New research from Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation and the Open Data Institute places the UK at the top of the league table for open data, ahead of the United States.

The report comes ahead of an open government summit in London where David Cameron is to announce a proposal for a public register of company ownership which will show who ultimately owns and controls businesses.

The survey of the state of open data in 77 counties, notes that 55 per cent of the countries surveyed now have open data initiatives, but reiterates familiar problems for all users of open data:

  • Valuable but potentially controversial datasets – such as company registers and land registers – are among the least likely to be openly released
  • When they are released, government datasets are often issued in inaccessible formats
  • Less than 7 per cent of the datasets surveyed are published in both machine readable forms and under open licences
  • Data is often released only in highly aggregated forms
  • Whilst countries might boast about releasing hundreds of datasets, if they aren’t the numbers demanded by citizens or those than can enable transparency or innovation there is little potential to deliver impact

The report notes:

There is still a long way to go before the democratic, social and economic potentials of open data can be fully realised in every country, and – even where contextual factors are conducive to open data supply and use – many OGD initiatives are presently resting on shallow foundations, at risk of stalling or falling backwards if political will or community pressure subsides.

Kenya is the highest ranking of the developing countries at 21, scoring ahead of rich countries such as Ireland (29). Mali props up the list of those surveyed. Speaking at the Open Government Partnership in London on Thursday, Sir Tim Berners-Lee is set to urge world leaders to back the political rhetoric on transparency with action. Commenting on the report, he said:

“It is important that efforts to open up data and information are meaningful and lead to real change. Governments and companies must not shy away from publishing contentious datasets if they contain information that could be used to dramatically improve people’s lives. ”

Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that Kenya ranked above Italy. This mistake was due to a publication error in the original report which has now been corrected

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