A Guide to Cultivating an Open Ecosystem Part 1 - Elle Butterworth & Damon Roberts

Comment by Elle Butterworth, Energy Policy Advisor and Damon Roberts, Digital Consultant at Energy Systems Catapult.

Part 1: For Net Zero to be reached inclusively, policymaking needs to be open.

Net Zero will only be achieved on the global scale required if policymakers can draw effective insights from all economic sectors and types of energy producers & consumers. Open, inclusive sharing of solutions, ideas, and information is key to achieving this goal, minimising duplication of effort through collaboration and enabling a wider range of stakeholders, including innovators, to support a just and inclusive transition to Net Zero.

In this blog we highlight the potential of open source and open data to support the design and implementation of Net Zero Carbon Policy.

What is an open approach and why is it useful?

The open movement works to support and encourage the sharing and re-use of data and software through open licencing, with the aim of fostering collaboration. For example, the voluntary open-source sharing of programming code enables other programmers to re-use and build on existing knowledge. Open datasets enable users who may have limited resources to analyse and advance the discussion or develop new use cases for that data. Open standards allow contributions to key decisions from a wide range of stakeholders, not just a select few invited, or paying committee members. Open licencing sets out conditions for making use of open data or software, granting permissions to users to modify and distribute what would otherwise be protected as Intellectual Property (IP).

Openness is more than making data or code available in a repository. Underlying the success of the Open Source and Open Data movement are several key principles:

  • Free – Free as in freedom of expression. Openly licenced data cannot discriminate against any fields of endeavour, whether on ethical, or commercial grounds.
  • Transparency – Tools and methodologies detailing how data has been processed should be as transparent as possible. Open sourcing data analysis code helps encourage best practice to be followed, making for more secure applications of data. Decision making should be in the public eye where possible.
  • Interoperability – To encourage comparability and accessibility, data should abide to open existing standards if they exist and include well described metadata and provenance if not.

Without the concepts of open data, standards, and software, modern life would look very different. If Tim Berners-Lee had decided to implement paid licences for HTML and HTTP, the entire concept may not have gained the traction it did. Many subsequent innovations, reliant on our “internet age” would not have been possible. Open data creates an environment for innovation and innovators to thrive. Combined, they can help transform the policymaking process and support experimental policy design.

How can an open approach inform policymaking?

Energy Systems Catapult advocates for a whole system approach to policy design. However, the ability to look across a system and identify interdependencies is reliant on the availability of good data. For example, in the messy carbon accounting landscape, emissions data is often not readily accessible in a suitable format to test the impact of an intervention, such as a change in behaviour or technology, on decarbonising other parts of the system.

Gaining accessible and credible evidence-based insights from a variety of sources is extremely valuable for policymakers to test a solution and to engage with a wider range of policy stakeholders when consulting on an issue. Open source could enable policymakers to obtain richer and more real-time insights on specific policy issues, without going through a lengthy process to obtain bespoke analysis.

Government transparency of data sources and processing methodologies can also help foster a community of collaboration and accountability in the policymaking process, such as collaboration with local stakeholders. Doing so helps recognise the value of place-based policies and the importance of policy enablers such as targeted investment in infrastructure which could be identified through increased collaboration and openness.

What is required for that to happen?

Government have acknowledged the importance of taking a role in open source. The 2022 UK Digital Strategy champions open society principles but with a focus on international collaboration between governments. A more conscious effort is required to embed a culture of openness across Government departments to support innovators and communities within the UK and better inform policy.

We should be striving for accurate, real-world data to inform policy as much as possible. In a recent blog, we highlighted opportunities for the improved digitalisation of emissions data to support policymakers in tracking progress towards Net Zero. Greater transparency and accessibility of emissions data creates more opportunities for investment and targeted innovation, such as identifying supply chain hotspots for policy interventions. We also identified a role for an independent Carbon Regulator to establish emissions data best practice.

Without effective coordination and leadership, data will continue to be generated to meet bespoke requirements without identifying opportunities for collaboration and digitalisation. There is a role for Government, regulators and other public bodies to encourage open source. This could include setting requirements for open licensing in publicly funded projects or ensuring data is processed to a standard format to ensure its interoperability.

Ofgem, in their latest revision of Data Best Practice, added recommended licence terms, and more detail on how entities within Energy should aim to release data openly. This is a step in the right direction, however, to fully benefit from the learnings made possible through these new data sources more cross-sector transparency is needed. This will enable well informed collaboration between local communities and policymakers to understand the issues facing them, and then openly model and track the impact of improvements.


The UK has an opportunity to take a leading role in shaping the future of innovation within the energy system, by backing a new wave of open-centric UK innovation. Building on the current momentum generated by obligating Data Best Practice in the energy sector, policymakers should look to encourage a strong pipeline of innovation projects at all levels to make use of open-source software and open data, whilst contributing their own innovations in data and software, where feasible.

The principles of openness promote collaboration, co-creation, innovation, and a more equitable distribution of technological resources, which can in turn help inform policymakers working on cross-cutting policy challenges like Net Zero, empower innovators developing new technologies, and involve communities trying to decarbonise. Government should look to create a culture of openness across departments, supported by regulators to promote Data Best Practice across more sectors and standards on public spending that encourage an open approach.

In part 2 of this blog series, we focus on how to ensure open data is beneficial to a user; what open licences mean, and how they can be applied to data.

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