Open data and open policy making

In our 2016 policy manifesto we call for open data and for the process of policy making to be open.

Open data is data that anyone can access, use or share. It can enable small businesses, citizens and researchers to develop resources which make crucial improvements to their communities. Open data, especially open government data, is a tremendous resource that is as yet largely untapped in Northern Ireland.

Open policy making helps civil servants create and deliver policy that meets the demands of a fast-paced and increasingly digital world by engaging with others outside of government. It means that policy is more informed and better designed for both government and users.

Here are the top 4 reasons why we call for open data and for the process of policy making to be open.

It will improve decision making

  • Information is key to sound decision-making and efficient operations for governments. Open data and open policy making have the potential to transform decision-making in Northern Ireland. The most up to date guidance on policy making for government, ‘A Practical Guide to Policy Making In Northern Ireland’, was published in 2005. While this highlights the importance of engaging with external stakeholders there is no formal commitment to drive open policy making or the use of open data. We would like to see a policy process which incorporates openness be implemented in Northern Ireland to develop more informed and civic-driven policy.

It will increase government efficiency

  • Open data can increase government efficiency. There are numerous examples of where governments have become more efficient as a result of publishing and using open data. The Dutch Ministry of Education published all of their education-related data online for re-use. Since then, the number of telephone enquiries they receive has decreased by 80%, reducing work-load and costs. NICVA would like to see the Northern Ireland government become more efficient at publishing and using open data.

It will drive economic growth and innovation

  • There is strong evidence that open data drives economic growth and innovation. Open data has resulted in the emergence of new companies delivering new, innovative, data-rich services and older companies using open data to optimise their operations.  While a small number of organisations here already use open data to develop their business, we would like to see an increase in the creation of valuable new and innovative businesses, services and applications in Northern Ireland which will encourage economic growth.

It will increase transparency and engagement

  • Across the world there is increasing demand on governments to be more transparent and accountable. Northern Ireland should be no different. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing. We would like to see the use of both open data and an open policy making process as a powerful tool to reform public services, foster innovation and empower citizens to engage with and scrutinize decision-making.

To open data and the policy making process the Northern Ireland Government should:

  • Establish an Open Policy Making Team in the Executive Office.
  • Ensure local and central government publish the data and evidence they have used to make policy decisions.
  • Train local and central government staff in data publication.
  • Make Land and Property Services NI Pointer Data open and freely available.
  • Carry out a data audit to fill information gaps in key areas such as the economy and land ownership and use.
  • Ensure that NI-specific data can be disaggregated from UK level government data.
  • Ensure the Government Funders Database records all funding to voluntary and community organisations and is kept open to all

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