Echo Chambers and ‘Post-fact’ Politics – developing ideas

Half day workshop to build tools for a ‘post-fact’ world

Apparently we’ve ‘had enough of experts’. Increasingly online platforms quietly tailor what we encounter to fit our existing views- creating echo chambers out of our prejudices. We are worried that the role of evidence in politics is slipping- and we want to do something about it.

A preliminary workshop was held in November attracting a broad range of people from far and wide. Together a list of initiatives was created responding to these challenges. Click this link to read the list of initiatives and add your own thoughts.

Now we are running a follow-on event to allow people to develop these ideas. If you’re an activist, policy wonk, artist, or simply someone interested in this topic we’d love for you to join us. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t make the first event as we will get you up to speed with a chance to add new ideas on the day.

For more information regarding the Echo Chambers and ‘Post-fact’ Politics workshops go to www.postfactpolitics.com

What happened? Looking at the data behind the referendum

Tuesday 26th July, 18.30 – 20.30
CoopHQ, 1 Angel Meadows, Manchester M60 0AG

Partial truths, distorted facts and outright lies have helped create the febrile climate that exists post Brexit. The information war that took place prior to the referendum created an atmosphere in which rational judgements were hard to make and gut instinct rose to the fore. Within this context, advocates of Vote Leave rubbished experts and mishandled facts with glee. Anyone contesting these claims were branded as promoters of Project Fear and part of the expert-led conspiracy that sought to undermine the public’s right to self-determination.

Post referendum and the dust hasn’t yet settled. We are starting to see lots of data giving us insight into what happened – from polls to voting patterns, from demographics to economic forecasts. This is an opportunity to analyse and share thoughts on a most extraordinary event.

We are an open forum and anyone who has insight and analysis to share are encouraged to participate.

Tickets are free and available here

Democracy Projects – Open Election Special

It was appropriate that March’s Open Data Manchester meeting should focus on projects related to the forthcoming elections. Not only because the country goes to the polls next month but also that election data was the first area of interest when Open Data Manchester started five years ago. The release of election data by Trafford Council in 2010 started them off on their journey to become open data champions, and it is through forums such as Open Data Manchester and Social Media Cafe Manchester people became connected.

Election Station

In 2015 there are a number of fantastic initiatives that try and unpick the proposed policies of the political parties, and filter through the fluff and bluster of our incumbent and prospective parliamentary candidates.

Digital and networked technology as well as access to data that is either open, scraped, scanned, manually transcribed or crawled, creates the opportunity to understand and analyse what is proposed and how parliamentarians have delivered on the promises of the past. Not only do these technologies allow us to be more informed but might also offer a way of building the policies of the future through novel forms of engagement and participation. Advocates for direct democracy see that creating opportunities for people to have a say in policy decisions makes for a more engaged society. Estonia’s Charter 12 and Iceland’s Crowd Sourced Constitution Bill are examples of these approaches in action. Both coming directly out of crises, where faith had been lost in the democratic process.

The need to re-enfranchise people into democratic participation is critical. In Manchester Central constituency where Labour candidate Lucy Powell was elected in a 2012 by-election, there was an 18% voter turnout. Without democratic mandate the legitimacy of government is vastly reduced. Which in turn has impact on the way the country is run and how people engage and align with the decisions of government.

There are many examples of projects in the UK that are seeking to make the sometimes arcane processes of government and its representatives more understandable. Notable in this space are the many projects that have been supported and developed by mySociety, with the stated aim of inventing and popularising digital tools that enable citizens to exert power over institutions and decision makers. Democracy Club, Full Fact and Unlocking Democracy are active in this space, as well as a raft of people who volunteer their time and see the importance of making the election process more open.

  • YourNextMP – Built by Democracy Club is an open database and API of candidate data
  • Meet Your Next MP – Created by JMB Technology lists independent events and hustings in your constituency
  • The Big Monitoring Project – Being developed by Full Fact seeks to record what politicians and the media says and hold them to account.
  • ElectionLeaflets.org – By Election Leaflets, Unlocking Democracy and Democracy Club. Crowdsourcing a database of the leaflets that candidates shove through your door and what they say.

Many of these initiatives are looking for people to volunteer their time and expertise.

