Will Brighton and Hove become an Open Data City?
Comments on the Open Data Cities Conference, Brighton 2012.
“Data is a precious thing and will last longer than the systems themselves.”
Imagine a future where you, the citizen, had easy access to the information your government had about your community. But delivered in a way you can actually understand and even enjoy consuming. And, if you are so inclined, freely repurpose in new and novel ways.
The Open Data Cities Conference, held in Brighton on April 20 was a siren call for “open-data” cities. “Cities which self-consciously and collectively decide to make available unimaginable quantities of data, openly and freely.” The conference explored how such ‘civic’ data sets can then be used to innovate and improve the way cities work and how we live in them.
Conference organiser, Greg Hadfield cites examples such as a city where your car tells you the location of the nearest vacant parking space. Or where up-to-the-minute listings of every cultural event and venue are available – all the time, wherever you happen to be.
It’s happening now.
The UK government already makes data such sets available at http://data.gov.uk.
Anyone is free to integrate data from this site into applications of their own. Recent projects illustrate how access to this data can make our lives more livable. For example, if you enter your postcode into the fixmystreet.com website you are presented with a map of your area and an input box to report any problems to your local council. This application is a “mash-up” (tech speak for combining data sources), created by mySociety, a registered charity and project of UK Citizens Online Democracy.
Today, the public can create services like this for commercial, charitable and personal use. Anything from school results to petrol prices can be mashed up with geographical data from Ordnance Survey to provide useful and accessible applications.
The fact is, data is being collected, at the taxpayers’ expense, and by making it available to the public the community benefits. The government is essentially “crowdsourcing” solutions that they don’t have the resourcing, or imagination, to explore themselves, but some passionate developer, or savvy business person can run with.
It’s just the beginning
One of the key messages from the conference was that applications being created from open-data sources are still in their infancy. Much like the early days of the Internet, the real promise from such applications is still to come. Currently, you need to be or have access to a developer to make use of the data APIs available. In the future this will change. Tools will be available to allow virtually anyone to build open-data applications.
A topic of concern raised at the conference was personal privacy. Available data sets are anonymous and contain no identifiable personal data, so they comply with privacy legislation. However, data visualization and extensive mapping technologies, may see certain patterns emerge, disclosing information about individuals by proxy. The subject was not adequately explored due to time constraints and is a likely subject of future discussions.
Find out more
If open-data presses your buttons, links to the websites of all the speakers and references quoted in this post are listed below:
- Laura James - Open Knowledge Foundation
- Ian Holt - Ordnance Survey
- Emer Coleman - Government Digital Services
- Lean Doody - Arup
- Drew Hemment - FutureEverything
- Tom Steinberg - My Society
- Jonathan Carr-West - Local Government Information Unit
- Leigh Dodds - Kasabi
- Bill Thompson - BBC
- Another example: Where Does My Money Go