3.
PSI Implementation in the United Kingdom: Successes and Challenges1

Jim Wretham

Office of Public Sector Information, United Kingdom


This presentation provides a brief overview of what has been happening recently in the United Kingdom with regard to public sector information (PSI), including what lessons have been learned and, perhaps more important, what the principal challenges are. Over the past ten years or so, there has been an increasing interest in PSI. Before that time, the reuse of such information was of interest to only a select few—to those in the information industry, to publishers, and to those who were interested in the subject because of copyright and licensing issues. But in the United Kingdom and, more generally, throughout the Western world, this is now all changing. Public sector information appears to be grabbing the public’s imagination. Why is this?


First of all, in the United Kingdom, as in many other countries, there is a very well established and thriving information industry. Many of the organizations or companies in this industry rely heavily on public sector information.


Second, the Internet is affording to society a great variety of new opportunities. The ability to access and manipulate data is increasingly greater than it has been in the past, and that trend looks as if it will continue.


And third, in the United Kingdom, as well as in other parts of Western Europe in particular, there has been a growing emphasis on legislation concerning access to PSI, or freedom of information laws. So the public is now increasingly thinking of access to information as being a democratic right. This is a tremendously important development.


There have been many milestones in the evolution of the reuse of public sector information. One of the major ones in Europe was the issuance of the European Union Directive on Reuse of Public Sector Information. The United Kingdom put this directive into effect in 2005, and it supported the law by producing a guide to best practices. This guide is still a work in progress.


The United Kingdom has seen a number of successes in this area, and these successes have depended on different factors. One of these factors, at least as far as central government information is concerned, is the fact that most government information is licensed by the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI). This makes it possible to have a “one stop shop.”


The OPSI has developed the click use license, which is an online licensing system that was set up about seven years ago and has produced some good results. There are now about 14,000 of these licenses worldwide. People can access and reuse a great amount

1

Based on a presentation found at http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/28/3/40046991.pdf



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3. PSI Implementation in the United Kingdom: Successes and Challenges1 Jim Wretham Office of Public Sector Information, United Kingdom This presentation provides a brief overview of what has been happening recently in the United Kingdom with regard to public sector information (PSI), including what lessons have been learned and, perhaps more important, what the principal challenges are. Over the past ten years or so, there has been an increasing interest in PSI. Before that time, the reuse of such information was of interest to only a select few—to those in the information industry, to publishers, and to those who were interested in the subject because of copyright and licensing issues. But in the United Kingdom and, more generally, throughout the Western world, this is now all changing. Public sector information appears to be grabbing the public’s imagination. Why is this? First of all, in the United Kingdom, as in many other countries, there is a very well established and thriving information industry. Many of the organizations or companies in this industry rely heavily on public sector information. Second, the Internet is affording to society a great variety of new opportunities. The ability to access and manipulate data is increasingly greater than it has been in the past, and that trend looks as if it will continue. And third, in the United Kingdom, as well as in other parts of Western Europe in particular, there has been a growing emphasis on legislation concerning access to PSI, or freedom of information laws. So the public is now increasingly thinking of access to information as being a democratic right. This is a tremendously important development. There have been many milestones in the evolution of the reuse of public sector information. One of the major ones in Europe was the issuance of the European Union Directive on Reuse of Public Sector Information. The United Kingdom put this directive into effect in 2005, and it supported the law by producing a guide to best practices. This guide is still a work in progress. The United Kingdom has seen a number of successes in this area, and these successes have depended on different factors. One of these factors, at least as far as central government information is concerned, is the fact that most government information is licensed by the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI). This makes it possible to have a “one stop shop.” The OPSI has developed the click use license, which is an online licensing system that was set up about seven years ago and has produced some good results. There are now about 14,000 of these licenses worldwide. People can access and reuse a great amount 1 Based on a presentation found at http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/28/3/40046991.pdf 7

