Making more data open

The UK is experiencing a data revolution. New and previously unimaginable sources are becoming available, along with the analytical tools and expertise that together will increase and improve the evidence available to decision-makers in government, business and beyond.

Here, Pete Stokes, Head of Research Services and Data Access, explains how the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is increasing the amount of data available for research and opening up access to data that can’t be “open”.

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What does a good data strategy look like?

Chatham House rule session, so no direct reference to organisations or people included.

A data strategy should be in support of a goal.

What makes a good strategy useful?

What are you going to do?
How are you going to do it?
How does it fit into the context of what you are doing?

Sometimes you need to look beyond the immediate goals for open data. But it’s possible to look too high – pay attention to quick wins. What are the most effective things you can do? Those quick wins? Or doing the foundations for the next step?

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Data for trustworthy AI

A conversation on a big topic:

Bill Roberts (@billroberts): This occurred to me because I have  been reading a book called Made by Humans by Ellen Broad. People think that AI is magic, but it is created by algorithms that are written by humans, which means that sometimes it works really well and sometimes it does not. I wanted to discuss how to choose data for particular uses and how to interrogate biases. Also, how data publishers can address some of these issues. AI is second only to blockchain in the hype cycle at the moment. So how do we make sure that we make good choices about something that might have a big effect on people’s lives?

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Food waste: is there a role for open data in reducing it?

The amount of food waste in the UK is a huge number, particularly if you translate it into animals. Much of what’s being done about it is in the reduction phase, by redistributing food.

What we don’t know is: are there hotspots for food waste? Supermarkets like Tesco have informal arrangements with charities to pass on food, but don’t really track the wastage systematically. It’s also hard to quantify what is food waste, and what isn’t. All the councils have to report “green” waste that includes garden and plant waste, so it’s hard to separate it. But they don’t track where it goes and how it is treated.

From the value chain perspective it’s better for food to be redistributed rather than recycled.

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Starting the open data journey

One of the big questions that often comes up at Open Data Camp is where to start. So at Open Data Camp 6 in Aberdeen there was a session on that subject.

Leader Pauline Roche asked what advice people would give, and the ideas that came back fell into two, broad categories: advice for those who want to publish open data and advice for those who want to use it.

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Getting started with OpenStreetMaps

Open Street Map – if you’re going to edit it, you should look at it first!

Much of the power in it is in the layers you can add over the top, visualising various sets of information. You can also add background layers – like arial imagery from Bing.

To edit it, you need to create an account. Then? You needy to both do the surveying and add it into the system. Some people take notes and sketches, some people use apps.

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The why question: what is the purpose of open data?

Leader Nick Ananin, a project officer at Aberdeen City Council, explained that he had pitched the session because he was “confused”.

He explained that he was a system designer, and the first question a system designer always asks is: “What is the purpose of the system?” From that, he argued, it is possible to ask questions like: what products and functions will be needed to deliver that; and what controls will be put on them.

“So, in terms of open data, I started to think “how can we make sure that local authorities, when we publish data and add metadata, publishing the right data and adding the right meta data?” Get this wrong, he warned, and it would be impossible for potential users to find information, or for publishers to make sure it met their needs.

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Opening up research data

Can we — and should we — free up more research data as open data? A Open Data Camp 6 panel addressed this head on.

One attendee has working with data about rocks rolling down rivers – there are platforms like FigShare that people use, that are more document management. There’s also a reluctance to publish raw data rather than process data, which is much less useful. There’s a huge amount of opportunity here, as open research is something people are just not doing.

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Open Data Camp 6: open data for newbies

Open Data Camp 6 in Aberdeen opened with the ever popular (totally essential and very informative) ‘open data for newbies’ session.

And it started with a question: “Who knows what open data is?”

Participants decided the critical answers are that: it is data that can be made public (so not personal data); that is available free (or near free) for other people to use; and that is properly licensed as such.

Also, that it should be easily and available and consumable; although there is considerable debate about what that means.

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