Oxfordshire: open & interactive

[Summary: A local post about open data, interactive working and social media in Oxford & Oxfordshire – and some rough ideas for making stuff happen…]

There’s not all that much open data published by local authorities in Oxfordshire right now, and whilst there are some great pockets of social media use, and digital technology projects across the different local authorities in the County, online interactivity from councillors, digital engagement from local councils, and hyperlocal community websites seem pretty sparse round here. We’ve got some great geek gatherings and social media meets, but not much that I can find in the way of social media surgery type activities.

But, having met with quite a few people from different local authorities across the County in the last month  it seems clear that there is real potential for more online engagement and open working in Oxfordshire, just some gaps in the knowledge, networks and catalysts to make things happen.

Which got me wondering about how the knowledge, networks and catalysts could be brought together. What would help…

  • …local authorities in Oxfordshire to understand, explore and release more open data;
  • …local authorities and community groups to get the most out of social media and interactive technology;
  • …turn Oxfordshire from a bit of a laggard in the worlds of open data and online interactivity, into a leading light…

And I realised: I’m not sure. But, here’s two modest proposals:

  • An informal gathering some time in September of people interested in catalysing more online engagement and open data action in the county to explore possibilities. Could we set up a regular social media surgery? What about some hack-days with local open data? Or should we head out a build a better directory of the hyperlocal websites across Oxford? Interested? Let me know in the comments below – and suggest when might be a good time on this Doodle and I’ll try and find a suitable venue… (offers of venues welcome…)
  • Running a half-day event for Oxfordshire local authorities sometime in the Autumn to provide an introduction to open data; social media and ideas for more interactive ways of working. Sometime to be discussed at an informal gathering perhaps – but I’d also be interested to hear direct from anyone in Oxfordshire Councils about whether this would be useful / what would be most useful…. drop me an e-mail if you work with an Oxfordshire LA and you would be interested; or if you work with open data / social media locally and might be interested in helping organise something.

What do you think? If there is interest then I’d be up for spending a bit of time helping make something happen…

Of course – this may all already be happening? Or it might have been tried before? So comments / ideas on stuff already going / criticism / alternative ideas etc. welcome too…

Open data requires responsible reporting…

[Summary: Some initial reflections on the release and reporting of COINS government spending data]

The last week has seen big moves in the opening up of Government data, with the release today of the COINS database of government spending.

Since it was released at 9.30 this morning there has been buzz of activity trying to clean the raw data up into usable forms (see the Open Knowledge Foundation and Guardian interfaces to exploring the COINS data) and I think it’s certainly fair to say that the race to create ways to explore the data has generated some impressive results – leading to tools beyond what may have been created by an internal government process to present the same data in user-friendly forms. We’re learning a lot right now about the potential of crowd-sourced collaborations between government and other groups. And thanks to the development of good ways to explore the data, it is already providing the basis for news stories on government spending… and this is where we’ve still got a lot to learn.

Responsible Reporting

Neither the Guardian (disappointingly), nor the Daily Mail (unsurprisingly), in reporting that government spend £1.8bn on consultants last year, give an account of how this figure was derived. Transparency can’t be for government alone.

It does not seem to be too much to ask that the reports give an account of how this data was derived, given they can very easily link to the raw data itself. The £1.8bn Consultancy Spend story is interesting. But without knowing what categories of codes from COINS were used to generate that figure – I’ve no way of using the transparency of the government data to explore that finding more for myself.

Interestingly, this may also fall foul of the terms under which the data is available: ‘Crown Copyright with Data.gov.uk Rights‘. This requires attribution of the data ‘in the form the data provider specifies, or otherwise “Contains [insert name of Data Provider] data © Crown copyright and database right” and requires that users “do not misrepresent the Data or its source”.

As government develops new conventions for transparency – it would be good to see new conventions from mediators between data and the public too. Perhaps data.gov.uk should be clearer about attribution – and suggest that attribution should involve a clear link back to the dataset. If that was combined with some of the points Paul Clarke noted (and my comment on that post picks up on) around improving the user-friendly nature of data-stores, then simple steps might move us closer to ensuring transparency builds effective public debate – weaving data into the information.

Transparency in government means more than just chance for government. And that’s important for advocates of open data and an open society not to loose sight of…

Have you explored open government data?

If you’ve looked at any sites such as Data.gov.uk or the London Datastore website, where you can browse and access datasets recently released by government, then I need your help.

As part of my MSc dissertation research I’m carrying out a survey into the use of open government data.

If you can spare 10 or 15 minutes to respond, then please do take a look here.

(Oh, and there is a draw for one of four £25 Amazon vouchers as a way of thanking contributors to the survey…)

And if you’re interested in the wider research, I’m blogging that over on the Open Data Impacts project blog.

Where is DFID spending money on youth, and other interesting project data mash-ups

I was down in London again on Saturday for the AID Information Challenge – another data-focussed event, but this time looking at International Development Data.

One of the main datasets we had to work with was the DFID Projects Database – a list of all the different development projects the Department for International Development has been funding over recent years, and has funding committed to in the future. Given I’ve recently finished getting the DFID funded ‘Youth Participation in Development‘ guide online, I initially thought I would explore how to link project data to the case studies in that guide. However, I soon found myself joining in with a team of others who were trying to visualise the projects dataset in more general ways.

The result: a faceted browsing mash-up using the fantastic Exhibit framework – turning this into this.

The faceted browser means that you can select different countries (only by their country code at the moment), years, funding types or funding programmes and explore the different project funding DFID has been giving out to these.

Click through to the Map view, and where funding went to a specific country you’ll be able to see a map of where the funds were distributed. (A lot of funding goes to regions or is non-specific geographically – at the moment this just display under the ‘could not be plotted’ above the map).

Even though I didn’t work directly with the Youth Participation in Development Guide, down at the bottom of the list of facets you will find one to help explore youth-related funding: you can pull out all the projects which include ‘Youth’ or ‘Young People’ in their project titles or descriptions.

Thanks to the Publish What You Fund and Open Knowledge Foundation teams for organising the day 🙂