All posts by Lyn Whitfield

Open data careers

What is the professional background of the people who have found themselves working in open data? And how are their careers likely to develop in the future?

The answer to the first question is that: it’s very diverse. A session at Open Data Camp 5 heard from people who had started out as foresters, commercial under-writers and as architects. And from people who had begun their careers in large DIY chains and councils.

Just one participant had been recruited to an open data project from university. And he had studied history while he was there.

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Whose data is it anyway?

The question of who data belongs to, and whether individuals can have a say in what happens to their data, tends to come up very quickly in some areas. Health, for example.

But there is a concern that the whole issue of data collection and use could become much more fraught with the arrival of the General Data Protection Regulation. This is an EU regulation, that is being incorporated into UK law at the moment, via the Data Protection Bill.


The GDPR will require organisations to think about the impact of projects on data privacy at an early stage and to appoint a data protection officer. It will introduce large fines for data breaches, tighten up rules on consent, and introduce some new rights; including a right to be forgotten.

The session heard this last right, introduced following a court case involving Google, could have a big impact on open data sets. Because if people remove themselves from datasets, they become less complete.

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Impact of the private sector on demand

Open Data Camp 5, day two, opened with a discussion of the impact of the private sector on open data.

The session was led by Shelby Switzer, who explained she was interested in the subject because she worked for a company in the US [Healthify] that uses a lot of open data about social issues and services.

The problem: “We find the data sucks and we have to put a lot of effort into making it better,” she said. “So, I want to talk about how we get the providers to do better.

“Also, how to prove to my company that it is better to help to improve the data at source, instead of spending so much time cleaning it.”

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Playing with open data in virtual worlds for real benefits

Christopher Gutteridge and Lucy Knight

Open data can be fun and educational. That was the message of the final session of Open Data Camp 5, day one, as Christopher Gutteridge explained how he came to combine his twin passions of Minecraft and open data.


“The story of this goes back quite a way. I kept going to an art gallery on the Isle of Wight, and I wanted to join in. So, I decided to build the seafront in Minecraft,” he said.

“I got OpenStreetMap, and traced it, and then modelled it in the Minecraft world. I printed it out in 3D and put the prints in a gallery. And people paid for them! You can still buy them if you go to Ventnor.”

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Maximum Open Data impact for minimum effort

A very popular session at Open Data Camp 5 discussed how to measure the benefit of open data.

Session leader Deirdre Lee, the founder and chief executive of Derilinx, which works with the Republic of Ireland and city of Dublin on open data projects, argued that in the early days, people were focused on publishing data sets.

Now that a lot of data is available, debate is moving onto getting people to use the data – and to realise benefit. So, she said, the questions now are: how do you measure the impact of open data, how do you prioritise which data sets to release, and how do you get government departments to embed this into their everyday work?


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Belfast’s Low Power Wide Area Network: how to use it?

Led by: Mark McCann: smart technology team, Belfast council.

Background: There was a competition for a low power wide area network outside London, which has a LP WAN already.

A consortium led by Ulster University won the competition and will pay for a LP WAN that can be used by universities and companies for research. Councils have provided pots of money to address challenges in the city that an LP WAN might address.

NB: A low power network can be used for small amounts of data, intermittently. So, 4G connects all the time; but this uses up power very quickly. Low power networks allow, for example, sensors to transmit small amounts of data at set times, so they retain their power much longer.


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The EveryPolitician project

Open Data Camp 5 is taking place in the Computer Science Department of Queen’s University. It’s a modern institituion that wants to make sure its students are ready for work.

So there are rooms that are carpeted with artificial turf, filled with trees, and furnished with garden benches. Of course there are.

The second session of the morning gathered in the garden room to discuss the EveryPolitician project [], a bid to collect information about every politician in the world, anywhere.

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Open Data GP Registers

Northern Ireland has always needed to keep registers of GPs and other health providers. Now, at least some people in its government and health and social care service are looking to release the GP register as open data: a single list of GPs in Northern Ireland that is available in machine readable format.


Why? Session leader Steven Barry explained:

“Lots of government departments have lots of service information, but it is often collected manually, so when somebody leaves it stops, or people do it differently.

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What makes for a good API?

One of the first questions to come up on day two of Open Data Camp was “what is an API?” One of the last issues to be discussed was “what makes a good API?”


Participants were asked for examples of application programming interfaces that they actually liked. The official postcode release site got a thumbs up: “It was really clear how to use it and what I’d get, and I can trust that the data will come back in the same way each time.”

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