Better local government through open data

Local government seems to be in a perpetual state of competition – while the most efficient use of resources would be to collaborate. So how could open data help facilitate that?

 

One attendee talked about formalised co-ordination roles. There have been some pockets of good stuff: the Cabinet Office nominated over a dozen councils as their open data champions, with some mixed results. Redbridge’s data sharing platform DataShare, part funded by the LGA, seems to be well-liked by those who have used it. Some other user authorities are using it – but it’s often not as well implemented as the Redbridge implementation.

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What is data, open data… and what on earth is an API?

Day two of Open Data Camp in Cardiff opened with another session on the basics. What is open data, who can use it and what is it useful for?

More open data for newbies

Also, going back a step: “What is data?” Session participants suggested that while the public or ‘newbies’ might equate data with statistics, ‘data’ was much broader than that. It might be the raw data – or numbers – on which the stats were based. But it might also be text, or photographs.

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Learning to love Linked Data

Linked data has been a topic of discussion at successive Open Data Camps. So at Open Data Camp 4 in Cardiff, Jen Williams of Networked Planet whipped through the basics.

Linked Data at Open Data Camp

“When people talk about linked data they are talking about putting it into a statement,” she said. “So in a normal spreadsheet, you have a lot of columns… with linked data you start with an identifier and then go to the column header, the ‘known as’, and then you go to the value. Continue reading Learning to love Linked Data

Do we need portals for open data?

After a quick sandwich lunch, people attending the Open Data Camp in Cardiff were challenged to a debate. Is a single point of access, aka a portal, the best way to open up access to data sources?

 

Speaking for the debate was Giuseppe Sollazzo, who co-authored a report on the NHS and open data. “One of the things we have discovered is that there is a recommendation for a single point of access. I am not necessarily a fan of a portal, but at this point we have no other option. Continue reading Do we need portals for open data?

What can open data and data science bring to government?

“Open data is for government. Open data is for activists. Data science is more serious.”

This is a fake dichotomy, and we need to deal with it. There’s no point in having open data if you can’t analyse it. We all want to get answers to people. And we need to connect the skills better. There’s no good delivering the best analysis in the world if it arrives two days after the decision was made.

 

Data science has to prove that we can deliver timely analysis based on open data that impacts on decision making.

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Can user research open up open data?

If open data providers are concerned about how often their data is used, that opens the door to user research. But are they more interested in finding our what else people could do with the data? That’s a much harder task. The user research questions could easily bias the data.

User research in open data

Could it spiral out of control, as the definition of “user” grows too wide?

There’s a fundamental challenge around user research for open data: what would you do if you knew? also, many open data users are highly technical – is that something that makes it harder to run user research, if you’re not yourself technical?

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Engaging with open data users

What are the best ways to engage with open data users?

 

DEFRA did a Bristol user group meeting – and most of the people who turned up weren’t actually using it. They were interested, so they were only potential users. The link came through ODI Bristol, and marketing on Twitter and Eventbrite. How do you find those people otherwise? Getting in the room with people is so important.

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Using open data to support Welsh speakers

The Welsh government has set ambitious targets to increase the number of Welsh speakers. At the moment, there are perhaps half a million, but by 2050 the government wants to see 1 million.

 

Session leader Ben Proctor said this presented an interesting open data challenge. “One of the things we have been kicking around in ODI Cardiff that there might be some useful things to do from a data point of view to inform this [target],” he said.

“We have been looking at whether there are existing models for language growth – there probably are, but we can’t find them – and if not can whether we can take some standard growth models and use them.

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What open data standards do we need?

Terence Eden from the Government Data Service had one of the most reacted-to pitches at Open Data Camp 4. Surely, he suggested to the more than 100 attendees packed into Cardiff’s Pierhead, data should always be released as pdf?

Open Data Standards

Of course, this was a joke. And at the session on ‘what open data standards do we need’ he said he had insisted that government departments released data in open document format.

This wasn’t openness for openness sake, he added. It was because he didn’t think it was reasonable for open data users to be expected to buy licenses for expensive, proprietary database and software projects where good, open and free alternatives existed.

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