Do we know if we know what Open Data is?

A guest post by Karen Jewell, a Data Scientist who attended SODU2020

I went into the weekend of SODU, headset and coffee at the ready, thinking that as SODU was both my first experience of an unconference and of Open Data, I wouldn’t be able to participate much but that I could take the opportunity to learn from the brighter and more informed voices around me. Well, it turns out I was quite wrong about my involvement with Open Data.

In the networking sessions of the first day, I introduced myself as someone who didn’t work at all with Open Data, had no experience of it and was here to learn about it. Yet as the event carried on through the day, many discussions and concepts seemed familiar to me and in the afternoon of the first day I had that “ah-hah!” moment. I realised it wasn’t true that I did not work with Open Data, I did, and actually had done so quite a bit in the last 12 months. I just had not realised that is what it was called.

Open Data is data which is not owned or controlled, and is free for use and distribution. Having only just completed my studies in a MSc Data Science at the Robert Gordon University 3 weeks prior, free data was pretty critical to my work as a student. Not only was I able to practice concepts using freely available datasets, 3 of my 8 taught modules required me to source my own dataset for that module’s assessment. To rephrase that, I needed Open Data to complete my degree. Data Scientists are aware of Kaggle, the UCI ML repository, and a quick online search for Scotland’s data will return the Scottish Government’s statistics portal. We see these sources as free data we can practice on, but we may not have recognised it as Open Data, I certainly didn’t until SODU took my blinkers off.

Coming out of SODU, I started to wonder how many other people were in the same metaphorical boat. Were they not answering the call for involvement because they did not realise the availability of Open Data affected them too? To test the idea, I set up a non-scientific survey on Instagram and asked my peers the question “Do you know what Open Data is?” with a simple “Yes/No” response. Of the 22 persons who responded, 3 said Yes (14%) and 19 said No (86%). In a perfect world, I would have also had a follow-up question asking if they had used information from a list of known Open Data sources to confirm the theory, but we will have to do without for now.

Quick Poll
Quick Poll

Yet in the age of Covid-19 where everyone is quite capable of quoting a statistic or method in every online argument for and against, how many of us haven’t realised we are benefiting from the availability of Open Data when we quote new case counts, % positive tests, and infection rates in our conversations on a daily basis?

I attended SODU to learn about Open Data, and I learnt I’d actually been using it all along. Several prominent themes discussed at SODU included the need for a community of practitioners, having a central point of access, and having evidence of the benefits of supporting Open Data. The question that bugs me now is, how do we know who our practitioners and where our success stories are, if they can’t even recognise themselves? Maybe, there is an opportunity to do some work here?

 

SODU2020 – a guest post by Sarah Roberts of Swirrl

Scottish Open Data Unconference

It’s all going on in Scotland in March. As we spring into Spring (nearly there!), we’re very excited to be sponsoring, and going, to the Scottish Open Data Unconference in Aberdeen on 14th and 15th March. Topics are pitched in the morning of each day, an agenda is created and participants talk as much as the chair. 

Our colleague Jamie Whyte is lucky enough to have a ticket, so if you spot him do say hi! Here are some recent open data happenings we’ve picked up on our radar…

Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation

The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation was released late January and we loved the accompanying briefing document, which put the numbers into context (find it here). The data’s also available on the Scottish Government’s Open Data site, where you can use the Atlas section to find key data zones and see key facts about them. The below screenshot is of the data zone which is ranked as the most deprived in the 2020 SIMD.

SIMD - Greenock Town centre
SIMD – Greenock Town centre

People are already making stuff with the data — below is a screenshot of Jamie’s lava lamp visualisation of the data

Commentary, explanation and analysis from others include: Alasdair Rae’s summary matrix of the SIMD data by council area, a story graphic of the data, an interactive mapping tool, an analysis blog post from Scottish parliament information centre and news articles, like this one from the BBC.

Jamie Whyte - King of the Lava Lamp
Jamie Whyte – King of the Lava Lamp image

W3C Community Group

Another thing we’ve noticed is that there’s preliminary work happening on GraphQL and RDF, which aims to serve as a case for future standardisation. More on this here, where you can send a request to join the group if this is your bag. It’s definitely ours! 

Collaborative work with data

Last, but not least, collaboration. This is a wide concept but it’s also a trend that’s cropping up in different aspects of working with open data. Here are some we’ve noticed:

“promote trust and co-operation between government and civil society.”

  • The Office for National Statistics is publishing data in a collaborative project across a spread of organisations including ONS, HMRC, MHCLG, DWP and DIT. The Connected Open Government Statistics (COGS) project involves a lot of technical collaborative work in harmonising codelists, as well as harmonising a data model and all the processes that go into it. More on this project here on the GSS blog site. 
  • 2019 saw a growing, collaborative API community, with API events involving government and people working with government. We went to one in Newcastle and another one’s arranged for March 16th (if you’re still hungry for more after the unconference!) 
  • The Open Data Institute have been busy, busy, busy. Jeni Tennison spoke about the idea of how collaboration is key for new institutions of the data age, at our Power of Data conference in October (catch that video here). The ODI have also been working on a data and public services toolkit & there’s an introductory event to this in Edinburgh just a few days before the Scottish Open Data Unconference. 

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to find out a bit more about who we are and what we do, take a look at our website, our blog, our latest newsletter and / or our twitter stream. We’ve just been named as one of the FT1000 fastest growing companies in Europe and we’re still hiring, so if you think you can help us we’d love to hear from you. 

We love data and we’re delighted to be sponsoring the Scottish Open Data Unconference. See you there.