We recently blogged about our excitement that Open Data Camp is coming to Belfast! As we said in that post:
“This is hugely exciting news for everyone interested in the release of & the re-use of Open Data here in Northern Ireland, providing the local open data community with a fantastic opportunity to engage with colleagues working with open data in other parts of the UK and further afield.”
In this guest post for Open Data Camp, we thought we’d provide a bit of background on what has been happening around open data in Northern Ireland.
Open Data in Northern Ireland – what’s happening??
Northern Ireland was a bit of a late starter to Open Data, but we hope because of this we have been able to learn from others about what works and what does not….
The NI open data portal went live in November 2015 and in 2017 we were placed 10th in the Global Open Data Index out of 94 nations/regions assessed! We were delighted at this placing, however, we still have a huge amount of work to be done in order to realise our goal of making all NI public sector data ‘open by default’.
“Open by default” is the position of the Northern Ireland Open Data Strategy published in 2015. There are obvious exceptions in respect of personal data, security, commercial, intellectual property rights or environmental importance.
There are nine open data principles in the strategy, and these determine how we implement open data in Northern Ireland. You can read all about them in the NI Open Data Strategy.
There is one portal for all Northern Ireland public sector open data – OpenDataNI. This is a CKAN platform which is supplemented with a Microsoft Azure cloud for larger datasets. It went live in November 2015 and we are concentrating on getting key datasets that are in demand published.
The aim of the ODNI portal is to establish & promote best practice standards, to not only enable access to the data but also to ensure that it conforms to metadata standards & open accessibility standards.
The portal has the facility for users to Suggest data to be published – Departments then have 10 days to reply to say if the data can be released (i.e. does not fall within any of the exceptions in the strategy) or not and if it can be released, they must put forward a date by which the data will be published.
Users can also comment on published datasets and on other people’s suggested datasets.
Outside of the public sector there is the Detail Data portal which is part of the detail data project – a BIG Lottery NI funded partnership between the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action and The Detail investigative journalism website.
The aim of the project is to develop the ability of the voluntary and community sector to use data effectively to create and enhance social, economic and environmental value.
The positives – So what is working?
Technically enforcing the mandatory creation of DCAT metadata in order to publish open data has been very successful.
Enforcing a mandatory level of 3 Stars of open data has also been successful.
To date, we have 260 datasets published on the open data portal with an average audience of just over 2000 users per month which is steadily increasing.
We have had some key datasets published including all government held LiDAR data for rivers, road upgrades and key heritage sites. There are also 450,000 rows of prescription data published on the site per month, totalling a staggering 5.4 million rows of data per year – we now have 4 years’ worth of prescription data published.
We currently have 16 showcases published on the portal; via twitter, we promote these showcases and seek more from the OD user community so as to demonstrate what they are doing with open data. We have showcases on topics ranging from an application to identify trees in Belfast City Council area, to an interactive visualisation of car accidents in Northern Ireland.
We also ran a successful challenge last year asking participants to use data from OpenDataNI to create new and innovative teaching resources for either primary or secondary level schools.
The 2 winning projects were Our Raging Planet aimed at geography students to simulate natural disasters such as volcanoes and earthquakes in a local environment, and Gaff Game which teaches students to learn SQL programming language using datasets from OpenDataNI to find the best place to live in Belfast. You can check out our video about the challenge or read more about it.
We are increasingly working with a wider user community for NI open data. We have an internal Implementation Board driving forward the open data strategy with representation from all 9 government departments. But we also have set up an Open Data Advisory Panel which consists of local private sector companies, academia, voluntary and community, open government representatives and local technical activists. We consult them for advice and as a sounding board for ideas.
The ODI Belfast node launched in September 2015. It is a Learning and Networking Node which aims to contribute to the local and regional development of open data, ensuring open data for everyone.
The node has been a great addition to NI providing training, completing research projects, holding open data events and generally promoting the benefits of open data for Northern Ireland. ODI Belfast is based at the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA).
The Ulster University runs an Interactive Media BA (Hons) course and now has a module entirely devoted to working with OpenDataNI data!
The barriers – What is not working?
Despite extensive engagement by the OpenDataNI team with the broader NI public sector, we are still faced with low levels of proactive publication of open data by our public sector…. the majority of releases are driven by the Suggested Dataset mechanism by the user community.
What we are hoping will change this is a combination of
- more targeted engagement at senior level to highlight the benefits of publishing data as open data;
- we are also planning to publically release a dashboard created from our open data publications, of the numbers of datasets by publisher and also the status of the suggested datasets; and
- we are also working towards automated data publishing and are currently running a pilot project.
We obviously are open to all other suggestions and are really looking forward to #ODCamp in Belfast, where we can chat with others who may be able to tell us what in their experience helps.
Belfast has much to offer attendees from here and further afield…. just by way of example, Belfast was named as the best UK city at the 2016 Guardian and Observer Travel Awards.
Visitors to Open Data Camp 5 in Belfast can be assured of the warmest of warm welcomes, and we hope that many will avail themselves of the opportunity to take in some of the many sights and attractions that Belfast and the surrounding area has to offer whilst here. Here are some links to find the top things to do in Belfast before and after #ODCamp!