Open Data Institute: Peter Wells criticises lack of focus on data in election manifestos

Written by Sooraj Shah on 6 June 2017 in News
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Political parties fail to grasp importance of open data for policies and services, according to the Open Data Institute’s head of policy, Peter Wells

The ODI also sent political parties a letter, asking them to help voters make more informed decisions Credit: Peshkova

The ODI has criticised the biggest political parties for not mentioning the role of data usage in the future of the UK in their manifestos.

In a blog post, Peter Wells, head of policy at the ODI, said that the organisation had published some manifesto ideas on data ahead of the election which included ways to help build a strong, fair and sustainable data economy where data gets to people who need it.

But he said that his team compared these ideas to the political parties’ manifestos and concluded that every party had “performed poorly.”


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The ODI also sent the biggest parties a letter, asking them to help voters make more informed decisions by being open about how personal data was used and to publish more information about their candidates.

The ODI sent the letter to the Conservative party, the Greens, the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and the UK Independence Party.

“None have published data about their candidates; none are open about how they’re using personal data,” said Wells. He said there were also major gaps which showed “little understanding of how data and openness were creating new ways to deliver policies”.
 
Wells did state there were some positives in regards to data. The Liberal Democrats supported digital literacy and the Conservatives had called for a Data Use and Ethics Commission. The Conservatives also proposed to open up data about land in the UK, while both Labour and the Scottish National Party pledged to launch beneficial ownership registers.

“Data is not a magic bullet that solves every problem but it can provide new approaches to delivering policies: for example improving retail banking services, helping people get fitter or making it easier to fight fires. The manifestos suggested many consultations and big policy changes, but hardly recognised the need for policy trials to produce data that would help assess an idea against its theoretical promises,” Wells explained.

More broadly, Wells also slammed the main parties’ for their lack of focus on technology, specifically, “the changes that technology, the web, the internet and the data revolution are bringing to our societies and economies” and wrote that these have barely featured in election debates.

He suggested that politicians may have felt that they could not explain the role of technology to the voters, or that voters would not want to hear easy answers that they could not provide.

“Whatever the reasoning, the omission of the role of technology in manifestos has led to the wrong outcome. At elections politicians need to show that they have learnt from the past and can tackle immediate challenges – such as Brexit – but they also need to show leadership by openly debating the futures they aim for and helping voters choose which future they want for their country.

“Technology will have an impact on every country's future, yet the UK has been failing to debate its role,” he concluded.

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