We hosted our first open data event in Colwyn Bay in July and our second in Ebbw Vale in September. A big thanks to everyone who attended. We got some good insight and positive feedback. Overall, I was impressed by just how much work was already going on in Wales and the appetite to really kick on and do more. There’s a real sense of momentum brewing.
I said it at our events, but since taking up the open data mantle at Data Cymru, one of the most intriguing challenges has come with our somewhat unique position within Wales. We’re an organisation involved in almost all aspects of data – we collect it from local authorities and other public bodies, we source it from data providers, we manage it in our internal systems, and we disseminate/share it through a plethora of tools. Put simply, we cover almost anything to do with data!
So, we’re in a great position to promote and make Wales a pioneering country in its use of open data. But to do so, we need to make sure our package of support is appropriate and well targeted.
Our events have really helped to clarify the challenges you face and the solutions we can offer.
So, what are the main challenges?
Making the business case
We’d previously heard a lot about how a business case can be made within public bodies by focusing on things such as Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. These can be time consuming and costly – why not just release the data in an open format? What we hadn’t considered is just how difficult it can be to quantify the time and money spent on releasing this information – both via FOIs and in open data formats. How can a business case be made to open data if the business efficiencies can’t be measured?
People can be fearful of putting data in the public domain – whether that be because of data protection concerns, a fear the press will run with potentially negative figures, or concerns about the quality/robustness of the data.
Releasing data can be tricky when service delivery teams, IT staff, and data analysts are often disconnected sitting in different ‘silos’ across a local authority. We know from experience that everyone needs to be involved in the process.
Many colleagues expressed concerns about the quality of internal data and the potential difficulty in comparing it with others. They felt that for many pieces of data, local authorities were probably doing things slightly differently to each other and so were unsure whether the data could be of use. We know from our own experience that it can take some time and work for datasets to become standardised and common across Wales.
The need to release data bilingually – especially with a good set of Welsh metadata can be a challenge.
Scaling up/doing things 22 times
And to add to all of this, we have 22 local authorities in Wales. It doesn’t make sense for all 22 to be doing the same things individually, for example translating names of data items… But on the other hand, some colleagues expressed their frustrations with previous attempts to work collaboratively and the challenges in ‘scaling up’ the open data agenda.
People had some great ideas, some of which correlated with our thinking and some which were fresh…
What can we offer?
An Open Data Hub
Many are calling for a central place to host open data for Wales. With 22 local authorities, it doesn’t make sense for each to create their own. Some authorities have told us ‘going it alone’ is not financially viable. Also, by bringing data together in one place, makes things a lot easier for users of open data – plus we can tackle many of the challenges we face collectively. We’re currently developing a spec for what such a Hub might look like and the features it’ll have. More details to follow!
Building the open data community
How do we reach the people who will do innovative things with open data? What do they want? Do we ask them “What data shall we release?” or do we adopt a “Build it and they will come” approach? This is a conversation we’ve heard again and again. We need to work with our networks to reach out to the private sector, citizen-activists, and academia… but we also need to recognise there is a community out there who will look at what data is available, have a ‘play’ with it, and produce great things.
Agreeing an initial open data dataset
There was a strong desire for us to work with local authorities to agree an initial all-Wales dataset to be released as ‘Open Data’. By doing this, Data Cymru could work with local authorities to create a high-quality fully bi-lingual standardised dataset quickly.
We recognise that when it comes to day to day work, some colleagues need help in understanding what open data is and what can be released. Outside of Wales, there are too many examples of shiny all singing and all dancing ‘Open Data Hubs’ which contain very little data. We’re working to create our own tools and adapt some used by the Open Data Institute (ODI) to help on this front.
So, what next? We’re hoping to keep the conversation going as we develop concrete proposals. We’ve created the Open Data Virtual Network to keep in touch with colleagues and to keep you up to date with what’s going on. The group is “open” so please get in touch if you’d like to be part of it. We’ll be sharing some of our ideas via this blog so keep an eye out for more details about the Open Data Hub as work progresses!
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