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ODI unimpressed with data commitments in party manifestos

The Open Data Institute said all the political parties failed to address how the use of open data can improve the delivery of public services

The Open Data Institute (ODI) has criticised the political parties for the lack of commitments to the use of data in their manifestos.

Ahead of the launch of the 2017 general election manifestos, the ODI called on the political parties to include commitments on data infrastructure, trust and open innovation in their pledges.

However, the ODI’s head of policy Peter Wells said every party performed poorly on understanding how data can be used to deliver policies and services.

He also said no party has so far published any data about their candidates, or any information on how they are using personal data.

“With a few exceptions, such as commitments to open trials for medical research from the Liberal Democrats and beneficial ownership registers from Labour and the Scottish National Party, there seemed to be little understanding of how data and openness were creating new ways to deliver policies,” he said.

In the party’s manifesto, the Conservatives pledged to join up parts of the HM Land Registry, Ordinance Survey, the Valuation Office Agency, the Hydrographic Office and Geological Survey to establish a “geospatial data body”. The party also promised to continue plans to publish data on the performance of public-facing services, both in central and local government.

“The Conservatives included a proposal to open up data about land in the UK. Meanwhile, Labour’s renationalisation of Royal Mail might crack the important problem of providing open address data for the UK,” said Wells in his blogpost.

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“Those proposals will take work to realise and might seem like technical issues, but open land and address data would unlock huge value for the UK by making it easier for people to improve the housing and renting market.”

Wells said only the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats “touched on data as a tool for growing the economy and tackling societal challenges”.

He also said the ODI supported the Tories’ plans to create an ethical framework for how data is used, and will launch a data use and ethics commission that will advise government and regulators on the nature of data use, as well as the Liberal Democrats’ promise to continue to improve digital literacy.

“Data is not a magic bullet that solves every problem, but it can provide new approaches to delivering policies: for example, improving retail banking services, helping people to get fit or making it easier to fight fires,” he said.

“The manifestos suggested many consultations and big policy changes, but hardly recognised the need for policy trials to produce data that would help assess an idea against its theoretical promises.”

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