Data transparency has been a priority for the UK central government for about two years now. But most government data is actually collected at the local level. Should transparency be a priority for local government officials? Or is it just a central government priority that local offices only address as and when they must?

Microsoft UK’s Carlos Gomes makes the case that local governments have a great deal to gain by sharing data freely with the public. Already in the UK, we’ve seen that when cities make data available, it gets put to work by citizens and developers – and local data can even make a difference at a national level, as in the case of early warning for flood alerts.

One of the key questions government offices must ask themselves is whether to provide raw data to citizens as soon as it is available – or to provide some form of summarized data. Gomes recommends that local governments look to provide both. When cities share raw data, the way Manchester made its transportation data available, they’re allowing the media, citizens and developers to put that data to work, developing apps based on the data and spotting areas where services can be improved. Of course the city can do this themselves or hire a firm to help, but when citizen’s get involved in their own solutions, it can be a significant cost-saver for the city.

But summarized data has its advantages as well, Gomes notes. When a city shares its story with citizens, it can improve citizen confidence and increase citizen use of important social services they might not have known about otherwise.

The challenge cities face in this area isn’t a technological problem, but a cultural one. Cities must whole-heartedly embrace transparency to see its benefits. Gomes notes that transparency efforts are most effective when they’re led from the top down. Local government leaders have the ability to set the tone and encourage openness throughout their organisation, changing the way the city engages its citizens and opening the door to new, transformative solutions.

Want to learn more about the future of cities? Check out Microsoft City Next.