#DIF13 – Open governments can make their nations more entrepreneurial (video)

19 Apr 2013

Emer Coleman, founder of Disruption Ltd, delivers her keynote address at the Digital Ireland Forum in the Convention Centre Dublin. Photo by Conor McCabe Photography

By embracing open data and providing citizens with fair and equitable access to knowledge, nations can empower a new generation of entrepreneurs, Emer Coleman told this morning’s Digital Ireland Forum in Dublin. Coleman has played a key role in guiding UK open government strategy.

Up until recently, Cork native Coleman was the deputy director of Digital Engagement at the UK Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Services Group.

O’Reilly Media CEO Tim O’Reilly has described her team as: “One of the best teams working in digital government in the world.”

Wired magazine named Coleman in its Top 100 Digital Power Influencers List 2011.

Coleman is the founder of Disruption Ltd, and is also part of Placr, a start-up that is powering change and innovation in transport.

She has worked extensively with local, regional and central government variously as director of strategy, assistant chief executive and director of Digital Projects (City Hall London). She is also the architect of the London Datastore.

At the Digital Ireland Forum this morning, Coleman said that open data, whereby governments and businesses open up data sets for use by citizens and entrepreneurs, can play a vital role in making governments operate in a more efficient manner.

She said the five qualities governments now need to embrace are: “to be fast, open, collaborative, agile and to show leadership”.

Ireland, she added, can do a lot to improve its international position in terms of how it can empower its citizens. The country ranks 19th in the world in terms of broadband speeds and just 11pc of the population currently can access speeds in excess of 10Mbps, said Coleman.

“What the economy needs more than anything is connectivity and massive speed increases for everyone. I think that when we open up those opportunities for everyone, the opportunities for learning, for example, are striking.”

Embracing open data principles can be massively empowering from an economic perspective, as well as demonstrating a truly mature government that has nothing to hide from its citizens.

“When you make it equitable, the ability for people to learn really fast how to become entrepreneurs and make it happen for themselves improve immensely.”

She cited the example of Norway, which has successfully embraced open data across every state institution and website.

What open, transparent and accountable government looks like

“For example, if citizens could see the amount of money spent on contractors and suppliers, when you make that stuff visible you get better deals for the public sector. Walled gardens are no good.

“My experience in the UK was that the government was great at collecting data but not looking at it. By opening up that data entrepreneurs and coders will build products and services. The UK has made a good start with its public-sector reform plans, which talk about publishing, sharing and integrating data.”

She said it is up to governments to make sure that reform plans don’t just become exercises in rhetoric.

“Collaboration is the life’s blood of any business today.

“Agility is crucial – the UK’s youngest civil servant is 18 and he’s putting together a team of coders and developers.

“In terms of pushing the boundaries of open standards and interoperability, government can take a strong lead. Agility is important. And finally leadership that is not necessarily led by politics as an institution.

“The current generation of citizens are always online and they have high expectations. Governments need to move to embrace a more open, transparent and community-oriented vision – it’s not about losing control or the leakage of information.

“It’s about being open, transparent and accountable. That is what citizens’ expectations will be.”

Watch Emer Coleman deliver her keynote address at the Digital Ireland Forum here:

Disruption Ltd founder Emer Coleman outlines how Ireland can become the best small country in which to do business 

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years