In October this year a group of like-minded folks will be meeting at Queen’s University in Belfast to chat about open data. They will be doing so under the banner of Open Data Camp, an unconference for those interested in making information from a wide range of sources “open”.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of an unconference, it is a format based more around peer-to-peer learning, creativity and collaboration.
In the context of this unconference, open can mean many things. In the depths of the technicalities of machine readable serialisation, the legality of data reuse, or how to convince your boss that making information available in only PDFs tends to be, shall we say, sub-optimal.
The reason I am writing this post here on @onsdigital is because I am pleased to say we are sponsoring Open Data Camp. We get asked to be involved in a lot of different conferences, but are not able to say yes to many, so I wanted to write a little about why this one is important to us and what we hope to gain from the weekend.
Primarily, we do this because we care about this community hugely and want to help ensure events like this can be financially viable. We also do it because ONS data being open is important if we are to ensure the greatest possible social and economic benefits for the public.
As part of this, Tim suggests:
“What you find if you deal with people in government departments is that they hug their database, hold it really close, so that they can build a beautiful website to present it.
I would like to suggest: sure, make a beautiful website, but first, give us – all of us – the unadulterated data. We have to ask for raw data now.”
I still regard this as pretty much the most important statement anyone has made about what the digital relationship between the citizen and the state is and what it could be.
Here at ONS we have been thinking about this a lot, have done some things that hopefully start us in the right direction for opening things up and know we have an awful lot more ground to cover.
We started with defining (with the help of Leigh Dodds) some open data publishing principles.
We are using these to inform the work we are currently doing on a project we are referring to as “Customise My Data”. This is a project to make some fairly fundamental changes to the way we publish data. The goals are to ensure that we move away from being an organisation that publishes excel and into one that publishes a consistent backbone of data, that allows users to breakdown our data into smaller parts and enables machine readable access to statistics (not spreadsheets)
I am hoping to pitch a session at open data camp around how we can make the data we publish through this system as open as possible and as useful for our users as we can make it.
A few final tickets for the event are going to be made available soon (it is free to attend) and I look forward to having some interesting conversations with those of you I get to meet over the weekend.
If you are unable to attend, but are interested in offering feedback on the work we are doing around open data at ONS, please get in touch with me directly, or register your interest to take part in the user research we are undertaking. We have upcoming sessions in London, Sheffield and Liverpool.