by Jerry Fishenden

Seeing transparency through

Oct 31, 20123 mins
GovernmentIT LeadershipIT Strategy

The newly created Open Data Institute adds timely momentum to the drive for transparency across public sector data, information and processes.

It will play a pivotal role in securing positive economic and social benefits for both the public sector and the wider UK economy.

At a time when governments are under conflicting financial pressures to balance the books and grow the economy, a move to accelerate transparency may prove itself one of the most powerful levers of all.

Transparency is not just about opening up data, but impacts a whole variety of areas including standards, procurement, innovation, protocols, interfaces and code.

Transparency will provide essential but often elusive detail about how much is spent on government IT and on what.

It will help overcome the historic difficulties with obtaining and openly publishing details of where money is spent, and to what outcome.

On the back of evidence that the public sector has paid over the odds for poor outcomes and experienced declining productivity, transparency is a welcome tool in the CIO’s kitbag.

However, the move to increased transparency faces stubborn resistance from certain vested interests anxious to hide behind the cloak of commercial confidentiality and to protect existing practices from the glare of public and media scrutiny.

Yet it is not just public accountability and the fear that their taxpayer-funded banquets are at an end that makes some of the current poor performers nervous: it is the realisation that this is about a more significant shift in the way that government works.

Transparency is becoming an effective and much needed agent of behavioural and cultural change, helping bring improvements to the way that people and processes work.

Part of the reason why political parties of all colours back the move towards transparency is because of its ability to deliver tangible, practical results where other approaches have failed.

Transparency will help identify poor processes, suppliers and services that simply do not work, enabling them to be fixed. It will establish important comparative benchmarks between those who are at the top of their game and those who are not.

But reforming IT to help our public services achieve better outcomes ultimately remains an issue of culture and leadership, not one of technology.

Which makes this the ideal time to build on the good work to date. Doing so will help let the sunshine in, accelerating the move towards transparency and adding much-needed momentum to the programme of public service reform.