The subsequent discussions focussed on why people don’t engage and possible ways that technology can help. Many of the group had direct experience of trying to get social housing tenants to vote on matters that affected their tenancy due to a large housing stock transfer. Although the subject affects tenants in an immediate and tangible way there was difficulty engaging people who were not otherwise engaged. In the end staff from the housing association had to knock on doors and explain to people what they were voting for in order to get people to vote. This highlights the difficulty those working on engagement with the democratic process face. Ways of making the process easier were discussed but this led to a deeper exploration as to the nature of engagement. If we make voting easier does it change the nature and relationship between the voter and the subject being voted upon? Perhaps we are trying to look at the symptoms rather than the cause and a democracy based upon weak or passive interaction was not as strong as one where effort was needed to register an opinion. One of the group highlighted the difference between the situation in the UK compared to countries where engaged public discussion where part of life.

Making the democratic process more understandable is vitally important to engagement. Voters need to feel as though they have agency and that their decision has importance. A challenge faced when trying to decide who to vote for is cutting through the rhetoric masking policy. There is also difficulty in creating key comparators and metrics. How do we create an environment where we can compare what one person says over another and how can we understand the impact those position would make to our communities. It was suggested that if we could standardise certain aspects of a manifesto we would be able to compare across positions. This could then be overlaid on to data from local communities that has been modelled in a standardised way allowing direct comparison of potential impact. There are a number of challenges associated with this – such as the candidates local position might differ from that of the party.

There is a wealth of data that evidences the voting behaviour of incumbent MPs which could be used as a metric to judge the attractiveness of a candidate. This data is only available for incumbents and not those in opposition. Party politics can override the voting preferences of individual MPs and politicians often have to make difficult decisions that may be seen as undesirable. If an MP stated a position to which you voted for and then evidences a pattern of voting behaviour in office that doesn’t correlate, that information would be useful in helping you choose who to vote for.

Creating a service where you can map your own preferences with those of candidates and then follow the voting patterns of your parliamentary representative over time was deemed useful – allowing the user to understand the reasons why they voted for that candidate and whether, in light of those historic preferences, the candidate was a good representative.

Creating standardisation so that you can map candidates directly onto locality – assumes that the individual would act independently and not be whipped by the party.

Voting data also enables you to see how rebellious a candidate who doesn’t necessarily tow the party line is. A number of the group suggested that ‘Rebellion Ratings’ could be seen as a good indicator of principled behaviour, over the representatives desire to further their own political career.

Democracy Club is crowdsourcing the CVs of prospective candidates so that people get a better idea of who they are voting for. It was mentioned that this would be interesting to compare with the LinkedIn profiles of candidates. Comparing a professional business facing persona with one that has been created to garner public support.

There are a lot of excellent projects that are trying to make the process of government and the effectiveness of MPs more understandable. It would be interesting to see if some of these could be implemented at a local government election level. If people are more connected to their locality it would make sense to develop projects that help people to engage with local decision making. Perhaps this could be another front to fight disenfranchisement within the democratic process.

 

 

Open Data Manchester – July Edition

6.30pm – 8.30pm Tuesday 29th July 2014
Greenheys Business Centre
Manchester Science Park
Pencroft Way
Manchester M15 6JJ

Map here

Sign up on Eventbrite here

This month’s Open Data Manchester is a chance to see some of the open data initiatives being led by Salford and Trafford Councils, and hear about some of the highlights of the Open Knowledge Festival taking place in Berlin 14-17th July

Amongst the data initiatives taking place, Trafford are looking to develop an Intelligence and Innovation Lab, which will take the principles by which InfoTrafford was developed, and use them to bring together a greater range of datasets from Trafford’s organisations. Accompanying these datasets will be the people from the respective organisations who understand the data – where it comes from, how to get it, and, crucially, what stories the data tells. This means that the right people will be sitting and working together – using their collective insight and knowledge to give greater understanding of the needs and opportunities in Trafford. The Lab will be focussed on the release of data as 5* linked data. Trafford is looking to create an environment where digital social innovation methods can be used to help people get things done – from giving practitioners a space to test innovative ideas that may help shape services, to allowing developers the opportunity to see and request datasets, and test apps with a potential user base. Jamie Whyte from Trafford will talk about the Intelligence and Innovation Lab and how you can get involved.

