Open Data and Local Governments

Richard Wallis (at lower left) presents a map of the open data systems available now. The next version of this chart will likely fill up an entire page!

I sat in on a session of the track on exploiting linked and open data.

Richard Wallis, Technology Evangelist, Talis, UK began with a presentation entitled “Demystifying open and linked data”, which reviewed government open data projects.   Governments have taken the lead in opening their data and linking it together.  For example, the UK government’s data site, appeared early on.  OpenlyLocal aggregates data from local governments.

The first step in opening data is to collect it and get it into an application.   The collection activity is frequently spurred by directives from government ministers to open the data.  Formatting and preparation may involve considerable effort because of varying data formats.  Talis is helping local governments in this effort and provides a “toolkit” which helps them to open their data.  It provides data aggregation, ontology creation, and visualization tools and others, all constructed from open source software.

Chris Taggart, developer of OpenlyLocal, has been opening up local government information since 2009; OpenlyLocal now has data from150 councils.  He wondered if we still need to answer the question, “Why open data?” and concluded that we do because all aspects of our lives are affected by data, and we need information when we want it, where, and in the format in which we want it.  A data democracy allows people to look at the same data and arrive at different perspectives on it.  Open data is relevance, and by opening up their data governments increase their relevance.  Users bring a fresh approach to the data.  But what if nobody uses the data?  This is inevitable for some data, but even this is a useful feedback mechanism.

Taggart discussed several problems with open data, including proprietary data, messy data, perceived threats by producers, and personal information in data sets (probably the most difficult problem).

Some lessons learned:

  • How you approach open data is critical.
  • Give people what they ask for.
  • As data moves to the web, it takes on the web’s characteristics: incremental change, connections, etc.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor

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