We know that many of the greatest challenges we face as a society, such as reforming public services, rebuilding local economies and caring for an ageing population cannot be met by centralised, one-size-fits-all solutions rolled out from central government. Instead, we need to build upon and aggregate local innovation driven by local communities.
The new Localism Act responds to this agenda by giving citizens and community groups new powers over council tax levels, neighbourhood planning, community buildings and how local services are run (and who runs them). But while the devolution of power to local level is to be welcomed, for this to work there has to be demand within communities to take advantage of the raft of provisions coming their way. There also has to be enough information available for them to make good decisions about how to do so and most importantly about what the benefits of doing so might be.
This is where FoI comes in. The scenario that many opendata campaigners yearn for is one where the Freedom of Information Act actually becomes irrelevant because all data is already available and free to all to use and make interesting things with. This is where the real democratic value is. It will be sites like OpenlyLocal and citizen-led hyper-local websites that contextualise data, so that people can connect, debate and even mobilise around purposive information. We are still some way from this point, but we are on the road towards it.