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Open Data Institute pours golden £10m shower on upstarts

Taxpayer-funded teams to tackle public info dumps

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The Open Data Institute has launched with a taxpayer-funded £10m pot to turn the government’s public information dumps into something tangible. Or that's the promise.

Based at Silicon Roundabout in London’s Shoreditch, the group is headed by web daddy Tim Berners-Lee and artificial intelligence professor Nigel Shadbolt.

The institute was unveiled by the Chancellor in November last year as something that would help businesses exploit the government’s release of public data sets on crime, the weather, schools and other stuff.

However, the National Audit Office has criticised the Institute, saying in April that the range and scope of the new group’s work wasn’t clear.

Reading the ODI implementation plan here (warning: PDF - yes, we thought it was all about "open data", too) you can argue things aren’t much better, with deliverables that are at best easy and worse self-serving.

The goal for the first year is an incubation of four startups, four SMEs or large companies to be “helped” though the activities of the ODI, and training to produce a “cohort” of 25 entrepreneurs, developers, technologies and “evangelists” on the subjects of open data and data linking technologies.

There will be hackathons to unlock the mysteries of working with this strange thing called "data" (unheard of in the private sector). There’s also talk of W3C participation, something the taxpayer already got for free thanks to the fact TBL is actually the standards group’s director.

The NAO criticised the government’s open-data policy in its April report, saying that the programme had no proven benefits and that it could actually be costing taxpayers more than it is worth. The watchdog called for some cost-benefit analysis to get a measure of things. Clearly the government hasn’t been reading the report. ®

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