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.”
Are you already, or keen to improve local highways using open data? Are you developing apps / solutions, but not sure how to pitch them?
At Open Data Camp Bristol 2016, there’s an ideal opportunity to put your their skills to use to assist local authorities improve the condition of our local highways network. Here are some things we need help with:
What open data tools or methods would you recommend to local authorities and contractors?
Identify the key issues for collaboration with open data groups (e.g., Open Streetmap) outside the traditional highways industry
I’m totally new to the unconference scene and have only ever watched from the sidelines, on Twitter. My experiences of academic conferences makes me think there must be something better, and I guess this is it, so thanks to Giuseppe Sollazzo for inviting me.
By way of introduction, I’m an urban studies academic at the University of Sheffield but I spend a good bit of my time doing data analysis and mapping and sharing it with others. I’ve also collaborated on quite a few data journalism projects over the past 5 years, mainly with Simon Rogers at Google (and previously when he was at the Guardian). You can find out more from my Twitter and also on my blog. Most of what I do has some kind of geo or map component, so that’s what I hope I can bring to OD Camp 3 in Bristol.
Open Data Camp 3 is not far away now! We thought this year we’d ask for suggestions in advance for content and features, and one of the ones we liked very much is that we should have some sessions geared towards learning a new tool or skill. We certainly have enough people attending to match up the experts with the curious learners – so we have a cunning plan to make that happen.
What you will see, when you arrive, is an extra section at the Registration desk where we will ask you what you know, or what you’d like to know. We will add wants and offers to a session grid until we think we have enough to organise a series of short workshop sessions. Then we will set up one of the spaces at the venue as a ‘learning corner’ with a table and chairs, maybe a projector and screen, and tell people when each workshop session is about to start.
And that’s it! I’m very much in favour of not complicating it any further than that. Drop me a line if you have any thoughts about what to include, or if you want to request or offer a particular topic.