John Gibbons from Salford City Council will talk about the work they are doing relating to the European Commission INSPIRE regulations. INSPIRE seeks to create a common and shared geospatial infrastructure to allow strategic and sustainable development. It is a little understood initiative outside the GIS community, but as it is underpinned by European Commission legislation to which the UK has signed up to, it has the potential to have a large impact on the release of geospatial data.

As always, there will be opportunity to discuss and share ideas, and hear about the latest opportunities in open data.

Open Data Manchester Special – An Open Data Future

The next Open Data Manchester is special event tying in with FutureEverything taking place from the 19th – 24th March.

An Open Data Future is an open debate that aims to look under the hood of the open data movement.

Over the past few years open government data has evolved from a niche concern to one that has been embraced by national government, European Commission and other states and organisations around the globe.

It has been advocated that Open Government Data will expose the inner workings of state institutions and thus enable an environment for greater understanding, accountability and efficiency.

The release of open government data has also been seen as an opportunity to add value to national economies through the creation of new services, new intelligence and a more networked economy through the free flow of data.

But ultimately what are the drivers behind this movement, who are the winners and losers and what should a society based upon open practices look like?

Panelists
Jo Bates – Academic at University of Sheffield
http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/is/staff/bates
Tim Davies – Researcher and Activist http://www.timdavies.org.uk/about/
Javier Ruiz – Campaigner for the Open Rights Group
http://www.openrightsgroup.org/people/staff
Tom Slee – Canadian writer and commentator, author http://www.tomslee.net/

Chaired by Yuwei Lin.

This event is free but likely to reach capacity very quickly so registering here is essential

The Economics of Open Data

Data doesn’t make for a very good tradable commodity. It’s benefits spread well beyond the people who trade in it, it’s almost impossible to stop people from copying and sharing it, and it can be enjoyed by multiple people at the same time.

In a post written for Open Data Manchester on The Economics of Open Data, regular member Robin Gower, explains how these characteristics mean that data will have a much greater economic and social impact if it is made available as open data. He also discusses the implications for established “closed-data” business models and for the government.

Making Open Data Real consultation results published.

The results of the last year’s Making Open Data Real consultation have been published. Open Data Manchester submitted a response as did 246 others.

These responses will be used to define the governments approach to Open Data and will hopefully bring about a meaningful push from both central and local government.

The following Greater Manchester based organisations responded:

  • North West e Government Group
  • Open Data Manchester
  • Rochdale Council
  • Swirrl IT Ltd
  • Trafford Council
  • Transport for Greater Manchester
  • So far play to the above for the above for engaging.

    Summaries of the consultation can be read here:

    Full responses can be downloaded here:

    ODM Response to the Public Data Corporation consultation

    Charging for Public Data Corporation information

    1. How do you think Government should best balance its objectives around increasing access to data and providing more freely available data for re-use year on year within the constraints of affordability? Please provide evidence to support your answer where possible.

    This question is framed incorrectly. For open data to be truly sustainable there has to be a shift away from the notion of affordability and access. Open Data is part of a transformation of how services are delivered within and by government and how government relates to people and business. What we should be moving to is the notion of Government as platform where the data that the government uses for its own purposes is also seamlessly available for reuse.

    2. Are there particular datasets or information that you believe would create particular economic or social benefits if they were available free for use and re-use? Who would these benefit and how? Please provide evidence to support your answer where possible.

    We see that there are a number of core ‘infrastructure’ datasets that have allowed systems to be developed within the UK. The majority being run by trading funds. Consolidating their charging position within the PDC will have a chilling effect not only on the direct creation of applications and services but on an underlying data ecosystem that will create social and economic value. It has impact on future technological developments where applications need to be aware of their relation to core data infrastructure. This is particularly important with the emerging development of the Internet of Things and pervasive technologies.
    Whilst developing the Open Data Cities project in 2009 and DataGM – The Greater Manchester Datastore with Trafford Council it became apparent that local authority and community access to certain data such as Land Registry data was creating problems. Anecdotally it had been suggested that easy and open access to Land Registry data would help combat cross boundary housing benefit fraud and would of eliminated the MPs second home scandal.

