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.
“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→
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?→
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.
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?
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.
The aim of the session was to map some open data ecosystems – because, as session leader Leigh Dodds of Bath:Hacked put it:
“We are often struggling to work out where the value is coming from.”
He added: “We often try to identify users and publish case studies, but there are lots more people working in open data than just publishers and users, so we want to try and capture some of these. We want to test out some roles, and find out how they fit together in a value analysis.”
Dodds had come up with a list of potential roles, which he was keen for the session to test out. These are available at bit.ly/odcamp-mapping: along with a sample map of Bath:Hacked’s own 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.
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.
An expert panel session at Open Data Camp 3 turned out to be less of a Q&A on the minutiae of data sets and their use than a passionate debate about the direction that the open data movement is taking.
There was concern that after much excitement – even hype – about the impact that simply releasing data sets could have, disillusion was setting in as decision making processes remained unchanged and communities remained unaware of the information sources available to them – and the impact this could have. The debate concluded with some passionate calls to make it easier to uncover data and to make it less ‘scary’, so that more people could use it.
Why have a session on women in open data? It was the first question to be addressed at the post-lunch session on that topic, which was held under Chatham House Rules (meaning that the content of what was said could be reported, but not who said it).
The session organiser argued that a session was needed because: “As women, even as feminists, were are conditioned to please men, so I thought it was important to have this space. Because with the best will in the world other sessions can be dominated by men, and there is a lot of mansplaining and stuff like that.”
Councils have really good data sets: but they can find it hard to find out what local communities would like to do with it. The ‘Lessons Learned’ session packed a break-out room with Open Data Camp participants keen to share their issues, ideas, and solutions to the problem.
The session was opened by Lee Dodds of Bath Hacked, who is working with council and local community to use data “for benefit of those who live in the area and those who visit us.”