ODI welcomes UK National Infrastructure Commission recognition that data is infrastructure

By Peter Wells, Head of Policy and Leigh Dodds, Data Infrastructure Programme Lead

ODI welcomes UK National Infrastructure Commission recognition of data as a new form of infrastructure and that open data is necessary for innovation.

Infrastructure Image: Wellington infrastructure, (CC by 2.0

We are delighted to see the UK's National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) publish their latest report "Data for the Public Good". It explains how data can help get more value from the UK's current physical infrastructure, how open data is necessary for innovation, and how a new form of infrastructure is emerging, data infrastructure.

When the NIC was founded two years ago to address the country's long term infrastructure needs, we and the Royal Statistical Society sent them a letter arguing for these points. Since then we have reiterated them in our submissions. It is great to see our arguments accepted.

Data helps get more value from existing infrastructure

The report says "Data can improve how our infrastructure is built, managed, and eventually decommissioned, and real-time data can inform how our infrastructure is operated on a second-to-second basis".

We see evidence of this in our work at the ODI, whether it is data being used to help decide what capacity the transport network needs, being used to help people decide what mode of transport to use for a journey or deciding what route to take.

Data is infrastructure

Importantly, the NIC report also clarifies that "Data is part of infrastructure and needs maintenance in the same way that physical infrastructure needs maintenance".

We, along with others, have been arguing for the recognition of data as infrastructure for some time. We’re happy to see others begin to see that data is not a resource to be exploited. It is not oil. It is better viewed as infrastructure: something to be planned for and managed in a way that ensures that it delivers value for both public and private users of that infrastructure.

Data connects multiple sectors. Open weather data is used by everyone from farmers to the transport industry to individual citizens. Data is infrastructure for our cities and our nation across each and every sector. Data infrastructure is becoming part of our critical national infrastructure. This is why we think it is important to keep it open and secure.

Open data enables innovation

The NIC report recognises the important role of open data in this data infrastructure saying that "greater access to open data enables greater innovation".

Good data infrastructure is built on a foundation of datasets that are made available as open data, for anyone to access, use and share. These foundations make it easier for others to build on and use that data, encouraging the creation of thriving ecosystems around the infrastructure.

The value of that ecosystem is currently most evident in the transport sector. If we invest in building infrastructure, nurturing open innovation and tackling challenges like ethics and equity then over time we will see data helping to create ever greater social and economic value in other sectors – such as public services, banking, sports, retail – and in new technologies, like artificial intelligence.

This report follows the recent UK government announcement that it will create a Geospatial Commission and by May 2018 publish detailed mapping data, the Ordnance Survey MasterMap, for every nation in the UK as open data. The NIC report reinforces that announcement. It shows that it is vital that mapping data is open data that anyone can access, use or share it for any purpose. That data needs to contain open identifiers that will enable the linking and opening of additional datasets such as the 'digital twins' mentioned in the report. It is time for the foundations of the UK’s geospatial data infrastructure to be made open.

Let's build local, national and global data infrastructure

We are working with our network to continue to build out data infrastructure locally, nationally and globally across multiple sectors. Helping businesses and governments with this is something we do at ODI every day. We help motivate them, spot the opportunities, build capacity and deliver. Our work in the banking, sports and agricultural sectors are recent examples.

Meanwhile our data innovation programme is helping us and our network to further explore how best to publish and standardise data and to develop trustworthy data ecosystems that create social and economic value. We will use the lessons learned in these projects to help businesses and governments to lead by example and benefit from data.

Societies and sectors should invest in, protect and open up the data infrastructure they rely on. This requires long-term strategic decision-making for the public good. Open data is the foundation of this emerging vital infrastructure. Over the coming years we look forward to working with the UK's National Infrastructure Commission, and their counterparts in other countries, to build data infrastructure and unlock the social and economic value that it will create.

If you have ideas or experience in open data that you'd like to share, pitch us a blog or tweet us at @ODIHQ.