The local revolution is getting closer

Open data could soon make the UK ‘FOI redundant’. More an objective than a bold claim, local authorities can open up their organisations by opening up their data, making it available to armchair auditors and app builders alike. Not only does this help improve transparency but it can also help foster relations between governments and communities. In a summary of transparency events held by the LGA, Dr Gesche Schmid said that ‘open data is not only about accountability and transparency to hold councils to account but much more to help the switch from government providing public services to more citizen, community and business based activities.’

Beyond the benefit to local authorities, there’s an advantage to the public having access to open data too. App developers – also known as ‘makers’ – can use open data to build innovative solutions to public problems as well as useful applications that could lower the cost of services. The Great British Public Toilet Map is one such application that councils could adapt or licence for the benefit of their citizens. But information is not simply limited to where a toilet is located; by using other data from a similar location, it’s possible to find toilets by all sorts of secondary dimensions: toilets in low crime areas, servicing several fast food outlets or any such idea for which a dataset (and location data) exists.

One must acknowledge the challenges to making open data reliable and useful, though. Chris Applegate, developer of @WhensMyBus, identified a few conclusions about wrangling with open data when developing his other public transport Twitter bot, @WhensMyTube.

  1. Open data is not the same as useful data If it’s badly-annotated, or incomplete, then an open data project is not as useful. Releasing an API to the public is a great thing, but please don’t just leave it at that; make sure the data is as clean as possible, and updates are made to it when needed.
  2. Open documentation is as important as open data It’s great having that data, but unless there’s documentation in an open format on how that data should be interpreted & parsed, it’s a struggle. All the features should be documented and all possible data values provided.

The local government open data incentive scheme aims to address that by making it easy for local authorities to structure and release their data. From early July 2014, participating councils will be eligible to receive monetary rewards for submitting schema-compliant data in a programme managed by the LGA and supported by the Release of Data and Breakthrough funds. The three datasets which are funded under this initiative are:

  • public conveniences,
  • planning applications, and
  • licensing (focusing in this first instance on alcohol/light entertainment premises).

For more information and support, book a place at the free-to-attend launch events occurring across the country in early July.

posted by esd support on 23rd June 2014

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