Do you ever get the feeling that patterns are emerging, the stars aligning, things coming together, coincidences happening more frequently? Of course there is a lot of magical thinking behind those feelings – but the sessions I’ve attended, books I’ve read, speakers I’ve heard, conversations I’ve participated in this week all point to the importance and significance of SODU 2022 next weekend.
Mid-week I had a conversation with represenatatives from Scottsh Government about a forthcoming refresh of their 2015 Open Data Strategy. I was part of the group which drew up the original strategy. Between the drafting and the publication of final version, any sense that implementing the strategy was mandatory was lost. Some of us warned that this would lead to low adoption and therefore low impact in terms of data being released. We were, it is sad to say, proved correct. Of course the published strategy does say that Scotland’s data is to be open by default, but in practice it is anything but that.
In 2019 I estimated that over 95% of public sector data that should be open remained closed. And one look at the automatically-generated live table of local authority open data coverage shows what a long way there is to go!
While it is pleasing to hear that the Scottish Government is refreshing its open data strategy, the reason for that refresh is not, as far as I can tell, to make open data manadatory or to put measures in place to benchmark performance. As far as we can ascertain no-one monitors or has monitored the implementation of the 2015 strategy; even to the extent of counting as we did in 2019 the number of datasets released, itself a crude measure, And if I read the runes correctly, that commitment to data open by default might not make it in to the next iteration of the strategy which would be a major leap backwards. Civic society needs to make their feelings known about this in the strongest possible terms.
On Friday I gave a presentation to the University of Aberdeen’s Open Access Week’s Open Data event. I spoke about making open data useful, useable and used. The talk was one of half a dozen. I found the talks by each of the others speakers very good – but the one by Paola Masuzzo very impactful. The scenarios she spoke of in the struggle to get good government data resonated with the fight I and others put up to get Covid Data released in 2020. Paola is on the board of On Data and their website has a lot of great content. Unless you are fluent in Italian you might be better allowing Google to translate it if you open it in Chrome browser.
Another conversation that I have been having is with Jack and Karen, my colleagues in the Open Data Scotland project. This was born at Code The City hack weekends and previous SODU sessions. Should it remain as a CTC project? Should we spin it off as its own Community Interest Company? What is its role beyond being an open data portal? In my view we need to be more of a lobbying, pressure group for OD in Scotland. For example I believe that one week away from SODU2022 we have one person from the whole of the public sector in Scotland attending for only one day. There should at least be be someone there from every council health board, government agency etc. That would mean about 180 government attendees. But if their job doesn’t have open data at its core, and there is no obligation to publish, and no consequences to not doing so, why bother publishing? And why bother attending this weekend event?
It could be argued that since the Digital Strategy 2021 in Scotland does recognise the economic vlaue of open data then some of the core digital team with a responibility for implementing that should be there?
It was higlighted at SODU2021 and 2020, if I recall correctly, that there is a gap between government and civic society, and that the enormous goodwill and positivity of the civic group is a resource which government ignores and squanders. Chatting to someone else this week we puzzled to understand why the public sector is so afraid of engagement? Is there a sense that they know they are failing at OD and seek to avoid questioning? We know that several civil servants say they are committed to OD, but that there is no ministerial support in Scotland. Could that be it? We are a genuinely friendly community – and would welcome them with open arms.
This week I’ve been listening to the audio version of The Moves That Matter: A Grandmaster on the Game of Life by Jonathan Rowson, who I knew when he was a teenager in Aberdeen. At one point Jonathan said something about chess that I’ve long thought about applying to open data. He argues that chess “falls through the cultural cracks and lacks a stable cultural category that honours all of its elements; chess is more than a sport but is less than sport; chess is educational and educative but is not education; chess is full of artistic ideas but is not art; … is in many ways scientific but it not science“. He draws from this that without a cultural category that corresponds to a government department that would fund it, or a media section that would report it, it goes underfunded and unreported. The parallels with open data are deep. What IS open data? How do we get it funding and supported in `government? And recognition and attention?
Today was Wikidata‘s 10th birthday. I’m a big fan of Wikidata – and I train people to use it on behalf of Wikimedia UK. I also give guest lectures at RGU to Master students on the topic. We’ve used Wikidata in many projects at CTC hack events too. I’m convinced that Wikidata has a significant role to play as a place for publicly-curated linked open data – and filling in for missing ‘official’ government data,
Finally, I was contacted by someone who had attended the UK Open Data Camp that we hosted in 2018 in Aberdeen. He’s now living in Orkney and having heard about SODU2022 he’s making the journey down to attend, which is great to hear. We always look forward to catching up with the broader community.
Personally, I can’t wait to be at SODU2022. I hope that you do to and that we can have some meaningful discussions on the points above and much more!
If you haven’t booked yet you can still grab a ticket now.
[Published 29 Oct 2022. Edited 30 Oct to correct spelling errors and for readability.]
Header photo by israel palacio on Unsplash