Tag Archives: ONS

Open Data Camp – 10 out of 10. Would attend again

This post was originally published on the ONS Digital blog

In October this year a group of like-minded folks will be meeting at Queen’s University in Belfast to chat about open data. They will be doing so under the banner of Open Data Camp, an unconference for those interested in making information from a wide range of sources “open”.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of an unconference, it is a format based more around peer-to-peer learning, creativity and collaboration.

In the context of this unconference, open can mean many things. In the depths of the technicalities of machine readable serialisation, the legality of data reuse, or how to convince your boss that making information available in only PDFs tends to be, shall we say, sub-optimal.

The reason I am writing this post here on @onsdigital is because I am pleased to say we are sponsoring Open Data Camp. We get asked to be involved in a lot of different conferences, but are not able to say yes to many, so I wanted to write a little about why this one is important to us and what we hope to gain from the weekend.

Primarily, we do this because we care about this community hugely and want to help ensure events like this can be financially viable. We also do it because ONS data being open is important if we are to ensure the greatest possible social and economic benefits for the public.

I’ve written about some of this over in my own blog, but don’t take my word for it, listen to Sir Tim during his Ted talk .

As part of this, Tim suggests:

“What you find if you deal with people in government departments is that they hug their database, hold it really close, so that they can build a beautiful website to present it.

I would like to suggest: sure, make a beautiful website, but first, give us – all of us – the unadulterated data. We have to ask for raw data now.”

I still regard this as pretty much the most important statement anyone has made about what the digital relationship between the citizen and the state is and what it could be.

Here at ONS we have been thinking about this a lot, have done some things that hopefully start us in the right direction for opening things up and know we have an awful lot more ground to cover.

We started with defining (with the help of Leigh Dodds) some open data publishing principles.

We are using these to inform the work we are currently doing on a project we are referring to as “Customise My Data”. This is a project to make some fairly fundamental changes to the way we publish data. The goals are to ensure that we move away from being an organisation that publishes excel and into one that publishes a consistent backbone of data, that allows users to breakdown our data into smaller parts and enables machine readable access to statistics (not spreadsheets)

I am hoping to pitch a session at open data camp around how we can make the data we publish through this system as open as possible and as useful for our users as we can make it.

A few final tickets for the event are going to be made available soon (it is free to attend) and I look forward to having some interesting conversations with those of you I get to meet over the weekend.

If you are unable to attend, but are interested in offering feedback on the work we are doing around open data at ONS, please get in touch with me directly, or register your interest to take part in the user research we are undertaking. We have upcoming sessions in London, Sheffield and Liverpool.

Photo available under Open Government Licence v3.0

If you open stuff up, good stuff happens

This is a slightly edited version of a post originally published on DATA.GOV.UK

I rather like the phrase: “Engineering Serendipity” which – as I choose to interpret it – means something like ‘creating conditions which maximise the chances of good stuff happening’. If you’re interested in a fuller discussion of Engineering Serendipity, there’s the excellent article written by Greg Lindsay over on Aspen Ideas.

I’ll come back to engineering serendipity a bit later. Please bear with me in the meantime, however, as I veer off-course to talk briefly about TV chefs.

Don’t watch, just cook

I love good food, and also enjoy cooking, but I never watch cookery programmes on television. I totally ‘get’ why people find the genre entertaining and informative, it just doesn’t do-it for me personally. My view is: if I have enough time to watch someone else cooking, then I might as well spend the time preparing a meal.

TV Chefery

When I say I “never” watch cookery programmes, it isn’t strictly true – I did watch some TV chefery a couple of weeks ago, as an episode of the “Hairy Bikers” was on in the background during a family get-together. In this particular episode – filmed in Bangkok during a recent tour of Asia – the Hairy Bikers were seeking the perfect recipe for Thai Green Curry.

Big break

They visited Aunty Daeng, a self-taught cook with an international reputation. Apparently, Aunty’s big break came when she prepared a meal for a royal visit to the government department where she was working at the time. The royals were so impressed, they invited her to become their private chef.  Had the royals not had the opportunity to taste Aunty Daeng’s food, she might still be working in a government department.

For all I know, Aunty Daeng’s old job may have been hugely worthwhile, and I’m not knocking working in a government department. My point is that a set of circumstances were created which led to Aunty Daeng’s career taking off.

What’s this got to do with Open Data?

I’m glad you asked.

