Open data is on down curve of hype cycle

Devon’s lead official predicts a slump in interest before local government begins to use open data more widely

Local government interest in open data is slipping away from its initial peak, but there is still immense potential for its use in public services in the long term, according to the leader of Devon County Council’s lead official in the field.

Lucy KnightLucy Knight, policy strategy officer at council and co-founder of the Open Data Institute Devon, was speaking at the Socitm spring conference. She likened the situation to the Gartner Hype Cycle for IT developments, in which a technology trend will attract a surge of interest in its early days, then fall into a trough when it appears to have little real world use, but is then widely taken up as it begins to show clear benefits.

“We’ve got to the initial peak with open data and it’s now sliding down as people don’t see a clear use,” she said. “But let’s build some stuff and see what happens.

“We have to get competent with this, build some stuff and see what works. It’s about making sure that people get the benefits from the data we have.”

Knight said it is hard to estimate when open data will begin to rise again on the cycle – “it could be two to three years or it could be six months” – and it will happen when there are more reports of local authorities “doing something really useful”.

“At the moment the stories are more abstract, and the change will come when people can see more clearly what they can do with it,” she said.

Among champions

Devon’s work has not yet reached the point of providing clear examples, but the council is among the Cabinet Office’s Open Data Champions. These were named in March as leaders in exploring the use of open data in local government, and are working on a series of projects to explore how it can improve services.

Knight said that Devon’s approach involves a series of small iterations that makes it possible to launch projects, and learn quickly and cheaply whether they can provide any benefits.

She added that, while some councils are concentrating on providing access to their data stores, there could be other datasets that are valuable to developers, and that the potential for benefits will increase if councils can begin to provide access to data from other authorities.

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