    3. What do you think the impacts of the three options would be for you and/or other groups outlined above? Please provide evidence to support your answer where possible.
    The charging options outlined will all have impact on the development of open data services/applications and future technologies where open data is an enabler.
    All three models are flawed in that they are trying to predict and extract value from an emergent field. They fail to take into account what is needed to create a sustainable, innovative and disruptive data ecosystem. Disruptive innovation in emerging fields needs to have a low barrier to entry and the creation of an ecosystem where ideas can be tested, fail and succeed with marginal cost.

    4. A further variation of any of the options could be to encourage PDC and its constituent parts to make better use of the flexibility to develop commercial data products and services outside of their public task. What do you think the impacts of this might be?
    By encouraging public organisations to develop services outside the public task has the potential to distort an emerging market and should be treated with caution. The knowledge that many public organisations hold in regard to their task is unique and could be encouraged as long as the underlying raw data resources are available to all.

    5. Are there any alternative options that might balance Government’s objectives which are not covered here? Please provide details and evidence to support your response where possible.

    5. There needs to be an appraisal of the wider value and impact of releasing public data. This impact should not just be seen as a simple transactional value but a broader impact on the engagement and wellbeing of society.

    Licensing
     
    1. To what extent do you agree that there should be greater consistency, clarity and simplicity in the licensing regime adopted by a PDC?
    It is understood that having multiple licensing regimes can create confusion and hence hinder the development of interpretations, applications and services. The danger of ‘double licensing’ is real especially as products become more complex. The adoption of OGL should be seen as a default position for raw open public data. At the moment within public datastores such as DataGM there are numerous licensing options most with a potential to cause confusion and contaminate downstream data usage. This confusion has also been used as an excuse for not releasing data.

    2. To what extent do you think each of the options set out would address those issues (or any others)? Please provide evidence to support your comments where possible.
    The potential impact of different organisations within the PDC to define their own licenses to suit different uses of data usage presupposes that the data provider has an appreciation of the potential uses of the data. This may work in an environment where products are developed in one specific domain but when innovation is cross cutting the need for standardisation and clarity becomes clear. Whilst the third option of a single PDC licence with adapted schedules of use would seem easiest. The question fails to recognise that raw open public data should be free by default with exemptions being rigorously justified.

    3. What do you think the advantages and disadvantages of each of the options would be? Please provide evidence to support your comments
    Please see above

    4. Will the benefits of changing the models from those in use across Government outweigh the impacts of taking out new or replacement licences?
    Yes, as the current licensing regime is opaque and hinders innovation and innovation drives the economy.

    Oversight

    1. To what extent is the current regulatory environment appropriate to deliver the vision for a PDC?
    You cant have a system of oversight which fails to engage users. It is necessary to have one robust and representative regulatory environment that has real powers to make PDC based organisations compliant. The representation should be a balance of suppliers and users of data.

    2. Are there any additional oversight activities needed to deliver the vision for a PDC and if so what are they?
    Apart from making sure that raw public data is made open and freely available, No

    3. What would be an appropriate timescale for reviewing a PDC or its constituent parts public task(s)?
    Six monthly initially then after the initiative becomes embedded less often

    Making Open Data Real – Response from ODM and Open Data Cities programme.

    27th October 2011

    The benefits of adopting open data for the purposes of transparency and accountability have been well documented, but open data is not just about transparency and accountability. We live in a modern technologised society and we need to give people the tools to navigate through our modern data driven environment, whether it be access to transit data, gritting routes or ‘infrastructural’ data such as mapping, hydrology or weather.

    We strongly argue for an open by default position with exemption being justified due to security or privacy. This is key as it is virtually impossible to predict what the utility of every dataset will be. It is obvious that certain ‘high value’ (Those that are perceived to improve ‘quality of life’ decisions) datasets will be adopted and used relatively quickly, but some will get used seldomly and many not at all – this doesn’t discount their value, as data has to be seen in the broader context of knowledge and future conditions may make certain datasets more relevant.

