The following article is an adaptation of one I wrote for my team’s internal blog at work.

Today I coined an acronym. PLODS – Public Linked Open Data Sets.

Anyone who does not understand why publishing open data is a good thing might benefit from watching this brief presentation: How to make the flowers bloom (or why Open Data is necessary but not enough to make a difference) before reading further.

You can also watch this 35min video from the data2.0 conference earlier this week: Why Open Data?

Last year Aberdeen City Council were the first Scottish Authority to publish Open Data. Since then we’ve added further data sets. Being the first meant that it got positive attention and led to the setting up of  a pilot project with the University of Aberdeen and Swirrl IT. That is now up and running and there will be more news of that soon.

Towards the end of 2010 I proposed to the rest of SOCITM’s regional committee that we host an “open and linked data day”, to explain what it is all about to the heads of ICT in Scotland. That day took place on 25th March in Stirling when I introduced two speakers. The first was Stuart Harrison, the hands-on and innovative webmaster of Lichfield District Council. While many authorities in the south have started publishing their spending data online after a push from Central Government, Lichfield started earlier and have gone much further than most. Stuart described what they’ve done and why it proved to be good for both the council, and its efficiency, and the citizen. He talked about using existing council data – and even using open data from other agencies to enhance their website. He told the audience about his approach and how it relates to hack days – and engaging with a wider developer community. You can see Stuart’s slides on slideshare.

The second speaker was Bill Roberts from Swirrl. Bill explained what Linked Data is and how it differs from Open Data. Bill made it clear that only two authorities in the UK are actively looking at Linked data at the moment: Aberdeen and Lichfield. He painted a picture of the ongoing pilot project, which is believed to be the first of its kind for any UK authority, explained what we’re seeking to do, what the benefits will be and what we aim to get out of it. He also explain what the next stages could be – how the broader Scottish local authority IT we might build on this authority’s work.

The Stirling event was well attended by around 27 senior ICT people from the public sector in Scotland and the presentations were well received and followed by intelligent questioning. As a result it looks like SOCITM Scotland will be working with the Scottish Government and a representative of the Improvement Service on what will probably be a set of guidance or best practice for the public sector in Scotland for Open and Linked Data.

Unconnected to this, on 26th March I attended a National Hack the Government Day (#NHTG11) at Aberdeen University. You can read more about that event here. This echoed the national #NHT11 day held in the Guardian’s HQ in London on the same day. This event was also hot on the heels of the Hacks and Hackers Glasgow day in Glasgow as reported on in Scraperwiki’s blog, which looks like it was extremely good fun and very productive.

All of these events had one thing in common: coders and developers from around the country coming together to do creative things based on government datasets. While we in the public sector may be able to do similar things, we frequently find that we have neither  the resources nor often the skills to do what we’d want to do. But as holders of data, to follow the analogy at the top of this page, we can at least provide the seeds. Incidentally if you are interested my first-hand account of the challenges presented by closed data, have a look at my recent experiences in this area.

Since the SOCITM day and #NHTG11 I’ve had a meeting with our neighbouring council. They, as we did last year, are about to unveil a number of data sets – and even more of it. We’ve agreed that there would be benefits in us linking our open data plans and approaches. As we established at the #NHTG11 day providing the same or similar data sets on both side of the authority boundary would be advantageous. So, we’ve agreed to collaborate on this.

  • We’re going to share lists of published data sets
  • We’re going to compare planned data releases
  • We’ll look at what we could release (and with what effort)
  • We’ll each look at links between open data and data held in our GIS systems, identifying what could be made available from there too,

all with a view to matching where possible the open data released by each authority, to the benefit of the community at large. We’ll also share best practice and put developers in touch with each others between the authorities.

We’re also keen in engaging with the local development community in the North East, and asking them what they like to see us release. We need to change from a “we’ll give you what we think you’d like” approach to one that is much more collaborative with the consumers of our data. So, what would help them win this: for example?

By working with our neighbouring authority, feeding into national policy development, and engaging with local extended developer community we stand to deliver most from this programme, with the benefits accruing not to the councils as much as to the local economy and to local citizens through better uses of our data.

PLODS – but faster
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