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.

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.Continue reading

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?Continue reading

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.Continue reading

Last week I wrote about the Open Data Institute’s first Immersion Programme on Crime and Justice. I’m series lead for this and part of the role means that I’ll be both encouraging people to take part and supporting those that do.

Balance justice

As a recap, the challenges that we have set 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?

An obvious question to ask is why would somebody want to take part in the series?
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I’ve recently taken on a really interesting role working with the Open Data Institute. Over the next nine months I’ll be the series lead for their first Immersion Programme where we will be working with developers, data owners within and outside government and other interested parties to help establish some substantial and sustainable open data projects. This first programme has the theme of Crime and Justice.

Last Wednesday, 20th March, we kicked off with a day long session at the Open Data Institute where we discussed what three challenges should be set for participants in the programme. The day was arranged and co-hosted by Olivia Burnam from the ODI, who will continue supporting the programme when she returns to the Cabinet Office next month.

Open Data Institute logo

Open Data Institute logo

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This was the talk I did at Pecha Kucha Coventry in November last year. It might sound a slightly odd title for a talk that is all about open data, but I was keen to do the whole presentation without using the phrase “open data” once. This was because I was part of an evening that had a variety of different speakers, not all of whom were technical, so I really couldn’t assume any prior knowledge of what open data is from the audience.

I also think that using the phrase is often a way of excluding people from the discussion. This was a useful opportunity to prove to myself that it’s possible to talk about open data in a way that is easy to understand for people who don’t want to know anything about the technical details.

I think that’s pretty much most people.

So, here it is. It is essentially me talking about three projects I’ve been involved with: the Birmingham Civic Dashboard, AidView and some ongoing work I’m doing with Mike Cummins about secondary school admissions.

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I’m lucky enough to be involved in a number of events this month.

Chamberlain Forum logoOn the 15th November I’ll be going along, and probably talking, at the Chamberlain Forum‘s round table discussion on how open data and communication can help support a Co-operative Council. I’ve been involved in some work on open education data that I’ll be using as an example for that discussion.

The following Monday is our third HyperWM event. HyperWM is an unconference for local government in the West Midlands. As I write this there are still some tickets remaining but they might not be there for long. This year our hosts and sponsors are Sandwell Borough Council and we will be spending the afternoon at The Public in West Bromwich talking about how digital technologies can help us do things better in local government.

HyperWM logo

I really enjoy the spontaneous feel of an unconference, which is where the participants decide the agenda and pitch to run the sessions at the start of the event. It leads to a lot more enthusiasm about the subject matter and support for other people and their work. It proves that working life isn’t all about Apprentice-like competition, but is far more productive (and fun) when you work in collaboration with others.

Hello Culture logoLater that week I’ll be spending a couple of days attending Hello Culture. It’s one thing I’ve continued to be involved in since leaving Digital Birmingham, mainly because I’ve enjoyed the previous events so much. I also need to be there because I’ll be chairing the panel on digital and cultural collaborations. Come along and watch me ramble….

Also there at Hello Culture will be IC tomorrow, a Technology Strategy Board programme that “….stimulates innovation and economic growth in the digital sector, by breaking down barriers and opening doors for a new generation of entrepreneurs.”

There is an opportunity for 10 businesses to present at their ‘Meet The Innovators 3′ session which will be held on Wednesday November 21. It’s a chance to pitch an idea to a group of cultural organisations and also in front of the people running the IC Tomorrow programme. IC tomorrow Logo

Pitchers will also get to meet other people doing interesting digital work within culture and the arts. One organisation will also get a £5000 award to trial their idea with an organisation that IC Tomorrow will match them with.

Thursday 15th November ~ Chamberlain Forum Co-operative Councils ~ venue tbc
Monday 19th November ~ HyperWM ~ The Public, West Bromwich
Thursday 22nd November – Friday 23rd November ~ Hello Culture ~ Custard Factory

Since April I’ve been doing a few days a week working for aidinfo on the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). IATI provides an agreed open data standard to which organisations are publishing their aid data.

aidinfo are one of a number of supporters of the Development Data Challenge at The Guardian offices at the end of August. Co-ordinated by Mark Brough from Publish What You Fund, it promises to be a stimulating weekend of data wrangling and visualising.

Having spent the last few months getting up to speed on what people are doing in this area I’m really looking forward to seeing what people create over the two days.Continue reading

When the Cabinet Office released its white paper on open data last month I asked this question:

So, can I FOI Service Birmingham now?

This was because, while the Open Data white paper can be viewed as a continuation of policies which develop our right to open data, we are also going through a period where the organisations which provide public services are being dispersed, often out of the public sector itself.

Door and Knocker II Another of Barcelona's ubiquitous fancy doors, though this was more interesting than ornate. Image Copyright © 2007 Jeremiah Blatz

Whether it is privately owned health providers or social enterprises delivering local authority contracts, more and more of the organisations which hold and create the data produced in the course of public services are exempt from Freedom of Information legislation.Continue reading