Common Weal works with a broad range of statistical information, of which financial information is one of the most significant categories. But we also work with a lot of other groups and organisations which do not have our capacity to deal with numbers and so a part of this is drawn from our experience of working with them. There are some social impacts of information and data which we’ve looked at in other work and so that issue will be picked up too.
Finally, we’ve been involved in some public opinion research work which has thrown up a number of relevant pieces of information about data and how it is perceived by the public and this will inform some of this.
― There are two primary issues with data for the public and for transparency – trust and usability. The former of these is crucial.
― Making numbers have meaning for people should be the primary public-facing aim of public data. But this should also carry an additional element – regular work should be done to systematically identify what information the public wants from public data.
― As a substantial user of public data, Common Weal regularly comes across the issue of comprehensiveness and consistency. Put very simply, often Scotland lacks crucial data because it is collected from across government rather than being coordinated by a central body.
― There should be a single portal for Scottish public sector data. This would clearly be aided by a single statistics agency. However, there is very widely varying practice out there on the presentation of data to the public – and clearly for openness the better and easier the presentation the more likely people are to feel data is useable.
― Almost everyone involved with public data will have had some experience of ‘obstructionism’ in gaining access to public data. Whether it is failure to publish, denial of Freedom of Information requests, use of ‘commercial confidentiality’ clauses, refusal to disaggregate date or provide methodologies or claims that ‘personal data’ can be inferred from larger data sources, there has simply been far too much ‘that’s for us to know and you to not know’ practice.