Several times recently, I’ve noticed a combination of ‘chance’ and open data leading to good things that weren’t anticipated by the publishers of the data. Here are a few examples:

Blue Lights and severe weather events

BluelightCamp is a free annual unconference and open data hack which brings together people with some sort of interest in emergency services. In previous years, BlueLightCamp has been linked with British APCO’s annual exhibition in Manchester, and in 2013 we introduced an open data hack element.

In 2014 we held BluelightCamp in Hampshire instead, which meant that, for the first time, BlueLightCamp ‘met’ Hampshire Hub. This led to the birth of a new initiative: WUDOWUD. I won’t go into the detail here, as there’s an article about it on British APCO’s web site, co-written with Chris Cooper of Know Now Information.

Food, pubs and bus stops

food hygiene pubs tweetLast November, we held the latest in a series of ‘Informing Hampshire’ events which are pitched at (mostly) people who help inform public service decision-making in-and-around Hampshire.

One of the presenters was Chris Gutteridge from the University of Southampton who mentioned during his presentation that he’d taken Food Hygiene Certificates open data (published by the Food Standards Agency), together with Public Transport open data, and presented it (along with lots of other useful stuff) on a map for students and staff.

That could be handy for anyone looking for a pub which serves food, and is near to a bus stop (for the correct bus to get home again later). From a public safety perspective, people finding decent pubs with good public transport links are probably less likely to be tempted to drink-and-drive. From a bus company perspective, that’s more bums on seats. From an open data publisher’s perspective, it’s positive proof that it’s worthwhile releasing useful data like Food Hygiene ratings, as they’re actually being used.

University of Southampton open data map screenshot

 

Open data up in the air

st-catherinesIn 2014 we released aerial photography for the whole of the county of Hampshire. This includes high resolution imagery, together with height data, near infrared, and the routes flown.

As we were focusing on introducing the new Hampshire Hub, we didn’t have time or resources to provide a delivery mechanism for the aerial photography as a separate project, so we just made the data available under the Open Government Licence (OGL).

A couple of months ago we were approached out of the blue by the Geodata team at the University of Southampton who have obtained funding to create an online portal to let users explore and download 3D representations of the aerial open data. Geodata have obtained funding to do the development at no cost to the Hampshire Hub, and will make their site available to the public for free. In the words of Jason Sadler who leads the Geodata team: “If you open stuff up, good stuff happens.”

A fair wind

wind map screenshotThe next example isn’t Hampshire-specific, it’s global. I first heard about it during a presentation given at The Graphical Web, an event run by Alan Smith, who leads the Data Visualisation team at the Office for National Statistics (ONS). If you haven’t seen The Graphical Web before, I heartily recommend it, and all of the presentations were recorded and are available through the site.

Cameron Beccario gave a talk about The Wind Map: a ‘visualization of global weather conditions forecast by supercomputers updated every three hours’. Actually, it’s not ‘just’ that, and amongst other things includes ocean temperatures and waves, regularly updated. It’s a superb undertaking, and is the result of many hundreds of hours of effort.

The Wind Map is an excellent example of really good stuff happening when data is opened up. It wouldn’t have been possible had the data not been made freely available by the U.S. National Weather Service and others.

Open Data Camp – Engineering Serendipity

Ok, I confess, there’s a sub-plot here. Part of the reason for writing this post is to plug an event I’m co-organising. It’s Open Data Camp, which is in Winchester on the 21-22nd February 2015. Yes, that’s a weekend.

As far as I’m aware, it’s a UK-first, combining the ‘unconference’ format with a theme of open data. There will also be opportunities to ‘make stuff’ with open data over the weekend.

Tickets are being released in batches through Eventbrite. You’ll have to be quick, though, as they’re going fast.

Thank you sponsors

The organisers* are really grateful to Hampshire County Council for letting us use their fabulous HQ venue free of charge, and Matthew Buck of Drawnalism who donated the artwork and branding we’re using for the event.

Several others have offered their support and we’re following-up on the detail. We still seeking additional sponsors to help make the event go with a bang, so if you’re interested, please get in touch.

It’s a kinda magic

I’m convinced magic will take place at Open Data Camp, just like it does at other unconferences like UKGovCamp. Open Data Camp is open to the public, is free to attend, and spans all sectors. I’m hoping that new initiatives, ideas and collaborations will ‘pop-out’ from Open Data Camp – even though I’ve no idea what they might be. As event organisers we’re just trying to create the conditions which maximise the chances of good stuff happening.

Notes

* There are a bunch of people on the organising team for Open Data Camp, ranging from as far North as Manchester, and as far south as Devon: