FOI Live 2011 had a great set of contributors and prompted some very interesting discussion about FOI, Open Data and transparency. A big thank you to everyone who came along and took part. We will upload the two keynote presentations as soon as possible.
It began with a keynote from Tim Kelsey, founder of Dr Foster and now advisor on transparency to the Cabinet Office. He outlined some of the aims and objectives of the new transparency reforms and highlighted some of the innovations elsewhere, such as the Miami 311 site or online banking. What initially seems new and unfamiliar very quickly becomes logical and second nature. He also recommended the blogger David Eaves to keep track of developments.
In the second keynote Deputy Information Commissioner Graham Smith outlined some of the important developments in FOI, pointing in particular to developments over personal information. He highlighted shifts in public attitudes, as well as technological change, and felt that FOI was bedding in. He agreed that FOI was becoming second nature, within a wider network of transparency changes.
The panel of requesters highlighted some of the difficulties of using FOI. This included inconsistency of response, denial that information is correct and delay. They also felt that better communication (specifically that FOI officers speak with them to help clarify what they want) may ease some of the problems on both sides. What would they change if they could change one part of the law? The wish list included making authorities consider pro-active release on a subject after each request, ensuring the increasing number of (often arms length) bodies are covered, compulsory disclosure logs or making changes to the cultures in which some organisations worked.
The final discussion centred on the future of Open Data and FOI. The issues ranged from who was using the site data.gov.uk to the more personal use of data such as the public toilet locater. The main point that emerged was how data can and is used in a whole variety of ways. It is very early days, for government and the public, and issues remain over who uses it and the influence of the ‘digital divide’. It may be in the area of third party developments, such as openly local or timetric, where we will see the most interesting and useful, developments. There are a few Unit posts relating to Open Data with some interesting links here and here.