On Monday the Local Public Data Panel held a workshop in Birmingham with local council officers, bloggers and activists to address the challenges of releasing local data for anyone to use.
The aim of the workshop was ‘to generate ideas and understanding about what is needed to drive the local public data initiative at a local level’.
When people get their hands on raw data they can develop tools and services that the custodians of that data either don’t have the time and skills to do or would never have dreamed of anyway. DayNurseriesUK, for example, has built a tool for people to find full-day child care, and Adrian Short has built a tool for people in Sutton find their election candidates.
Releasing data also enables members of the public to point out errors, such as an incorrectly mapped bus stop, which – if fed back effectively – enriches that data to the benefit of society. Although there will always be people who want to point the finger, it creates a wonderful opportunity for citizens and state to work collaboratively on issues of social concern.
Obstacles though are complex and numerous: risk aversion, personal agendas (such as job retention), concerns about quality control and fear of how the data might be used are just some of the challenges that need addressing. But challenges they are, and everyone on Monday seemed more than happy to confront them.
By the end of the day we had come up with a list of things we think are needed (this list is from my personal notes and not the official record of the meeting):
- Data disclaimer for everyone to use;
- Clarity and guidance on the release of data;
- More clarity on ‘derived data’ (what it is, etc);
- Repeats of this sort of workshop event;
- Business case;
- Stories of good stuff being done, that everyone can relate to, and presented accessibly;
- Research on usage and numbers;
- Budgetry incentives;
- New legislation, or better use of existing legislation, to encourage the opening up of data;
- Untangling of overlapping and seemingly contradictory legislation;
- A statutory right to data.
I have set up a blog for those involved to collaborate on this work: http://localdata.citizenshipfoundation.org.uk.