A few thoughts on open data

I’ve been meaning to compile my thoughts on open data in Local Government into a blog post for a few weeks now. So here they are in all their glory:

During the course of the project at Warwickshire County Council (WCC), and through dialogue with other local authorities, I have some thoughts on the key blockers to the Open Data Agenda in local government:

  •  Fear – at all levels there is fear of the repercussions of releasing data. There are two contributing factors to this fear:
    • Fear that the data we are releasing may be inaccurate in some way
    • Fear that inadequacies in our services will be highlighted through the released data
  • Assumption of cost – we didn’t experience this at Warwickshire as the project was run on a very limited budget. However, there is an assumption by other authorities that there are large costs associated with this. By going down the route of a hosted solution, we minimised both set-up and running costs. We wrote our own open source application. For other authorities starting on this journey there are now a number of open source solutions available. Going forward, I believe we should create an Open Data Toolkit to enable local authorities to create their own open data site, provide a basic business case and suggested datasets to get them started.
  • Misunderstanding – there is a gap in the understanding of why we are releasing data and who we are releasing it to. We are opening up data with the hope that it will  be picked up and interpreted by individuals with the skills to provide a new view of what we are doing as an authority. Although anyone can download our files and review the data in them, the real value comes from the wider societal interpretation of our data.

 Practical steps to delivering an Open Data Project

 It is very important to be aware that this is not a project that will directly save money and it will not generate revenue. It will however

  • Provide an opportunity to ensure data being produced and collated by the authority is of the highest quality
  • Give us more opportunities to identify where we could do things better, and put them right
  • Enable us to reuse data internally so we have our own high quality “single source of the truth”
  • Deliver on the transparency agenda and the “right to data”
  • Enable us to work more collaboratively with the public

 My top tips would be

  • Start off with the easier datasets to get the momentum going, and look at what other people have published
  • Use open source software
  • Run a competition to spark interest in the local community – get some apps developed that prove the case for why open data is a good idea
  • Embed the values of open data wherever possible – the utopian state is that people have to fight for restricting their data, not fight against releasing it
  • Don’t take no for an answer – take different approaches for encouraging people to release their data if they are reluctant
    • Show that other people have done it
    • Show the applications that can be built (and have been)
    • Make them aware of the pressure from central government – release data now in a controlled steady fashion, rather than waiting to be pushed (like is happening with the financial data). The Right to Data is inevitable, so accept it with open arms
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Leamington Social Media Surgery 4th Nov 2010

My grand plans were to write a witty, inspiring blog spreading the word about open data, social media and all that lovely stuff. Unfortunately my time has been consumed by a pesky job, 2 young children, accidentally slightly running over my cat, cooking, cleaning (although my husband will dispute that), and general busyness.

I shall try to rectify that by summing up the first two Warwickshire Social Media Surgeries…

We ran the Warwick SMS at Warwick Library on the 30th September. The fabulous Pete Lancaster, Karen Ramsay-Smith, Pete Read and Luke Mason all came along to provide help. We had 3 attendees (quality, not quantity!) and it was a successful evening with both the Petes well and truly earning their social media surgeon stripes. Pete L helped out Mike who runs What’s In Kenilworth? and Pete R helped out a couple of guys with a variety of interests, including the Kenilworth Footpath Preservation Group.

The Leamington SMS at Leamington Library was held tonight, the 4th November. Again, the wonderful Pete Lancaster brought his surgeon skills, as well as Paul Henderson who came to my rescue after a bit of memory failure regarding Wordpress! Pete helped out a lovely octogenarian (also called Pete) from Kenilworth who hand-codes the HTML behind http://midwarks.info. I helped out Patricia, who used to be a councillor for Rugby Borough Council and wanted to find a better way to communicate with her parish and town councils about the various community forums she attends. We also had a quick peek at Twitter.

All in all a very enjoyable and useful experience, which I hope will continue.

The next Warwickshire Social Media Surgery will be in Kenilworth on the 16th December at Kenilworth Library from 5.30pm until 7pm. Please come along and either give some help, or get some help.