Open Data, ALGIM 2010

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Presentation on open data to the Association for Local Government IT Managers in New Zealand, 23 Nov 2010. Covers examples of open data applications, and what they in local government IT can be doing.

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Open Data, ALGIM 2010

  1. 1. Open Data Nat Torkington Open New Zealand ALGIM 2010 Hi, I’m Nat Torkington. I’ve done a lot of stuff in technology over the years, and started Open New Zealand a few years ago. We build things to improve citizen’s lives, and they just happen to use government data and services. Our people have helped DIA, DoC, and others as they come to grips with open government. Last year I talked about open government: government as a platform, using IT in the ways that worked for business, to transform government. This year, I want to start by showing you this app:
  2. 2. Wellibus
  3. 3. Routes
  4. 4. Select
  5. 5. $$$? You might ask how much this cost MetLink. iPhone developers are hot property, the skills aren’t common, apps have to be reviewed by Apple, ....
  6. 6. Nick Parfene It cost nothing. This guy wrote it. He’s a Wellingtonian, his girlfriend had been nagging him to give her the bus schedule on her mobile device.
  7. 7. Public Transit Data He did it using the Metlink Google Transit data feed. Metlink offer the data to Google so they can appear in Google’s maps. Nick piggybacked off that.
  8. 8. Actively used He has over 500 users every day.
  9. 9. This is FixMyStreet. People report local problems to the council through this web site. There’s an iPhone app. Some things to notice
  10. 10. On the home page it says how many are reported, fixed, and updated. An update is something like “work scheduled to start on Friday”. This shows people that things are actually happening.
  11. 11. People can submit photos of the problems. This shows the council what they have to deal with, before they roll out the team to fix the problem.
  12. 12. Maps let complainants pinpoint the location of a problem.
  13. 13. Hang on, don’t we already do that? I know what you’re thinking. Yes, you do -- and fixmystreet emails reports through to the council and posts updates when the council replies.
  14. 14. So why not use our sites? Well ...
  15. 15. Have you seen your sites? I couldn’t find Auckland’s “report a downed tree” page (who do I call?) and for graffiti I got sent to the various Rodney/Franklin/etc councils web sites. I’m sure if I looked I could find a council offering a PDF form to fax in.
  16. 16. But let’s reset. The purpose of this is not to beat up on your web sites. The single perpetual truth of web sites is that they are always shit. You can spend two hundred grand on a new website and next week you’ll be grumbling about how hard it is to find things and how nobody ever uses it.
  17. 17. So let’s not have that conversation. Instead, let’s look at what happened with FixMyStreet. Who built it? You don’t know. You probably haven’t talked to him. His name is Jonathan Hunt. He took the UK’s FixMyStreet and put in the hours customizing it for New Zealand.
  18. 18. $ The important thing here is that you didn’t hire him. But thanks to him, you now have a friendly front-end to your problem reporting, and you didn’t have to propose it, fight for the budget for it, argue about its design, go around endlessly about the branding of the home page, have to RFI RFP or perform any of the other sacrificial offerings it takes to make something happen in an organization. It just happened.
  19. 19. 1:There’s life outside the firewall That’s my first point: IT is generally an inward-facing operation at councils. But the services and data that the council collects, caretakes, and uses will have a life outside the council. It’s time to start thinking about how to engage with them. I’m not talking about the consulting shops that resell your geodata, I’m talking about people who will build things for your ratepayers.
  20. 20. Something else to notice: this doesn’t just cover your council, it covers all of them.
  21. 21. How many software developers does it take to change local government IT? I know, some of you are from smaller councils, councils that serve rural areas. How many software developers do you have? Probably not many. But because you all have the same interface (email), Jonathan was able to easily provide his service to all councils.
  22. 22. You won because you all provided the same interface. Let me just repeat that: you all won because you all provided the same interface.
  23. 23. Prereqs Jonathan’s using a digital conduit into your existing fault-reporting system: email. It’s low-fi, but it exists. Some projects have worked in situations where there wasn’t a digital conduit: WriteToThem in the UK gave you a way to send faxes to MPs from web pages (because MPs were mandated to respond to faxes but not emails) and they handled web-to-fax and faxed-reply-to-web conversion.
  24. 24. Conduits But it’s easier when those digital conduits exist. And email is just such a conduit. As you all know, though, email is a very low-fi conduit. There’s no structure so humans have to be involved in figuring out what to do with an email: is it a bounce? Is it selling me penis enlargers? Is there a well- specified address in there? Maps are a similar conduit: designed for humans, bastards to automate, and not a substitute for actually having the data in your hands.
  25. 25. APIs: Open311 Email is the most primitive standard API: it can be automated, but not very easily and certainly not very reliably. There is a sophisticated standard API for this sort of thing: the Open311 service. It’s heavily used in the US, and the benefits are scale and competition.
  26. 26. Benefit: Scale When you support a standard API like Open311, your service slots into applications that are already written. This means you don’t have to write your own problem reporting iPhone app, Android app, web site, or whatever. In fact,
