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.

Getting started as an open data publisher

Janny, who works for Aberdeen City Council as a data analyst, said open data publishers needed to be able to “tell a story about data” because “without a story, data is boring.”

Mark Braggins, who lead open data initiatives for Hampshire County Council in the early days of the movement, agreed with this. “In those early days, the directive was about transparency, and giving information to armchair auditors so they could check up on what councils were doing,” he said. “I think that was counter productive.

“What we found worked was to find interesting data that excited people. What made people go: ‘Oooh, love that.’ Because that drives engagement. So if you are starting out from the publisher side, the question to ask is what will excite people.  Then, get that out, even if it is lower risk and a bit fun. Also, look at what other people are doing. It may be that Bristol, or Devon has already done something you ae thinking about, and has good ideas for how to go about it.”

Getting started as an open data user

People who wanted to use open data said the key thing from their perspective was that “open data should be easy for people to consume.” But they also suggested that the key to finding and using data sources was to talk to people.

Gregory Marler, who volunteers for open street map, said: “I would say talk to people and meet them in person. First, because who doesn’t want an excuse for a beer? And second, because we have got people around the country doing this, and if you talk to them they will be able to help you with events and ways to use data. Talk to people. We are friendly.”

Others participants suggested they were on other journeys: such as how to engage users in products and services built using open data.

Rory, a freelance developer and trainer, said: “I have been on a journey towards how we can make open data initiatives and projects last longer and have more impact. One of the main things I have found is that it is essential to build engagement. The main reason for having open data is to involve other people, so it sounds obvious, but learning how to build engagement is my journey.”

Phil West said he was working on a project to support community journalists by giving them access to open data sources, and “my journey is about stepping into their shoes.”

Difficult colleagues and inspiring projects

In the second half of the session, Pauline suggested it would be useful for people to think back to what had got them started in open data. Martin Muchie, head of ODCamp6 BI at sponsor Aberdeen City Council, said the start of his journey was “a colleague who wouldn’t stop bothering me about it.”

Other people mentioned inspirational figures, or projects that had shown them the value of the open data approach. Phil said his project had started when he was researching some specific case studies and open data had been the best source of the data needed. With so much open data available, searching for datasets is almost bound to get people started on an open data journey.

[Session Notes]