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SOCIOECONOMIC EFFECTS OF PSI ON DIGITAL NETWORKS 8 and variety of information generated by the public sector. Nevertheless, there is some room for liberalizing this further, for example, by moving away from the current demand that a person must register before being allowed to access and reuse information. The OPSI also has developed a system known as the information fair trader scheme (IFTS). The system is intended to produce and promulgate standards across the public sector, to acknowledge best practices for encouraging fairness, transparency, and openness, and to make sure that organizations have the proper processes in place. The OPSI operates two versions of the information fair trader scheme. The more comprehensive version is aimed at major traders of public sector information, such as organizations that produce mapping or meteorological data. They use the full IFTS accreditation, which involves the OPSI sending experts into these organizations to review practices and processes. Not all holders of PSI are major traders, however, so the OPSI has identified and developed an online assessment process that is much simpler and that is aimed at these smaller users. Working with representatives from industry and other parts of the public sector, the OPSI has also created an advisory panel on public sector information. This advisory panel provides an independent focus for the producers of PSI, who represent the interests of the information industry. These producers of PSI also are instrumental in identifying trends, providing research, and informing those in OPSI about the best approaches to the reuse of public sector information. This advisory panel is carrying out a very important function. The OPSI also is looking at ways in which to improve access to PSI. Working with the information industry, the organization has initiated a number of different activities aimed at helping people access information more easily and at teaching them how to use the Web and the various automatic tools available for searching for and connecting with information. Of course, this is a long journey, and major challenges lie ahead. One of the most important challenges is to make sure that there is a correct balance between the various trading models and some of the public sector organizations. In the United Kingdom is a set of organizations known as trading funds. Although a trading fund is an operation of a government department, these organizations enjoy a certain amount of self sufficiency in terms of funding, and they are encouraged to behave in a commercial manner. There are some challenges to setting up this model, and it is important to make sure that the balance is right. A second challenge, which is identified in the EU PSI Directive, concerns the definition of a public task. This definition needs further refinement so that its meaning is precisely clear. A public task refers to activities that are regarded as being part of the public sector organization’s mission. The consequences of activities falling within the organization’s public task are limits on the extent to which that organization may operate in the information reuse domain itself as a producer of value-added products or services. A third challenge concerns the “no obligation” aspect of the PSI directive, which is reflected in U.K. regulations as well. In the public sector, as perhaps in all of life, unless people have to do something, they tend not to do it. So the fact that there is no obligation to allow reuse has tended to lead many public sector organizations to bury

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PSI IMPLEMENTATION IN THE UK 9 their heads in the sand and to say that reuse is not for them to worry about. There is no quick and easy solution to this other than to make sure that the OPSI encourages and publicizes the benefits of reuse of public sector information. Getting this message across will require the use of many resources, notably from the OPSI, which is only a small part of the government. There are about 100,000 public sector organizations in the United Kingdom, so getting that message across will not be easy. Resources will be important. A final challenge centers on awareness and impact—raising awareness through training and then measuring the impact, that is, what the economic benefits of PSI use are. The PSI Discussion Forum is a private-public initiative in this area. It has opened up the debate across the public and private sectors and recently received some favorable coverage in the press. The OPSI also developed a Web channel to deal with requests by people wanting to reuse public sector information. Maintaining standards is, of course, highly important as well. The OPSI works closely with some of the audit bodies so that it has experts available who can go into public sector organizations and test what is actually happening in the reuse field. The OPSI works closely with the United Kingdom’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in the areas of competition and how markets operate. The OPSI plans to do some spot audits on public sector information. There is a major focus on government reviews, and some independent economic analysis has been commissioned that will look at how the various models across the United Kingdom operate. That analysis is expected to provide some guidance for the future. Two key reports have been released over the past eighteen months. One was on the commercial use of public information and was produced by the OFT.2 The second was the Power of Information3 review. Although both of these reports deal with the reuse of public information, they come at it from somewhat different perspectives. The OFT report takes the point of view of a commercial reuser, looking at how to add value to this huge resource in order to benefit the economy. The Power of Information review, on the other hand, focuses mainly on the benefits of PSI to the citizen. It looks at how the Internet gives everyone the opportunity to use information in ways that were not possible just 10 years ago, using applications such as data mashing, or integrating, and it examines ways in which citizens can take information and share it with like-minded individuals. One example in the Power of Information described people who had visited restaurants in Los Angeles and who then shared information about the standards of the food, cleanliness, and other factors. One result of this activity was to elevate the standards across those restaurants. In conclusion, the U.K. government is working to achieve three objectives. First, it seeks to embrace the information needs of the citizen. Second, it is attempting to encourage information reuse and commercial exploitation. And finally, it wishes to create easy-to-find and easy-to-use public sector information. 2 http://www.opsi.gov.uk/advice/poi/oft-cupi.pdf 3 http://www.opsi.gov.uk/advice/poi/power-of-information-review.pdf