Making the data available in a readable form is a challenge, but councils are trying as best they can to meet the deadlines. Departments and councils have to produce this stuff within existing budgets," says Shadbolt.

"The assumption is that this is about repurposing existing resources and funding. It's not just about technology, but organisational and cultural change."

While most of the data is already present on government systems, much of it is far from error-free. One of the interesting challenges of the process, Shadbolt says, will be improving the quality of datasets.

"Often people realise the data is not perfect, and you can sometimes even improve data through this process. An interesting challenge will be to build a system or process where the public can actually crowd-source that data and flag up flaws."

The area could be an increasingly lucrative one for developers, he says, with venture capitalists looking at link data with more attention and a number of large companies also taking an interest.

"The innovation comes from the edge," he says. "Two people in a basement - that's how you build the next generation of start-ups."

Shadbolt's colleague Dame Wendy Hall has talked in the past of the business potential of linked data.

The Open.Up Competition is being run by The Stationery Office. Entry is possible via the Open.Up website >>

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