Patrick Hannan Lecture 2013: ‘Open up’, Professor Ian Hargreaves advises Wales

Given a choice between doing something in a way which is open, transparent and contestable or in a way which prioritises privacy, obscured authority or even secrecy, we should choose open.”Ian Hargreaves, Professor of Digital Economy, Cardiff University
Date: 03.05.2013     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 17.57
Category: Radio; Wales
Wales should open up access to the kind of data which would stimulate public debate and lead to a stronger economy and improved public services.

Cardiff University’s Professor of Digital Economy set out his thoughts while delivering the 2013 Patrick Hannan Lecture, which will be broadcast on BBC Radio Wales this Sunday at 11am. In his lecture, What I Think About Wales, Professor Ian Hargreaves describes his long-standing affection for Wales, but adds:

“The fact that I’m fond of Wales doesn’t mean that I don’t every now and then rage against the dying of enlightenment. Let’s face it, Wales since devolution has been a disappointment, hasn’t it?”

He outlines three key areas of public life – economy, education and health – and argues that switching to a more open data-sharing approach would help improve current underperformance by creating healthy competition between institutions and individuals, rather than too much information and power lying in the hands of elites.

“Given a choice between doing something in a way which is open, transparent and contestable or in a way which prioritises privacy, obscured authority or even secrecy, we should choose open,” he told an audience at BBC Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff Bay.

“Open to competition from wherever competition stems; open to new ideas and innovation, even where change is painful; open to the movement of people, ideas and culture in the confident belief that strong cultures will learn from this and become stronger.”

Drawing examples from the public sector, Hargreaves points out that research into hospital death rates which was conducted more than a decade ago by Professor Brian Jarman could have helped avoid the loss of 20,000 lives, had it been deployed as a performance warning system. Before the scandal of the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation drew attention to Jarman’s research it had, Professor Jarman has said, been side-lined.

In education, Hargreaves describes 'political jitters' about opening up information to the public domain, with school league tables and banding as classic examples. But he applauds efforts to do so, despite “considerable resistance, from teachers’ unions and from the kind of public sector managers who simply don’t want others to be able to debate the quality of what they do.”

Acknowledging that it may feel uncomfortable to many, Hargreaves says that although a default open approach is no panacea it would certainly help Wales and its decision-makers avoid making repeated mistakes.

“Setting the information default switch to open would not, in itself, guarantee a better outcome, but it would at least permit informed discussion and analysis. From this, errors can be corrected and new paths explored.”

BBC Radio Wales Patrick Hannan Lecture: Sunday, 5 May, BBC Radio Wales, at 11am.


Notes to editors

  • Professor Ian Hargreaves is Professor of Digital Economy at Cardiff University. Formerly Director of BBC News and Current Affairs, Editor of the Independent and the New Statesman he was also Director of the Centre for Journalism Studies at Cardiff University, a founding Member of the Board of Ofcom and he advises on a range of public life issues.
  • Patrick Hannan was a journalist for 40 years, in print and on television and radio, renowned for asking the questions that need to be asked of the politicians and decision makers in Wales. The lecture in his memory strives to stimulate contemporary discussion on Welsh Affairs.
  • Professor Ian Hargreaves will discuss the details of his lecture as a guest on BBC Radio Wales’ Jason Mohammad programme on Friday, 3 May from 10am. The programme will also be available on BBC iPlayer.
  • The inaugural BBC Radio Wales Patrick Hannan Lecture was held in October 2011 at the National Library, Aberystwyth. Baroness Eluned Morgan of Ely delivered the lecture titled 'What has the Labour Party done for devolution and what has devolution done to the Labour Party - from Kinnock to Carwyn?'