    It is also important that any body that delivers service on behalf of the public is also required to be open. For example Manchester is straight jacketed by a fragmented public transport system that has 40+ bus operators all supposedly in competition. Crossing the city may take multiple tickets from multiple operators. There is no motivation for operators to release information as to their fare structures although it has long been identified that having a transparent fare structure enables people to budget, plan and use public transport with confidence. At the moment you can only find out a fare by stepping on to the bus or ringing the operator directly. Although some bus operators do see the value of opening up this information, in meetings concern has been raised by certain operators about wholesale release of data allowing other operators to undercut prices – which is the idea of a deregulated system and local councilors being able to see how much they charge – which goes against the idea of delivering public service and being accountable.

    There is a case that Land Property Registry data be made available. Speaking to Local Authority colleagues there is an issue regarding the tackling of housing benefit fraud where claimants might have property in another borough and the potential of combating certain money laundering activities – It might also of effectively tackled the abuse of second home allowances by MPs before it became a major issue.

    We need to encourage a transition to a more intelligent and aware data policy. This cannot be done in one fell swoop but needs to inform procurement, so when IT systems are upgraded the ability to express data openly from a system would be specified. The adoption of common data release schedules is to be encouraged, especially where you have metropolitan counties such as Greater Manchester. Our colleagues at Trafford MBC, who we were in partnership with, in developing DataGM identified this as an important way to get cross authority collaboration on dataset release.

    There is a very important benefit from having common data release schedules. At present it is very difficult for developers and digital businesses to make certain open data based applications beyond proof of concept due to the market for open data applications and services being nascent. Common schedules allow development of products that can quickly find a critical market mass, this in turn validates the demand side argument for data.

    The public sector is logically the biggest user of its own data but data that is closed and siloed is often dumb data. We hear countless examples of dumb data policy: where local authority officials can’t find the data that they require – so creating an environment for ad hoc duplication and standards, in Greater Manchester this is estimated to cost many millions of pounds of lost personnel hours, and where local authorities might be operating multiple – up to 30 in some – GIS systems all with their own licensing agreements and interoperability issues.

    There has to be an adoption of common standards and these have to be non-proprietary, open and extensible. Although there is certain resistance to the adoption of Linked Data, mostly due to people not fully understanding the concept and need, with the explosion of data enabled devices, the need for computers to interpret complex data environments is becoming more important. Government has to be a major player in this space it also has to be intelligent in how it ensures compliance. Open and extensible formats offer a certain amount of future proofing over proprietary formats

    A concern that we hold, especially in light of participating in the EU smart city programme, is that within the UK there doesn’t seem to be much appreciation that open data is an enabler of Smart City and other technologies. Common technological frameworks that allow the development of city-based services across territories are being developed, building larger potential markets for products. What might be unviable in one territory might be viable at scale.
    Future technological developments such as the Internet of Things might be hampered if there is pressure to license and charge for certain ‘infrastructure’ datasets. Certain IoT devices have to be aware of where they are and how they are functioning in relation to public infrastructure and data.

    We strongly feel that we are coming to a point where we see a transition to Government as a platform. This will enable development of services from both within the public sector and outside. Open Data could be seen as evidence of a healthy functioning platform based structure, where the boundaries and interactions between citizen, government and business are porous, diffuse and bidirectional.

    Access to information is key to the re-enfranchisement. Open Data has the potential to create a more equitable environment for participation. Although it would be naive to believe that opening up data will automatically create a data aware citizenry, it only needs a few people who have the skills to mediate information in their communities to raise awareness and participation.

    We believe that for Open Data to become sustainable we need to be able to not only encourage the supply side but that of the demand side for data as well. Where market failure occurs or where there is nascent development of a sector, there is a need to stimulate activity to drive awareness, create services and applications and develop a base layer from which further development can be derived. Innovation challenges and focused development days are two of the things that can help drive this. There needs to be support for initiatives such as Open Data Manchester, Open Data Sheffield, Open Data Brighton and now Open Data Hull. Often, as in the case of Open Data Manchester and the Open Data Cities project from which it was derived, there is no resource support from the public sector and this is unsustainable.

    Julian Tait
    Open Data Manchester/Open Data Cities

    Online Response

    1. Do the definitions of the terms go far enough or too far

    Engaged citizens need to have access to the structure of our cities. This isn’t jut about league tables but one that allows people to move seamlessly through their modern data driven environment

    There needs to be an additional category of open data that focusses on the open data that enables people to navigate through the modern data driven environment, whether it be access to transit data, gritting routes or ‘infrastructural’ data such as mapping, hydrology or weather.

