Government data portal to aid ‘effective’ decisions

Howlin hopes ‘open data will be default’ and key resource for all State bodies

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin: hopes “open data will be the default” of Government bodies. Photograph: Eric Luke

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin: hopes “open data will be the default” of Government bodies. Photograph: Eric Luke

Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 01:00

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin believes the Government’s new national online data portal will “drive more effective decision-making” within the Government as well as spur economic growth.

Launching Data.gov.ie, which contains 418 datasets (documents containing large amounts of data) from 45 public bodies including An Garda Síochána, the Health Information and Quality Authority, the Health Service Executive, and the National Roads Authority among others, Mr Howlin said he hopes “open data will be the default” of Government bodies from here on. The “alpha site” acts as a search engine for the official, non-personal data that has been handed over thus far, with searches for terms such as census, roads, or emergency services leading towards the original source of the data from the bodies involved.

In a week when the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht came under fire for personal data being put at risk by its irishgenealogy.ie site, searches for “genealogy” on the site return no results.

Secretary general for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Robert Watt said the department “knows there’s value” within the data which can be commercialised and eventually help produce “activity, taxes and opportunities we haven’t even thought about”.

National strategy

Created alongside the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at NUI Galway, the centre has also published research which Mr Howlin intends to be the basic building blocks for a national open-data strategy. That research is open for public consultation until September 5th.

Mr Watt said “getting the people with the data skill” needed to utilise all this information correctly as part of a national open data strategy will be a “challenge” as the Government “is competing with Google, Facebook, Yahoo, all these companies that are in the market for a small skillset”.

Prof Stefan Decker, director of Insight at NUI Galway said the project will leverage the investments in research and expertise made by Science Foundation Ireland and Enterprise Ireland.

Mr Decker also said using the data available will help Government, businesses and citizens to determine “where to place the next school” or where “the next hospital, the next shop” will be built.

As for public bodies yet to contribute, Mr Howlin said his department will have to “reach out” to ensure they play a role.