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An Open Datastore In A Day

This Saturday is Open Data Day.

A photograph of Chris Morris on the set of the Day today

The Day Today BBC © 2014

Data describe the places where we live, work and play and it helps us to understand the world around us. You could be interested in local transport, health or education, our public services create data about all of them. Data can help you hold politicians to account, or it can tell you where the nearest public loo is.

In Birmingham we are holding an event at Birmingham City University where we are going to set up a West Midlands “Open DataStore In A Day”. The idea is quite simple. Over the day we will set up a website that can hold open datasets and publish what we can find to it. You don’t have to be a technical whizz to take part. Enthusiasm and curiosity are enough to make it worth your while coming along.

We’ll spend the day finding and collecting the data that people are interested in and we’ll put it all together in one place online, in the West Midlands Open Datastore. Once we’ve done that, it makes it all a lot easier to do something useful with.

If somebody can’t find the data that they are interested in then we will help them to write a Freedom Of Information request to ask for it. When those are answered we will add them to the Open Datastore.

I’m really pleased that Data Unlocked, the co-operative venture that I’ve recently helped to co-found, are providing the website for people to work on during the day, and that we will continue supporting it afterwards. We’ve helped to organise the day along with Open Mercia and RnROrganisation.

In Emer Coleman’s recent post about the City as a Platform she says that she has seen quotes of up to £200,000 for Data Platforms. We think that we can do a lot with some free open source software and the goodwill of people volunteering their time and skills.

We are using Ckan to host the West Midlands Open Datastore and are thankful to the Open Knowledge Foundation for providing this free, open source software for us to use. Thanks also to Birmingham City University, who are providing us with a room in their sparky new offices at Parkside.

Open Data Challenge – Celebration event – 5th February

This Wednesday Nesta are hosting the Pitch and Celebration Event for the Open Data Institute’s first challenge series, which focused on Crime and Justice. I’ll be going down to see which of the three finalists have won the grand prize of £40,000 and to hear a little more about the next two challenge areas: Education and Energy & The Environment.

Open Data Institute - Challenge Series - Crime and Justice

Open Data Institute – Challenge Series – Crime and Justice

I had a really enjoyable time working as Series Lead on the Crime and Justice series and am really thankful for the opportunity to work with both Nesta and the Open Data Institute. I think we did a good job of attracting a range of entries and the shortlisting, although difficult, resulted in the strongest projects going forward to the final. (more…)

FOI: Why is the answer still no?

Techkoji image from article on personal privacy

Techkoji image from article on personal privacy

I made a couple of Freedom Of Information requests towards the end of last year, using What Do They Know.

My first request asked Staffordshire and West Midlands Probation Trust for

any reports you have created or commissioned measuring the effectiveness of programmes you support to reduce re-offending

They very helpfully responded by placing a number of reports on their website and sending me the link to the page. There are some useful and intriguing reports on there. The reoffending analysis on the Anawin Project, who support “vulnerable women”  in Balsall Heath is particularly impressive, showing a statistically significant impact on reducing re-offending rates.

However, my second request for individual organisations’ data behind Arts Council England‘s

Regularly Funded Organisations: key data from the 2011/12 annual submission report

has been refused. This data provides information on the benefits brought through millions of pounds of funding to arts and cultural organisations around the country. It’s money that is derived through taxation and so I was a bit surprised when my request was refused, although Arts Council England were able to provide me with a list of the organisations that either didn’t complete their return, or sent it in late.

I asked for an internal review and although the reasoning was amended, the original refusal has been upheld.

(more…)

West Midlands Open Data Forum

The West Midlands Open Data Forum is an idea that has been initiated by Digital Birmingham. It has a mission

“To promote the release, re-use and integration of open data to benefit communities, businesses and public services in the West Midlands area.”

I was asked to join its steering group a few months ago and have attended three of its meetings so far. Here we have mostly been discussing the Terms of Reference for the group, commenting upon proposals for a Birmingham Open Data Platform and planning how the current steering group will support the new forum to host quarterly events that “bring together developer, activist, public authority, university, third sector and business communities over open data”

openDataWordlePhoto Credit: suzannelong via Compfight cc

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Birmingham School Finder Alpha

Myself and Mike Cummins have been doing some work looking at the Birmingham School Admissions procedure. Over the past year we’ve developed a tool that helps people find out more about the local authority’s schools, including showing the annual cut off distances.

Currently, these school cut off distances are typically provided by local authorities in paper documents or on the web in text formats such as pdf. This doesn’t make it easy for parents to get an overall view of the preferences they might choose. We hope our school finder tool, which allows you to put in a postcode and shows you the schools around you, is a step in the right direction.

Birmingham wide school catchment areas

Birmingham wide school cut off areas

With the applications for Birmingham Secondary Schools due in at the end of the month we think that now is the ideal time to make an alpha version of the tool available, which we’ve done today. This is a work in progress and the usual caveats apply. Please don’t use it as the only thing you base your decisions on, if you’re looking for a school place for your child.