    2. Where a decision is being taken about whether to make a dataset open, what tests should be applied

    Whether the dataset or ‘datastream’ is being produced to enable the delivery of public services or as in the case of transportation data whether the data produced is for the purposes of disseminating information to the public enabling them to access service more efficiently – EG Transport Executive producing RT bus data that will enable people to use mobile devices to access service saving the capital outlay of investing in realtime bus signage.

    3. If the costs to publish or release data are not judged to represent value for money, to what extent extent should the requester be required to pay for public services data and under what circumstances

    The terms for value for money can be vague and encourage abuse. A test should be whether the data holder is creating the data for the delivery of their own service rather than explicitly for the request.

    4. How do we get the right balance in relation to the range of organisations (providers of public services) our policy proposals apply to? What threshold would be appropriate to determine the range of public services in scope and what key criteria should inform this

    All services that are delivered on behalf of the public should be covered. If a public service uses the data for the delivery of its own task then it should be made available

    5. What would be appropriate mechanisms to encourage or ensure publication of data by public service providers?

    We need to encourage a transition to a more intelligent and aware data policy. This can not be done in one fell swoop but needs to inform procurement. So when IT systems are upgraded the ability to express data openly from a system would have to be implemented

    1. How should we establish a stronger presumption in favour of publication than that which currently exists?

    Emphasis needs to be changed to one where exemption from publication is the exception and sufficient rigorous justification is needed

    2. Is providing an independent body, such as the Information Commissioner, with enhanced powers and scope the most effective option for safeguarding a right to access and a right to data?

    Enhancing the powers of the Information Commissioner is crucial in this process. It is also the ICO becomes a key motivator to creating an open by default policy. The ICO would then be able to put pressure on public bodies to standardise the way that they create data ideally bringing about a more intelligent public data environment

    3. Are existing safeguards to protect personal data and privacy measures adequate to regulate the Open Data agenda?

    Protection of personal data and privacy is vitally important and their has to be real teeth regarding organisations both public and private that transgress these rules. There also has to be an understanding that networked technologies will circumvent many safeguards

    4. What might the resource implications of an enhanced right to data be for those bodies within its scope?

    The enhanced right to data could if implemented wrongly be very resource heavy. If the starting position of public bodies are the biggest users of their own data and the present systems in place for shared intelligence and services is fundamentally flawed and there needs to be change. Example one local authority uses 30 separate GIS systems with each departmental head believing that theirs is the best. If you get it right for the public sectors own use the rest is easy.

    5. How will we ensure that Open Data standards are embedded in new ICT contracts

    Open data and open platforms need to be embedded into the procurement process. We need to break the straightjacket of public services being sold into proprietary IT contracts where the public body isn’t able to use their own data beyond the purposes originally specified. There also has to be a more intelligent procurement process where seemingly value for money initial cost is impacted by costly process of upgrading

    1. What is the best way to achieve compliance on high and common standards to allow usability and interoperability?

    There are a number of standards that are open, extensible and interoperable.

    2. Is there a role for government to establish consistent standards for collecting user experience across public service

    Government is the only authority that can establish compliance amongst public bodies.

    3. Should we consider a scheme for accreditation of information intermediaries, and if so how best that might work

    No. As long as there is equal access to data for all the market should be able to create the right mechanism.

    1. How would we ensure that public service providers in their day to day decision-making honour a commitment to Open Data, while respecting privacy and security considerations.

    There needs to be an establishment of a robust data release framework where sensitive data would be identified at an early stage. There also needs to be an honest position with regard to this where data collectors don’t combine data so that it can then be covered by the DPA or their might be

    2. What could personal responsibility at Board-level do to ensure the right to data is being met include? Should the same person be responsible for ensuring that personal data is properly protected and that privacy issues are met?

    Corporate responsibility a board level

    3. Would we need to have a sanctions framework to enforce a right to data?

    Yes, change cant happen without sanction

    4. What other sectors would benefit from having a dedicated Sector Transparency Board

    We think that the duplication of task is unnecessary when you have a common and clear sets of standards

    1. How should public service make use of data inventories? What is the optimal way to develop and operate this?

    Data inventories should that serve the purposes of both internal purposes and external purposes

    2. How should data be prioritised for inclusion in an inventory? How is value to be established

    Ideally there should be identification of a common set of ‘high value’ datasets that will help to embed the validity of open data these will also help to create a first wave of interpretations and applications. An implementation of a common data release plan would then be undertaken.

