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With the publication of the Digital Britain report, the government has committed to making its data more available in a reusable format. Some local authorities are also following suit, with a few councils already making moves to open up their data. I'll be talking about my approach to open data at Lichfield District Council

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  • I've added the audio track to this presentation now, it cuts out after 18 minutes or so, but most of the presentation is there!

    For fun, why not count the amount of times I say 'um' and 'er'?
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  • The internet, whilst being accessible to people is mainly a system for presenting information. While machines know what type of information is on a web page, they don't necessarily know what the information is Open data essentially makes web based information accessible to machines, as well as people.
  • Here's a standard web page As I mentioned before, machines know how to present the data, but they can't tell the difference between what is an address (for example) and what is a political party or telephone number. This makes it very difficult to get the data from a web page to any other system (without a lot of work from developers)
  • This is the same information presented as XML It's standardised, so machines can read it very easily and there is less work involved on the part of developers.
  • Data can then be reused as in this example – openly local Information is shown in a simple, clear format, with other council's information in the same format – much of it gained through screen scraping.
  • Up until now, most online public sector information has been gained through a method known as screen scraping Used by openly local, planning alerts and they work for you However, it is time consuming Has to be replicated for every single council When a site is redesigned (even if there's a tiny change) there's a risk that something might break.
  • Twitterplan uses data provided in a standard format by PlanningAlerts Sends a direct message on Twitter to users whenever a planning application is lodged in their area Because it uses standard data, which is easy to work with, it took me two days to build – if I had to get the data from council websites myself it would take a lot longer However, due to the actions of the Royal Mail, this service is currently suspended.
  • At LDC, I was inspired by the work of dedicated volunteers, and wanted to open up our data We've taken a 'steady as she goes' approach, releasing data in a piecemeal fashion, working with developers in the community and finding out what they want We've also been identifying quick wins, if someone wants a new system, we make sure open data is built in. Also if there's data that's easy to open, such as leisure centre or park locations (as KML files), that goes in too
  • So far we've released the following data: RSS feeds (yup, that's open data too!) - news articles, comments etc Some planning data has also been released, but we're limited due to OS licensing issues We also have an extensive Food Safety inspections API, which is shared by much of the councils across Staffordshire (and one in Derbyshire too!) We also have KML (Google Earth) files of locations across the district, these are hand plotted using my iPhone, so not OS derived
  • I've gone through the hows, but what about the whys? Why should we lofty public sector folk give our data to the public? For a start, it allows us to engage with a different type of audience, opening data gives us access to a typically younger, digitally switched on audience, not just the curtain twitching nimby type Also, when we release data, communities build up around data, making engagement a many to many arrangement – good example is BCCDIY It gives people the opportunity to build cool stuff with our data – stuff we either wouldn't have thought of or don't have time to do. And if it doesn't work, we've lost nothing – to paraphrase Clay Skirky, we get 'Failure for Free'
  • It's also going to happen anyway, you've already seen the Guardian's open data platform, now central government are getting in on the act
  • However, there are some barriers, licensing is one, sometimes we can't share all the data we want to because of licensing restrictions. There's also a lack of awareness amongst senior management, which means there's noone pushing for data to be opened There's also a lot of fear about open data, it's a brave new world and a lot of people are used to 'data hugging' – keeping their data close and using it as power Suppliers don't seem to have got on the open data train yet, there's currently no offering that allows online systems to be opened easily Some web teams don't have a technical resource, and without suppliers offering systems, they just don't have the knowledge
  • I didn't want to end of a negative note, so here's a few words about the future, which will be linked data. Linked data, put simply, allows web pages to be read by machines and people – it also links different types of data across the web, for example census data could be linked with omnibus survey results It's championed by Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, and advisor to the government Government are already using it for some datasets I've yet to get my head around it!!
  • Opendata

    1. 1. A local authority approach to Stuart Harrison information sharing Lichfield District Council suzannelong
    2. 2. What is open data? Web pages make sense to people They don't make sense to machines Information should be accessible to machines as well as people
    3. 3. A standard webpage Information is unstructured Difficult to export into different systems without human interaction
    4. 4. XML Structured information Easy to take from one system and put into another
    5. 6. Screen scraping Used by sites like OpenlyLocal, Planning Alerts etc Duplication of effort Risk of things breaking Time consuming Auntie P
    6. 7. Twitterplan Uses data provided by PlanningAlerts Sends direct message to user With standard data – took 2 days to build As of Monday – currently suspended :(
    7. 8. Lichfield District Council's approach 'Steady as she goes' Listen to the community and find out what they want Find quick wins
    8. 10. RSS Feeds *Some* planning data Food Safety inspections Local facilities and attractions If it's in an online database – we'll add it!
    9. 11. Easy ways to open data Allow me to demonstrate...
    10. 12. Why open data? Allows us to engage with different audience Makes engagement a 'many to many' arrangement 'Failure for free' It's going to happen anyway
    11. 14. What are the barriers? Licensing (Ordnance Survey in particular) Lack of awareness Lack of technical knowledge in web teams Lack of interest from suppliers Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt
    12. 15. The future Two words: Linked Data Links different types of data across the wider web Championed by Tim Berners-Lee Allows web pages to be read by machines and people Already being used by central government
    13. 16. Thank you Stuart Harrison [email_address] 01543 308779
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