At the end of 2015, there was a project in the Government Digital Service about the structure of data. There was open.gov.uk, where the data was quite unstructured. The consumer had to wrangle it into the form they needed. In the legalisation, there were hundreds of thousands of mentions of registers – datasets that different departments and minsters needed to keep. The idea was to publish these registers of things government knows.
One core principle: these are owned and maintained registers. This makes them about governance – about making sure that there are people in positions of power with responsibility for them. You can’t spread the decision-making around – it has to be a named individual. There’s been some work done by the Open Data Institute in the last year about collaborative ownership models.
The government recently published a loneliness strategy, asking how support could be provided for people in “society as it is now”. In other words, in a society in which people travel further for work, but shop online and make use of social media.
How could open data support its aims? What data would be useful, where would we find it, and is just sharing that data enough?
The UK is amongst the best in the world at releasing Open Data at a national level – but the same can’t be said at other parts of government. What can be done?
Could it be that the data at lower levels is less accessible? For every piece of valuable data, there’s at least one local authority doing it well, but rarely more than a couple. For example, around 100 local authorities have published business rates data, but several hundred more haven’t. The vast majority of local authorities haven’t published empty homes data.
Registers are lists of things published on the web and available via an API.
You maintain accountability, via Blockchain-like technologies called Merkle Trees, which allows you to track back through previous changes, and a single source of truth, meaning that people link back to the central source. A Register has a named owner, responsible for the maintenance and updating of that data. They are sometimes called “Custodians” and should be a subject expert in that field. It is possible to have multiple Custodians. There is a Register of Registers – produced by the GDS.
What are you doing on Saturday 3rd November and Sunday 4th? If you don’t know, but are a fan of all things open data, then head on down to Open Data Camp at the University of Aberdeen where a bunch of very enthusiastic and informed people, (including us!) will be there to discuss, debate, listen to and enjoy all manner of open data.
If you’ve never been to an Open Data Camp, you’re in exactly the same position as I was last October — to allay any worries that it may not be worth a weekend of your time please read my post on what you can expect there because (spoiler alert) it was ace.
We’ve sponsored Open Data Camp since it started and we’re happy to be sponsoring again. See you there!
Local government seems to be in a perpetual state of competition – while the most efficient use of resources would be to collaborate. So how could open data help facilitate that?
One attendee talked about formalised co-ordination roles. There have been some pockets of good stuff: the Cabinet Office nominated over a dozen councils as their open data champions, with some mixed results. Redbridge’s data sharing platform DataShare, part funded by the LGA, seems to be well-liked by those who have used it. Some other user authorities are using it – but it’s often not as well implemented as the Redbridge implementation.
There used to be a strategy board and an open data user group, and many other groups steering open data at the policy level. But most of these have now gone away. The one that seems to have survived in the Data Steering Group – but that has a wide range of interests – and we don’t know how interested they are in open data. Other groups seem to have evaporated. None of them have met since 2013/14.
Some sector boards still seem to be in effect. Should these surviving groups be steered from inside or outside government? There are some clearly missing. There’s a good pool of practitioners – but how do people outside the community find out about open data now? And how do we push for more release?
An expert panel session at Open Data Camp 3 turned out to be less of a Q&A on the minutiae of data sets and their use than a passionate debate about the direction that the open data movement is taking.
There was concern that after much excitement – even hype – about the impact that simply releasing data sets could have, disillusion was setting in as decision making processes remained unchanged and communities remained unaware of the information sources available to them – and the impact this could have. The debate concluded with some passionate calls to make it easier to uncover data and to make it less ‘scary’, so that more people could use it.