Tag Archives: open data ecosystem

Making Open Data Camp matter – to local economies and more

What is the value to the local economy of open data – and open data unconferences? The wider benefit of open data to local economies is harder to quantify. There’s no E-MC^2 equation of open data benefit yet.

So let’s talk about unconferneces, and Open Data Camp in particular.

Local value of open data camp

Some organisers have a sense that it stimulates the economy, but no sense of how to measure that. There’s local sponsorship – so they’re expecting some return on that investment. It might be an opportunity to meet potential customers, or to improve their operational intelligence.

Corporate social responsibility is one reason people sponsor: it’s both a community benefit, but it also benefits companies to have a thriving open data ecosystem.

Escaping the gravity of the capital

Just NOT having it in London is a good thing. Holding events away from London can be an incentive.

There’s a distinction between the benefit of open data on the city, versus the value of an open data conference in the city. There’s a clear basic financial benefit to the city in terms of hotel rooms, food and entertainment from events, as long as people are prepared to travel to attend the event. One event in an area succeeding gives other confidence to happen.

Travel is not just about money, but also about time to travel there.

Buy in from the host city makes a big difference. The city saying “no” to some investment in an event can kill it. There needs to be some vision for the city of the benefit, so you can sell it to them.

Unconferences can be wooly as to what the benefit is. Open Data Camp is deliberately avoiding London, both because too many events happen in London, and because people can be resident to it. You get local character and flavour, and you get people who might never come to an event if it wasn’t near to them. And they still get national organisations coming – because they don’t get out of London much, and get to make connections with local projects.

Connections make benefits

Those connections can turn into valuable projects. You’re not just connecting geographies, but different forms of organisation. People who don’t do data can start to see it in a physical way – to understand the data that describes the city they can see around them.

Can we improve the outcomes by theming the event? Or would that corrupt unconferences? People tend to take advantage of the location to discuss local issues – like the interface/divided communities session at this event. And that can be very valuable – giving people insights into unexpected uses of data.

The Queen’s University, Belfast computing department is often empty of a weekend. Why not use the space for events like this. Let people come in and find out new things. Being physically in different places give opportunities to explore new technologies, like iBeacons or VR tech.

Look at the data you have, and the data you can get, and the technologies are coming along – and then the space to think about how to combine them. Ideas start at those sorts of meetings – and we need those case studies.

Catalysing other fields

Bring in other kinds of people – English Lit students could find open data techniques useful in extracting what they need from books. You can avoid massive wastes of time and effort by bring people together in a way that allows them to realise what they can offer to each other.

At the moment, Open Data Camps are open data people talking to open data people. Could we have a Friday where we open up our experts to other people. That means we could say we advised start-ups and students, and contributed to the economy.

Pre-activation of people – letting them plan for hacker spaces, or offering open data surgeries would be possible ideas.

We’re trying to capture the sessions via Drawnalism, and we’re putting that on the blog. But should we be pushing onwards wit it, telling case studies and stories around events or projects that spin out of open data camp sessions and meetings?

But what about the wider benefit of open data to local economies? There’s no E-MC^2 equation of open data benefit yet.

Session Notes

Are Open Data businesses viable?

Is just repackaging and selling open data viable? Or should businesses be more sophisticated, aggregating and adding valuable insights to the data?


Some data sets are switching from OGL to restricted licences – like the ratings list. That has stopped some uncomfortable commercial uses – but killed some academic uses as well. The OS polygon data has been problematic because the co-ordinates can’t be republished. That’s been tightened up in a way that makes them completely useful commercially, because of wording that encapsulates all “benefitting” from the data.

Continue reading Are Open Data businesses viable?

What’s changing in the open data ecosystem?

Last weekend was the 3rd Open Data Camp, in the great venue of the Bristol Watershed. Across the many sessions and discussions over the 2 days, there were some clear stories of what’s changing in the open data ecosystem, and some clear frustrations about what’s still needed.

Open Data Camp by Drawnalism
Open Data Camp by Drawnalism

The open data centre of gravity in government appears to be shifting towards Defra, at least to us observers outside government. A combination of top-level support from ministers and senior leadership is helping drive a big ramp-up in activity and data publication. At Open Data Camp there was a big turn-out from Defra and Environment Agency (although it was a bit of a home game for the Environment Agency with their Bristol HQ), and lots of discussion around data such as Lidar. With many of the current good examples of data use coming out of Defra, Environment Agency et al, next month’s Defra Open Data Market event will be a good event to take stock of how far we’ve come in opening up useful data.

There’s still a massive need for improvement in the “find, understand, use” part of the open data ecosystem. Data.gov.uk and other local open data systems are still essentially simple catalogues with only basic search tools – and have not really evolved in user-terms since open data catalogues such as our own Data4nr.net appeared in 2005. There’s little linkage between these data catalogues and “how the data has been used”, and little-to-no linkage with help on “how do I use this?”. There are some bright spots out there: Data USA  and the recently launched Data campfire are based around telling data stories, Nomis’s help forums are a truly useful source of expert help, and the Stack Exchange Open Data forum is interesting but needs more support and momentum (and perhaps a UK-specific version). I understand GDS are reviewing data.gov.uk, and it would also be good to see ONS impact in this area – the National Statistician role includes data dissemination across government, not just ONS data. If we’re serious about continuing to help users use data to improve services and businesses, it’s time we got serious about improving this part of the open data ecosystem.

It’s time to move on from asking “is open data valuable”? There are 100s of examples of open data proving its worth – from Census data (“2011 census benefits were £490 million each year”, Ian Cope ONS) to the Index of Multiple Deprivation being used to target upwards of £1billion resources per year to open transport APIs powering consumer travel apps to recent Lidar use (more on that below). Open data demonstrably provides value. Of course that doesn’t mean that every open data set is valuable – you can look at the usage statistics for data.gov.uk to see some of the less useful candidates (the CSV download at https://data.gov.uk/data/site-usage/dataset shows all datasets, and there’s a very long tail) – but can we please stop asking the “is open data valuable?” question.

Data use gets creative. For me the highlight session at Open Data Camp was John Murray’s step-by-step run through from raw Lidar height data to filtered building outlines.  The task that the Environment Agency set our Data Advisory Group in the first meeting was to prioritise which of their datasets they should release first. Lidar was absolute top of our list, and in meetings with the Lidar data team we listed roughly 50 uses for the dataset that helped make a bullet-proof case for publishing as open data – many of which we’re already seeing (although we missed the Roman roads … ). There’s a lesson here about the value of open data – although the Environment Agency EA no longer receives licensing fees from the (now) open data Lidar dataset, the return-on-investment to the Agency’s task and public realm is far more significant.

Open Data Camp was a great community-building event, very much down to the organisers for their hard work in putting it together and bringing in so many of the people doing great stuff in this field. I’m looking forward to the next.

Tom Smith is Chief Executive of OCSI and chair of the Environment Agency Data Advisory Group. @_datasmith and tom.smith@ocsi.co.uk.

People who have pitched, organising session times and locations
Horse trading after the pitching sessions
Photo of Owen Boswarva pitching a session
Owen Boswarva is real. And pitching a session.
Unleash your inner data hero - logo for Local Insight
Unleash your inner data hero
Turning LiDAR into actionable insight - first slide from John Murray's session
Turning LiDAR into actionable insight