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.

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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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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.

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 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

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.

In preparation for the upcoming Creation and Innovation Weekend of the Open Data Institute’s first Immersion Programme on Crime and Justice I’ve been pulling together some links to relevant open data resources.

GIF image that says

Ministry of Justice’s Open justice logo does a lot of the fine grained curation and linking already, of course and will often provide links to relevant datasets published by UK public sector organisations.

Then, within the scope of our Crime and Justice Series, the following links may also be interesting.

Crime and Justice Data

The Ministry of Justice maintains a page linking to it’s statistical resources, along with a publication schedule that looks forward 12 months. The Home Office publish the Police’s recorded crime as open data, which some people might be interested in comparing against  the British Crime Survey. And there is also Police UK’s API that “”allows you to retrieve information about neighbourhood areas in all 43 English & Welsh police forces and for the Police Service of Northern Ireland””

People who don’t mind the challenge of scraping PDF documents might also be interested in the data behind IPSOS Mori’s recent survey showing that concern about crime is at a 20 year low.Continue reading

I’ve been writing a bit recently about the Open Data Institute’s first Immersion Programme on Crime and Justice. Part of my role as series lead is to advocate for datasets to be released by government on behalf of the participants. This post is calling for requests for the datasets that people want to be made openly available.

Open Data Institute logo

Open Data Institute logo

We’ve had a good response to participation so far. The conversations that we’ve had have included some very specific requests, such as the location of all the police stations in the UK, which isn’t yet available.

The location of stations can be very important when crime mapping and especially when looking at the prevalence of crime . For a variety of reasons some crimes are geo-located at the local police station. If you can’t allow for this then your mapping can make it look as though there is a mini crime wave around police stations.

Will Perrin has written about a proposed Transparency Charter for open justice. He listed the following data that he is interested in seeing published openly:Continue reading

Over the past few months myself and Mike Cummins, as part of our nascent co-operative set-up, have been working with Gateway Family Services building a system to help them demonstrate the impact of their work with pregnant women. Gateway have a Pregnancy Outreach Worker project which works with women who have “indicators of social risk”.


This means that their living circumstances are such – they may have substance addiction(s), be living in temporary accommodation or newly arrived in the country, for example – that their pregnancy is in particular risk of having a poor outcome.

Pregnancy outreach workers (POWs) support pregnant women during their pregnancy, help them attend clinical appointments and aim for them to be more independent upon leaving the service. Often they will help them with access to another service and will hand them over to them when their POWs support finishes.

We’ve looked at a number of the different frameworks that organisations use when they are commissioning public health services that relate to pregnancy and maternity. From those we have created a system where a service provider, such as Gateway, can enter their summary data once, but can then publish it against any one of a number of the relevant frameworks.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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