Category Archives: Open Data

ODUG is dead, long live ODUG (Open Data User Group)

I heard about the Open Data User Group a couple of years ago and last year was fortunate enough to be chosen (in a transparent manner) to be a member.

The thing that impressed me at the first meeting was the range of expertese about open data in the room both from the public and private sector. It was the imposter syndrome writ large. They also turned out to be a great group of people and the chair Heather Savory was an inspirational leader. All the members did any work on their own time; and Heather worked full time in a role that was in fact part time. So there was a lot of personal committment all round.

There were ups and downs plus a huge amount of frustration about the obstruction and obscurantism across the public sector to making data publicly available. There was a lot of ‘really?’ ‘they said that?’ ‘how long?’ ‘in what format?’ ‘but we raised this x time ago surely they have done more than that?’.

However like a mayfly ODUG’s short three year life span has expired. As a result there is no significant group representing #opendata users in the UK. This cannot be right at a time when more and more conversations come back to data, openess, quality, economic growth etc.

You can help though, yes you can. We have written two notes: one highlights some of the outstanding issues for data in the public sector; the other lists our lessons learnt.

These documents are worth both reading and sharing to keep up the pressure for a group to succeed ODUG. We are not precious, any group is better than none, though preferably with some sharp and pointy teeth.


What is the problem with the National Information Infrastructure?

I was foolish enough to run a session at the excellent Open Data Camp about the National Information Infrastructure #UKNII

The reason I thought this could be foolish is that the words National Information Infrastructure are not exactly sexy. In fact it all sounds a bit boring. So I was glad that anyone turned up all – which they did so thank you to all the attendees.

So what did we talk about? Here goes….

Is National Information Infrastructure in fact the wrong name – should it be called the National Data Strategy? This was my point. The name at the moment sounds a bit like a Librarian (much as I love them) talking about the Dewey Decimal system. A bit dry and academic which of course it is not. Data is a bit of a catchy word at the moment as is strategy – so maybe a new title is in order?

I did point out that the concept is not new. Parliament published a fact sheet about it in 1995 where they stated that the cost could be very large so that care would be needed planning such a project. Interestingly the Open Data User Group in its recent paper say that opposite and that any cost would more than outweigh the benefits.

I note passing that on Wikipedia there is an entry for the National Information Infrastructure – but that is for the US. Where is the entry for the UK? Any volunteers?

We also discussed the perceived lack of momentum around the subject. Certainly the Transparency Team (a good number who gave up their weekend to be at the event) in the Cabinet Office have done a lot of work on the NII and are engaged with three pilot departments which sounds very promising but where is the wider enthusiasm and where are the evangelists? Who knows anything about it the UKNII but a handful of data geeks?

It was suggested that the possible appointment of a National Chief Data Officer might be the trigger to pull things together across government and generate some momentum. Notice the job title is not (Chief Information Officer.)

Another point (made on the way out) was where is the list that people can make suggestions about what should be included in the National Infrastructure? It is worth reading the Open Data Institute take on this topic and their starter list on a wiki.

We did agree that each specialist group will have ideas as to what should be included on such a list but that as more suggestions are made a Venn diagram would start to pick up the consistently mentioned data sets.

In this context in a later session it was mentioned that there are at least two different sets of data about the height of beaches which can cause problems for the military when planning exercises. It made me think – ‘ha another item for the Infrastructure list of data sets’. Who else would this seemingly innocuous information (or data) help? Councils managing beaches; fishermen, lifeguards, companies planning green energy installations..? There are probably a lot more.

That’s my round up of this session. Thanks to everyone for coming along and hopefully there might be a few more evangelists in circulation.