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 🙂