Local Government + Central Government + Open Data = Awesome

On the day before the #OKfest started in Berlin, a much lower profile meeting was taking place to discuss open data, but one which could potentially have a significant impact on open data in the UK. Arranged by the Cabinet Office and hosted by Impact Hub Westminster, in the shadow of Nelson’s Column, a group of open data people came together from around the UK to see if we can work together. (SPOILER ALERT: we can!)

So two hours were put aside for us to have a series of lightning talks from each of the areas represented, then a discussion about next steps – how we can work together, and what support we can leverage from the Cabinet Office.

Paul Maltby, Director of Transparency and Innovation at the Cabinet Office kicked us off, with a welcome, and reassertion that Cabinet Office is committed to securing release of Open data sets across central government.

Then the lightning talks began. One thing to note, as a general rule, is that the people who are responsible for open data tend to be passionate about what they do, and are proud of what they have achieved. As such, to try and constrain us to 5 minutes is going to be a challenge.

Mark Barrett opened up, talking about the Leeds Data Mill – an excellent example of how one person, at arms length, can get things done. Leeds have gone from zero to the biggest publisher of datasets on data.gov.uk in 150 days.

Lucy Knight, of Devon, was up next, with the often heard ‘I’m the open data lead because no-one else wanted it’, and talked about relationships, and the associated challenges.

Next was me, with half Intelligence and Innovation Lab, and half open data in Greater Manchester / gmdsp / datagm.

There was a flurry of further talks, each one going over the 5 minutes.

Carlos Somohano (Westminster / London Data Scientists Data Science London – has brought together a load (187) of data scientists, released 26 street-level datasets as part of the Urban Data Hack project)

Clive Davis (Redbridge – has a chief exec who properly gets open data, developed DataShare, which we are looking to try out in Trafford)

Mark Braggins (Hampshire – developing the Hampshire hub, released open aerial photography imagery, doesn’t like the fact that emphasis is on cities (hear hear!))

Paul Wilson (Bristol – another whose chief exec is well on board with open data, two type of data: confidential and open, i-beacons)

Hendrik Grothuis (Cambridgeshire – developed their own drupal site, implemented DKAN, lots of housing stuff)

Heike Schuster-James (Birmingham – early on in journey, digital, not IT, developing a data portal)

Colin Birchenall ( Glasgow – future city, internet of things, smart traffic lights)

Giles Gibson (Lambeth – developing an open source data visualisation platform)

Following these excellent talks, there was only five or so minutes before everyone had to retreat back to various corners of the UK, so Jemma and Paul neatly summed up, proposing that this should be set up at the very least as a virtual network. Romina Ahmad – data.gov.uk developer lead (?) indicated she could set up a private forum on data.gov.uk. We were all agreed that we need to develop this relationship, and keep the network going as a means to drive forward the open data agenda in the UK.

Heather Savory, Chair of the Open Data User Group, spoke of their role, and how that can support us in releasing data, as well as working to overcome some of the licensing issues that we have, such as those experienced by anyone trying to release spatial data / land data (re: ordnance survey / land registry)

The Local Government Association were there, and we spoke a little about the incentivised datasets (licencing, toilets and planning), and that the LGA are willing to support LAs with open data release.

Steve Peters, of the Department for Communities and Local Government mentioned the local public data panel, and the fact that DCLG, through open data communities, has money and resources available.

Finally, there was a man from the connected digital economy catapult, who we already work with through GMDSP, who wants to work with (ie – fund) more parts of the UK.

As a group, we spoke of road shows, where the open data circus could visit different parts of the country, of thematic data dives, of standards, schema and baking open data requirements into the procurement of new IT systems.

On the way back to the tube, Mark Barratt, Colin Birchenall and I had the first tentative discussion about how a thematic data dive would work. More to come on this, I suspect…

So what do I take away?

I do not think we should underestimate what was achieved today – a meeting between the most progressive local government open data practitioners in the country, the Cabinet Office, the Local Government Association, the Open Data User Group, and Open Data Communities is no small feat to arrange, so thanks to Jemma for that. But it also shows the willingness of everyone to make it work, and a group as committed and capable as that, however informal, is well-equipped to move open data forward.

Mostly, though, it was just really good to meet my twitter timeline in real life…

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