    3. In what areas would you expect government to collect and publish data routinely?

    All areas

    4. What data is collected ‘unnecessarily’? How should these datasets be identified? Should collection be stopped?

    There is a great deal of duplication of data within the public sector and this needs to be minimised. Careful consideration should be given as to what unnecessarily actually means. If it means that the data isn’t being used.

    5. Should the data that government releases always be of high quality? How do we define quality? To what extent should public service providers ‘polish’ the data they publish, if at all?

    You would expect that data that is collected on the public’s behalf for the delivery of public service should be of high quality and if it isn’t there is something that is wrong with the system. Although it might be necessary to anonymise or redact certain data this should only be undertaken in tightly defined cases.

    1. How should government approach the release of existing data for policy and research purposes: should this be held in a central portal or held on departmental portals?

    Ideally all the data should be held on the same portal so that there is no need to search for it

    2. What factors should inform prioritisation of datasets for publication, at national, local or sector level?

    High value quality of life datasets. Should always be identified. The quick wins

    3. Which is more important: for government to prioritise publishing a broader set of data, or existing data at a more detailed level.

    Data should be released at the source resolution. Additional work to create different resolutions of data should be discouraged

    1. Is there a role for government to stimulate innovation in the use of Open Data? If so, what is the best way to achieve this?

    Definitely. For Open Data to become sustainable we need to be able to not only encourage the supply side but that of the demand side as well. Where market failure occurs or where there is nascent development of a sector then there is a need to stimulate activity to drive awareness, create services and applications and develop a base layer from which further development niacin be derived.

    Open Data in Manchester: Challenges and Opportunities

    This blog post was originally written for the Open Knowledge Foundation blog.

    Open Data Cities was initiated in May 2009, premised on the simple question of how cities would evolve if all data were made open. Would the same inequalities and asymmetries persist for example? Moreover, what would need to happen within the city to bring about the adoption of more open and transparent practices?

    Greater Manchester is a region in the North West of England with a population of 2.8 million people. It comprises of 10 boroughs containing two cities and many large towns. Open Data Cities approached the city as a functioning organism comprising of these 10 boroughs. For the project to have a genuine impact with its inhabitants, we proposed that the project would need to align with how people used the city rather than the ways in which the city was administered. The reality within the city is that although people access services across authorities and whilst there are a number of pan-Greater Manchester public bodies, local authorities still deliver services to tight geographical boundaries.

    Addressing the whole Greater Manchester region in this way, created an environment that allowed the project to evolve in a particular way. As the region was adopting City Region status this would require a certain alignment in terms of data and information. The granting of City Region status also opened up the possibility of bringing about an elected mayor, enabling, theoretically, a coherent region-wide strategy to be implemented.

    Working across the ten boroughs – all with their own democratically elected councils is not without its challenges. Each public body has its own administrative and data structure and specific set of difficulties. It was therefore necessary to adopt a pragmatic, non-threatening approach as part of our project. Conversations therefore centered around the idea of allowing citizens to look ‘under the hood’ of public service so to speak, of creating better understanding of what councils do. Most importantly we were interested in rebalancing the relationship between public service and citizen and the possibility for services to be delivered with citizens rather than simply to citizens.

    Communicating The Benefits

    We were often challenged as to how the release of data would benefit the person on the street and who would create the applications and interpretations to allow this to happen. At the start of the Open Data Cities project the Open Data Manchester community was formed to provide evidence that there was indeed a ‘demand’ for the release of open data within the region. We argued that by giving people the tools to understand and act within communities, open data would have broader benefits too. Moreover, there was a growing acceptance that enabling people to access the data and information relevant to their locality was important. This in part has been born out by the emergence of hyperlocal blogging as a means of disseminating news and information at a community level.

