The University of Southampton

ECS professors to advise Government on public information

Published: 11 June 2009

Professor Nigel Shadbolt and Professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee have been given a special role by the Prime Minister to help transform public access to Government information.

Over the next six months, Sir Tim Berners-Lee will serve in an advisory capacity to the Minister for the Cabinet Office, and he will work with Professor Nigel Shadbolt to form a panel of technical and delivery experts to oversee the implementation of key recommendations, including overseeing the creation of a single online point of access for public UK datasets, and bringing forward specific proposals to implement and extend to the wider public sector the public sector information principle. The panel will also drive the use of the internet to improve government consultation processes, and work with the Government to engage with the leading experts internationally working on public data and standards.

The whole initiative will help drive culture change in Whitehall toward an assumption of total publication for anonymous data using open standards. It will also promote international liaison and global standards setting as an investment in future international data sharing.

The announcement of this new initiative was made in the House of Commons yesterday (Wednesday 9 June), by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, as part of a wider statement on constitutional reform: 'So that Government information is accessible and useful for the widest possible group of people, I have asked Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who led the creation of the World Wide Web, to help us drive the opening up of access to Government data on the Web over the coming months,' he said.

The new panel of experts will work closely with the recently-appointed Director for Digital Engagement and other officials in the Cabinet Office, the Office for Public Sector Information (part of The National Archives), and the Technology Strategy Board.

Nigel Shadbolt and Tim Berners-Lee are both Professors in the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton, and founder directors of the Web Science Research Initiative. Professor Shadbolt was Director of the Advanced Knowledge Technologies (AKT) programme, a £7.5M project which was particularly influential in establishing the viability and value of web-based semantic technologies. He has recently been awarded a further £2.3m by the EPSRC to build on this work. The Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) began to explore the use of this approach within Government in a pilot project (AKTive PSI) which laid the foundation for this latest initiative.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, has been a strong proponent of better access to all forms of government data. Speaking in March to TED, he said: 'What you find if you deal with people in government departments is that they hug their database, hold it really close, so that they can build a beautiful website to present it.

'I would like to suggest: sure, make a beautiful website, but first, give us – all of us – the unadulterated data. We have to ask for raw data now.'

Nigel Shadbolt adds: 'The vision is that citizens, consumers and government can create, re-use and distribute public information in ways that add value, support transparency, facilitate new services and increase efficiency. We believe we can achieve this with the emergence of a new generation of Web techniques and standards.'

For further information contact Joyce Lewis; tel. +44(0)23 8059 5453

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