Iain Rolfe, Assistant Director with the Public Data Group (PDG), at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills gives an overview of how the PDG brings together public sector bodies
The Public Data Group (PDG) was born out of the government’s aim to make real meaningful progress on the open data and transparency agenda. At its heart is the idea that bringing together the organisations responsible for some of the most significant data in the public sector would help them to drive forward the development of the UK digital economy and to encourage innovation across both the public and the private sector.
Created in 2011, PDG brings together 4 organisations – Companies House, Land Registry, Met Office and Ordnance Survey – with world-leading expertise in collecting, refining, managing and distributing data on companies, property, weather and geography. It is an Advisory Board with an independent Chair – Claudia Arney – who reports directly to Business Minister Matthew Hancock. Its original remit was to explore synergies between members to deliver efficiencies, new products and enhanced support for the open data agenda.
The challenges PDG has faced in delivering this remit will be similar to many across the public sector: – Working across diverse organisations – Companies House and Land Registry provide statutory registration functions of the state whereas the Met Office is essentially a scientific organisation and Ordnance Survey is much more commercial in nature.
- Engaging with multiple government policies – Companies House and the Land Registry are at the forefront of the digital transformation agenda and Ordnance Survey recently changed into a government Company.
- An evolving governance landscape – change following the 2012 Shakespeare Review required PDG to adapt its role.
PDG’s early focus was very much on operational opportunities, with working groups exploring IT, HR, data management, communications and licensing, which resulted in the best practice being shared and joint forums being created. One early and significant efficiency identified saw Land Registry move its surveying team to join with the larger Ordnance Survey operation, resulting in savings to government of in excess of £3m over 10 years. With the disbanding of the Data Strategy Board (DSB) in 2012, the focus shifted more to help the development and implementation of data policy.
PDG data is made available through a variety of channels and licences and includes both commercial agreements and the provision of open data. The value of the charged-for data to the economy is vast – with Ordnance Survey data widely used in the insurance sector, and the billions of pounds saved by the use of Met Office data and services in the aviation industry as just two examples. Equally, the value of the open data released by PDG is very significant and growing. The most recent estimate placed the value at over £900m annually.
Examples of the open data that PDG has released include:
- Companies House has launched an Accounts Data Product that allows free access to all statutory accounts filed digitally.
- Land Registry has made available more than 18 million definitive records of monthly residential property price data – dating back to 1995.
- The Met Office releases a very large amount of open data particularly through their DataPoint service, which makes available both daily and 3 hourly forecasts, updated hourly, for over 5,000 locations.
- Ordnance Survey has continued to enhance their suite of open data products, which ranges from a generalised street level map to Electoral and administrative boundaries.
PDG is, however, keenly aware that just throwing the data out there is not enough. The Board has encouraged activities to increase awareness of its data and to help people to use it. Examples include:
- Publishing a PDG Summer Statement in 2014, which provided an overview and explanation of the data it makes available and a range of commitments for work going forward.
- A range of engagement and hack events with data users and a diverse range of partners from Mozilla to NASA to the V&A museum.
- Ordnance Survey’s GeoVation challenge programme has involved eight events, supported 28 new ventures (and counting) and awarded almost £640,000 to turn innovative ideas into reality. The most recent challenge on housing has been a joint project with Land Registry.
Looking ahead PDG remains focused on ensuring it is supporting the open data agenda. There will be more data releases to come – not least the move by Companies House to make all its digital data available free of charge, and the recent announcement of new products and increased support for Ordnance Survey. There will also be more activities and events. In the immediate future, the focus is on a survey to better understand how businesses are using data to inform improvements to how PDG data is licenced, provided and communicated. Overall, PDG has made a significant contribution to supporting the UK’s growth into a digital economy and is looking ahead to how it can continue to do more.
Public Data Group | Assistant Director
Department for Business, Innovation & Skills