    Open Data Cities also strongly emphasised the innovation and economic benefits such open data could bring to the region. Opening up the ‘undiscovered country’ of open data, could kick start an economy based on the creation of data services. We had seen examples where companies such as Elbatrop software in London had created best selling applications for San Francisco based on released tree data. If Greater Manchester released data this could present an opportunity for developers to create applications that could have relevance beyond the Greater Manchester region. Research had identified that open data could add £6 billion of added value to the UK economy, how much of that value could be injected into the regional economy?

    High value, ‘quality of life’ datasets were identified. Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive now TfGM, made the decision to release large and regularly updated datasets. This sparked a number of good applications but most of them were ‘proof of concept’ with little that could really be considered ready for market. This wasn’t the ‘release the data and people will build cool stuff’ future that we had been promoting, and even though the transport authority had now committed to making data open as a default position, they were very aware that not much was being built.

    Acknowledging the Barriers

    By talking to people who were involved in Open Data Manchester and the wider Greater Manchester digital community, it became apparent that although open data offered opportunities, there were a number of significant barriers that were inhibiting the development of services. These could be seen as return on investment, risk and liability.

    The return on investment argument was quite apparent from early on. People have to make a living and generally want to see their efforts rewarded. By Open Data Cities embracing the 2.8 million people of Greater Manchester it was hoped that there would be enough people to sustain a market in Open Data application development. In order to kickstart this market it was proposed that a number of innovation challenges with sizeable incentives should take place.

    It was obvious that there were no large digital businesses in the open data space and we had long held the view that their presence would be an indicator of the health of the open data innovation ecosystem. A suggested reason for the scarcity being that open data licensing was transferring all the risk on to the developer, whereas previously data would be generally released with some sort of service level agreement, none of these guarantees exist with open licensing. The idea of spending large amounts of development time on applications built on data that could then be turned off was deemed too risky.

    Liability was also an issue. Who would be liable if someone had bought an application where the data was suddenly turned off or were inaccurate? There were also concerns as to the robustness of supplied data and the sometimes, archaic formats data were supplied in. The liability argument was also been put forward as a ‘supply side’ reason for non-disclosure both from a robustness of data and command and control perspective.

    Collaboration

    When FutureEverything and Trafford Council began working together on DataGM – The Greater Manchester Datastore, many of the local authorities were in a state of panic through having to negotiate the drastic shortfalls in budget. It was becoming apparent that innovation and citizen empowerment, although appealing were the least of concerns. Public bodies are still in a time of fiscal stress and it has been stated that few, if any, public bodies innovate out of a crisis.

    All Greater Manchester local authorities and most pan-Greater Manchester public bodies are represented on the datastore steering group – The benefit of having a local authority leading the project, is their ability to get people around the table. Whilst some members of the group understood the logic of having a datastore and shared intelligence, there was a lot of resistance. Members stated despair at being involved with a project where they didn’t know if they would still be in post in three months time, with others not seeing the point of spending time and resource on something that didn’t have concrete output. There was also a very tangible silo mentality where the idea of shared intelligence across authorities was seen as attractive but not essential.

    Evidence and Evolution

    As the DataGM project gathered momentum more evidence started to emerge as to the inefficiencies of maintaining a siloed and closed data culture. The servicing of Freedom of information requests costs Greater Manchester public bodies over £4 million a year, over 600 public officials a day are unable to find or use data that they require in order to carry out their jobs – costing authorities over £8.5 million a year. The annoying tendency – for public bodies – of citizens using services outside their borough boundaries also creates difficulties. With no pan – Greater Manchester data initiative it is difficult for public bodies to create and deliver on coherent regional strategies. Open data offers a solution.

    Now DataGM is becoming established the economic logic of using a centralised data catalogue, where the data that local authorities use themselves is openly available, is starting to make sense. Open data needs to be transformational. For public bodies enhanced engagement and the creation of innovative services are not enough. We are at a stage where we are saying if you spend A you will get savings of B and with open data you will also gain benefits of C, D, E…

    DataGM is starting to develop data release schedules so that local authorities can release similar data in a coordinated way. With developers such as Swrrl – one of the recent winners of the EU Open Data Challenge, some of that data is being expressed as Linked Data. The Open Data Manchester community continues to grow. Although there is still a long way to go with open data in Manchester it feels like more people within public service are starting to see the benefits, and the possibility of Greater Manchester becoming an Open Data City gets closer.