Open Data Conference - Stuart Harrison - Practical examples of use of Open Data


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Open Data Conference - Stuart Harrison - Practical examples of use of Open Data

  1. 1. Practical examples of use of open data Stuart Harrison - Webmaster, Lichfield District CouncilThursday, 20 September 12Hi,I’m Stuart Harrison and I’m web manager at Lichfield District Council, we were one of the firstlocal authorities to have our own open data section, and are heavy users of open dataourselves. On a personal level, I also run, a linked data API for UKpostcode data, and I am a contributor to
  2. 2. Lichfield District ✤ Small district council ✤ Responsible for waste, planning, environmental health and housing ✤ Population of just over 100,000 ✤ Two urban centres, Burntwood and Lichfield ✤ Mainly older population, but younger in urban centres ✤ Technically savvy, with a lively blogging sceneThursday, 20 September 12Lichfield is a small district council, with a county council that sits above it.We are responsible for things like waste, planning, environmental health, housing, tourismand more, while the county council take care of things like roads and schools.We have a population of just over 100,000 people, with most of it concentrated in the urbancentres of Burntwood and Lichfield. The rest of the district is rural.Our population is mainly older people, but younger in our urban centres. We also have a livelyblogging scene, with and being held up as primeexamples of hyperlocal blogs.
  3. 3. Our first Open Data projectThursday, 20 September 12Our first open data related project was - a website which lists thefood safety inspection results of restaurants and food businesses in the Staffordshire area.
  4. 4. Ratemyplace ✤ Food safety website ✤ Built inhouse for Staffordshire Councils ✤ Why not include an API? ✤ Inspired by Theyworkforyou, Fixmystreet etc ✤ ✤ Code also on Github at Council/RatemyplaceThursday, 20 September 12It was originally built after research by the Consumers Association in 2005 revealed thatalmost everybody (97 per cent) felt that they were entitled to know how their localrestaurants score for hygiene.The website was built entirely in house on behalf of 8 other district councils in Staffordshire.As there was potentially a lot of data that could easily be put into a structured format, I wasinspired by websites like and to offer anopen API, so anyone who wanted to reuse our data could do so quickly and easily.The site has recently been rebuilt in Ruby on Rails and the code is available for anyone toreuse on Github
  5. 5. The next step...Thursday, 20 September 12
  6. 6. ✤ Started identifying datasets we already publish on our website ✤ Put them on a webpage on our site ✤ Built open data into new projects ✤ Started working with other teams to identify other datasetsThursday, 20 September 12After building Ratemyplace, I became obsessed by Open Data, seeing potential for openingup data everywhere, so I built an open data page and began to add all the data I could find.The page gradually grew so long, I changed this into an open data portal, built in Wordpress.Every project I started work on, I automatically made sure I built open data into it.I also started working with teams in the council to identify other datasets
  7. 7. Working with Openly LocalThursday, 20 September 12Shortly after launching our open data portal, I became aware of, awebsite that aimed to bring together information about local councils and put it together inone place.
  8. 8. Openly Local ✤ Shows information about councillors, meetings alongside demographic information, police data, hyperlocal websites and spending data ✤ Started screen scraping information from council websites ✤ “Why don’t I give you the raw data?”Thursday, 20 September 12It shows information about local councillors, council meetings, as well as information aboutpopulation, the local police force, as well as local hyperlocal websites and spending data.As not many councils at the time had open data or APIs, most of this work was carried out byscreen scraping the information from council websites.I decided an easier way was to offer the raw data directly to Chris Taggart, who runs the site.
  9. 9. A consumer, as well as a providerThursday, 20 September 12As well as releasing open data, we also consume it on the ‘My Area’ section of our website,which allows people to find out information on their property by entering their post code.
  10. 10. Ordnance Survey (Ward outlines and Parish council) (Crime data and local police stations) Openly Local (County Councillors)TheyWorkForYou (Local M.P.) (Local health services) (Schools) FixMyStreet (Local Problems)Thursday, 20 September 12This is an old version of My Area, but it’s an easy way of showing examples of some of thedata we use. You can see the latest version at
  11. 11. Spending data ✤ English Councils were asked to publish all their spend over £500 ✤ Formats weren’t mandated ✤ Although efforts were made by by the Local Government Association ✤ Data isn’t usable across the boardThursday, 20 September 12Recently, all councils in England were asked by the government to publish information abouteverything they spend over £500.Standards and formats weren’t mandated, so some councils published their data in Excel,others in CSV, others in XML. Some councils even just put PDFs on their site. The sorts ofinformation released also varied wildly.This mean that data isn’t easily usable across the board, as there has to be some sort ofhuman intervention to decide what means what.
  12. 12., 20 September 12We decided to take the approach of making the data human readable, as well as machinereadable, so as well as having our data in XML, JSON, CSV and RDF, we also published thedata on a website, following RESTful principles, so each piece of data has a web address, andthe data can be retrieved by simply adding a suffix to the web address (json, xml, csv or rdf)
  13. 13. Why open data? ✤ Reputation ✤ Cuts down on enquiries ✤ Streamlines internal processes and makes your data better ✤ Giving data to citizens means they can build their own tools ✤ Business models from data help drive the economy (and tax revenue!)Thursday, 20 September 12So, to conclude, why publish open data?Government is looking increasingly distant and out of touch - engaging with citizens on theirterms and opening up information builds trust - shows that your organisation has nothing tohideIf people can find the information they want online, it cuts down on enquiries and freedom ofinformation requestsIf you publish data openly, you’re more likely to want to make it usable and sensible, whichmeans messy data will be cleaned up and more usable for internal users tooGiving data to the public can also mean that people can build their own tools, mash it up withother datasets and give use cases you might not have thought of yourself.If these tools have business models, then it could create jobs and help drive the economy(and also contribute to tax revenue too!)
  14. 14. Stuart Harrison 01543 308779 @pezholio All the sites / webpages I talked about are available on Delicious:, 20 September 12