  27. 27. Benefit: Competition there are lots of apps and web sites out there that speak Open311. Some serve different niches like blind people or cyclists or Facebook users. Some overlap: there’s more than one iPhone app, for example. These developers are competing to have the best apps, and again--you didn’t have to pay them anything.
  28. 28. 2: Standards are a force multiplier And that’s my second point: I think of standard APIs as a force multiplier: that is, you get a disproportionate effect by working together. You make things possible that would be impractical if you tackled them individually. As you experiment in this world of digital engagement, look for existing standards and work with other councils to implement them.
  29. 29. Data business != Open data Historically, councils have had data *businesses*. You sell ratings data to QV, you sell geo data to consultants. Do you think the Wellybus or FixMyStreet folks would have created this great resources for you if you had charged for the data? No. They’re not making money.
  30. 30. Who are you excluding? Now think about startups, companies trying to do new things: they don’t have money either. Small to medium business? They don’t tend to have a lot of money either.
  31. 31. Every charge represents a lost opportunity Every charge represents a lost opportunity for someone to do something innovative with your data. Either you’ll have to pay to get that service built, or it won’t be built at all (and so the public benefit will never be realised).
  32. 32. Lower the barrier to entry You probably have more barriers to entry than just the price. Do you have your own custom license for the data? Do you require manual authorisation? My cofounder, Glen Barnes, talks about the 2am test: if the developer is on a jag at 2am and thinks “oh wow, the council probably has that”, can they get it and keep coding? As he says, it’d be nice not to have to bother a human to find out whether my idea is the next Google or just destined for the gurgler.
  33. 33. Ecommerce sites like Amazon talk about “the funnel”. At the very wide end of the funnel, there’s everyone who visits your site. As they click around, add things to their cart, go through the checkout process, and pay, people drop out. Not everyone who adds stuff to the cart will go on to buy those things. The funnel narrows. You have a funnel, too: how many people come to your site, look at your license and say “shit, it’s not worth hiring a lawyer to see whether I can do this”, or look at your prices and say “no way can I pay that without customers”, or look at your signup form and say “manual approval? Tomorrow? I have to fax in ID? What is this, 1988?” If you want apps and services that you didn’t have to build to come out the other end of the funnel, you have to make it as broad as you can.
  34. 34. ... than never to have loved at all I LGOIMA’d a large now-Supercity council recently to see how much they charged for some useful geodata, compared to how much they made for it. They were making bugger all, less than $50k.
  35. 35. Lost Opportunities It’s natural to look at someone getting rich from your data and to say “bastards, I should have a piece of that!”. It’s much weirder to erect pricey barriers to prevent freeloaders from getting rich off your data, and in doing so prevent darn near every use of it. You’re probably used to looking at lost income opportunities. I want you to start thinking about lost service opportunities. How many things weren’t built, simply because you were afraid that someone, somewhere, might successfully add value using your data? For fuck’s sake.
  36. 36. 3. Open should be open to all That’s rule 3: open should be open to all. Don’t let the fear of a successful business delivering services based on your district (which makes that district more useful and desirable!) prevent many more good things from happening.
  37. 37. Wish List It might sound a bit vague and theoretical. “Sure,” you say, “but I have tons of data and services that nobody cares about.” You might be surprised about who cares for those data and services, but let’s leave that alone. For now, I can name three things that people outside your organization care about and want to hack with.
  38. 38. 1. FixMyStreet You can integrate with FixMyStreet above and beyond the level of email. Open311 gets you into heaps of apps and web services. We can help.
  39. 39. 2. Rates First, the rating information that QV has access to. Companies like Zoodle want access to it. Many NGOs and citizen groups also want that information. The pricing and availability of this information vary ridiculously from district to district, and it remains well beyond the reach of a startup or SME adding new features. I would love to see a common low price for this information, preferably free.
  40. 40. 3. Restaurant Inspections And finally, the health reports on restaurants. You inspect them, and most of you don’t even publish the results. Some do, via nasty ass web forms or PDF tables. Give us the data so we know where it’s safe to eat. Just a csv file of the info that’s in that PDF file would be a good start.
  41. 41. 4.There are three things you can work on now
  42. 42. Key Points • There’s life outside the firewall • Standards are a force multiplier • Open should be open to all • Do three things this year • Talk to us at Open New Zealand So here are those key points again. (run through them)
  43. 43. gnat@open.org.nz enquiries@open.org.nz The top address is me, the bottom one is a group of three of us. We can help. I’m keen to talk to your mayors, or CEs, or any other group that needs convincing so you can make this happen. I know your ambitions are sometimes constrained by others, but I think we can work together to make this happen. Now it’s time for questions.

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