Open Data, Meaningful Use


There is still loads of energy in Brighton around the open data agenda and Citycampbtn.  Citycamp is having its first meetup on April 7th at the Earth and Stars and this will maintain the momentum and garner more support  for CityHive, Vital Reality, Sue Korman’s BiteSize Brighton and others.

My own project,  i-canhelp.org is moving along nicely too, but my role as data lead for the local authority’s children’s services means I will focus on what we can do to provide data and support, particularly for BiteSize.  I’m meeting Sue Korman at the start of the week to start that process.

Open Data Projects

The other day a group of people got together to look at some of the practical steps we should take around open data, with a particular emphasis on ensuring meaningful engagement with data.  From the council: Paul Colbran, Head of ICT and me, Head of Performance (Children’s Services).  And Jo Ivens, policy specialist voluntary sector and founder of DataBridgeUK;  Tom Smith, Director of Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion; and Andy Brightwell (public-i), social media specialist.

To start, Paul Colbran underlined the council’s commitment to opening up its data and we had good discussion around the concept of the datastore.  Having worked with some of our data during Citycamp, Andy suggested better description of datasets was essential, and that data releases should come with a blog post.  Great idea.

We identified issues with an indiscriminate approach to “open data now”.  How does the council use its resources wisely and to best effect?  What is the most useful data, what is the most useful format?  How do we do something different to what is already done?

Let me illustrate the need to clarify the “open data space”.

Here are just a few examples of the data already published by government for children’s services:

GCSE (underlying data for all key stages made available from this year)

Secondary Schools Applications and Offers (from the DfE Statistical Gateway)

Pupil Absence (check out the detailed data in the archived zip file accessed from this page)

There’s absolutely bucket loads more of that.  See Tom’s Data4NR.net signposting site for the whole range of government data.  Tom’s metadata drives alot of www.data.gov.uk.

And there are good examples out there of making the data more accessible (not machine readable though) and more locally relevant.  See how Suffolk visualise their data in this example for GCSE results.

Within this context the group started to explore how to create value from data.

We talked about Jo’s @databridgeuk and its aim to help the community and voluntary sector build it’s capacity to use data, collect the right data and contribute it to the pool.  It’s not just the council that gathers “intelligence”.  How can we (in a structured way) gather the data and knowledge held in the third sector?  How can they get better at proving their value?  See the Measuring What Matters Briefing from CVSF for a good framework for that task.  Further, asked Tom, what new data does Intelligent Commissioning need in order to make public service delivery better?  How can we capture citizen well-being with cheap technology for example?  See mappiness for a flavour of that.

We discussed BiteSize Brighton and all agreed that this was a project with huge potential to give the open data agenda a really meaningful subject.  There is a great deal here, given that Citycamp 1.5 will happen at BACA, the secondary school in Falmer, a relatively deprived part of town.  We are excited to see what Sue has in mind.

So, we think that support and exploration in these two areas will reap considerable benefit and learning, focusing on identifying the data that matters most and understanding how people want to engage with it and use it.  This will no doubt encompass consideration of data structure, including machine-readable formats.  And I am certainly keen to look at how, through the BiteSize project and with school leaders, we identify a set of machine readable datasets to build.

That will be the subject of another post!

P.S.  I think Lichfield District Council have the right approach with their emphasis on linked data.  They’re adding value. See this Payments to Suppliers example.

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