There’s a feedback forum on UserEcho that we’ve set up for people to comment on the tool and suggest how we might develop it further.

We’re indebted to Caroline Beavon who worked very hard with us at the start of the project, had many of the good ideas and did a lot of the early data work.

Towards a National Information Infrastructure

There have been a lot of unpublished datasets appearing on the government’s open data portal over the past couple of months. This is part of the response to Stephan Shakespeare’s review of Public Sector Information.

In his review, Shakespeare recommended that the government identify what he referred to as National Core Reference Data. He defined this as being the high quality core data that the public sector maintains already and said that he would “expect to find the connective tissue of place and location, the administrative building blocks of registered legal entities, the details of land and property ownership” in this collection.

A day of Muni, according to NextBus

The government’s response has been to rename National Core Reference Data to the National Information Infrastructure. Rather than deciding which datasets should be part of that infrastructure themselves they have been releasing the details of unpublished datasets held within government on to data.gov.uk. (more…)

Open Data Challenge Series event – 12th-13th October

Bookings are open for people to attend the Crime and Justice Series hack weekend, known as the Creation and Innovation Weekend, which is being held at Nesta in London over the 12th-13th October. This is the competition weekend for the Crime and Justice Series part of the Open Data Challenge Series.

We’ve created a number of different tickets. People who want to participate can sign up for Individual Team Member tickets. This is for people who want to tackle one of the challenges set for the Crime and Justice Series, which are:

How can open data projects be constructed that achieve one of the following:

- increase community involvement with the criminal justice system?

- create further evidence for what are effective interventions for rehabilitation?

- address the rise in personal crime? (more…)

Transforming Rehabilitation: the open data opportunities

Changes are being made to how people convicted of criminal offences are given help towards their rehabilitation. Some of these changes are going to mean that data, and in particular open government data, have an important role to play. In this post I’m going to outline three of these opportunities, all of which could be addressed by projects that participate in the Open Data Challenge Series challenge:

How can an open data project create further evidence for what are effective interventions for rehabilitation?

The government’s Transforming Rehabilitation agenda proposes to extend rehabilitation services to a wider number of people. For example, from next year everybody sentenced to fewer than 12 months in custody will receive supervision and rehabilitation. It also seeks to open up a market in the provision of rehabilitation services.

The voluntary, community, social enterprise and private sectors provide services already but the intention is that they will provide more of them and also that they will be able to decide how they provide these, based on their ability to prove their success.

This means there will be an element of payment by results in the new system and I believe there are opportunities for open data projects here. (more…)

Open Data Challenge Series – Information Event – 28th August

I’ll be talking at this information event about the Open Data Challenge Series at Nesta (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) in a couple of weeks time on Wednesday 28th August.

Logo for Nesta (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts

Nesta logo

The Open Data Challenge Series is the new name for what was called the Immersion Programme and is being run jointly by The Open Data Institute and Nesta . They are competitions that pose challenges in seven different areas and explore how to use open data to address them. There is a grand prize of £40,000-£50,000 for the winning project in each theme.

The aim of the series is to help develop solutions that show they have potential to impact positively upon the challenge and also have a credible plan and market. I’m currently series lead for the first challenge, Crime and Justice, which I’ve previously blogged about on here. The other challenges soon to start up are themed around Energy & the Environment and Midata.

Logo of the Open Data Institute

The Open Data Institute logo

The Open Data Challenge Series offers a fantastic opportunity to get open data projects started or further developed, encourage further publication of open data and link developers with people in government. We’ve already had some successes in these areas.

As well as the presentations there will be some facilitated discussions around each of the themes, an opportunity to hear from the Nesta and ODI teams and also to meet other people interested in the programme.

Registration opens at 3.30pm with the event starting at 4pm followed by networking drinks after the finish at 6pm.

British Sign Language interpreters have been booked for the session and, for anybody who isn’t able to attend, we’ll be sharing media from it shortly afterwards.

SmartSpaces Survey

Can digital technologies help reduce energy usage in public buildings?

I’m back doing some work with my former colleagues at Digital Birmingham at the moment. I’m helping out on the SmartSpaces project, which is asking this very question.

Logo for the SmartSpaces EU project

SmartSpaces logo

I’ll blog about the project more as it goes along, but at the moment I’d like to encourage people to complete a brief survey that will help us to establish some baseline data.

So if you ever visit Birmingham Council House, the Museum and Art Gallery or the Margaret Street extension we have a survey that you can fill in. It genuinely, honestly only takes 10 minutes to complete and will help us to assess the impact of the project.

SmartSpaces is a three year, EU funded project that aims to use digital technologies, including smart metering to make significant energy saving in public buildings. Previously, I’ve worked on the DEHEMS project, which attempted to do similar work in people’s homes. It’ll be interesting to see how SmartSpaces compares to that. In particular how much more or less people feel they are able to control their energy usage.