Open Data Institute Panel: meeting Sir Tim Burners-Lee and Baroness Martha Lane-Fox


Sir Tim Burners-Lee, Inventor of the world wide web meets our founder George Edwards

I was delighted to be invited by the Open Data Institute to speak at their annual summit hosted at the British Film Institute, Southbank. I was talking about the future opportunities of leveraging data for social good, with the remarkable Baroness Martha Lane-Fox of Soho.

For all of you who don’t know, open data is about taking previously private or secure corporate and government data and making it freely and publicly available. The idea is that if there isn’t value to a company in them stopping people seeing a set of data, then they should let other people use it – they might just do something extraordinary. A good example is the British Government making the land registry free and open. This has given rise to businesses like Zoopla enabling people to make informed property decisions. More holistically, companies have been able to make their sensor networks open, from the met office, to private organisation’s data, individuals have grouped it all together and produced insights into real time noise levels around airports, earthquake maps and live predicative train time planning based on historic unreliability.  

The Data Spectrum, showing the range of Data types, image from ODI

The Data Spectrum, showing the range of Data types, image from ODI

We discussed a range of topics close to my heart, including the disparity in technical education amongst British schools. I think it is a great shame that there is such a “postcode lottery” for technical education. Depending on where you are born, you could be at a school where you are taught about the wide range of opportunities engineering has to offer and get involved in activities like the Boeing Build-a-Plane challenge, or engineering isn’t dealt with at all. So we have a generation, where a few people are highly engaged and may have built there own light aircraft, or have been alienated against engineering. I think that getting young people inspired by technology and giving them the tools to make the most of the data available, will be essential to capitalising on the value which can be created by data across the data spectrum.

We also discussed the impact that lack of understanding was playing in stopping businesses getting involved. There are numerous examples of where a liberal and forward thinking mindset can have an impact, Tesla making all their IP freely available and Toyota (for a fee) teaching their competitors how they manufacture so efficiently. Both trying to stimulate their supply chain, channel investment and promote the infrastructure to do what they want, because both examples show a business identifying the value as being their ability to innovate and trusting their teams to do just that. Data is no different – we just need some more case studies to help communicate the issue to various big companies who could really get behind this. The UK is genuinely world leading in this area, with some serious government buy-in, so I am excited to see what the future holds.

All in all, I had a remarkable day and have lots to think about!

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