Open data, democracy and public sector reform is a report based on a recent MSc dissertation taking a look at the policy and practice of using open government data from data.gov.uk. It's now up as an online document at - http://practicalparticipation.co.uk/odi/report/
In looking at how open government data is being used in practice it draws out a number of themes, including Data is not just for developers - there is a tendency to focus on machine-readable data for large scale visualisations and mash-ups; but data can be useful to individual citizens or local citizen activists, finding facts within spreadsheets and campaigning for change locally.
Open government data changes the gatekeepers, and the role of civic actors - now mainstream media, independent citizens, companies and different levels of government are all afforded the possibility of advancing their own interpretations of data. Government, however, retains some (significant?) gate-keeping power by setting the categories and structure in which data is recorded and released. Debates over the meaning of data become more important - and the capacity of local democratic actors to be part of those debates again needs to be developed.
Open government data can support innovation in public services - predominantly through improving the 'markets' for public service innovation - allowing social and commercial entrepreneurs to work with government data, and preventing exclusive access to data being an anti-competitive advantage for certain firms. However, the research didn't find cases where open government data was successfully facilitating 'citizen led' forms of public service innovation involving local communities discussing and debating how services operated.
A focus on digitizing government underlies much open government data supply and use, and can lead to concerns of politics, power and justice being under-valued in the development of open government data infrastructure - and we need more articulation and focus on real-live civic use-cases of open government data to inform the development of open data infrastructures.
All comments and feedback on the report welcome - particularly to help shape thinking about what to do with the research next.