11 thoughts on “A council might publish open data, but how does it encourage good use of that data?

  1. Patrick Chalmers

    This is all good stuff that pre-supposes a very skewed sense of accountability, transparency and power, far too much of it being with the conventional politicians.

    Far more interesting would be for developers/programmers to develop their ideas in concert with local people and journalists and then present them to their fellow citizens as things the council should be doing. Far more interesting from the perspective of real local democracy and probably far more creatively and politically fruitful.

    Hacks/hackers get local.

      

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    1. Michael Post author

      Well yes: the whole point is to encourage councils – as they exist currently, with all their political, diplomatic and bureaucratic niceties – to ensure that any open data platform they develop is done so with people in mind. What you propose is laudable and complementary, but it’s a separate issue.

        

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    2. Michael Post author

      Having said all that, can’t both be done simultaneously? Part of the agreement between the council and developers would be some encouragement and mechanism for sharing the collaboration. The council needs to feel in control of the data for now else we won’t get anywhere, but there’s no reason the mechanism couldn’t allow journalists etc to be involved while also ensuring the council feels safe.

        

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  2. Patrick Chalmers

    I disagree entirely – the two issues are inextricably intertwined. If what you are attempting is to open up data sources that will be of use to citizens – and after all why else would you open them up – then you should have questions of relative power to the fore in anything that you propose.

    Otherwise you’re just punting for IT business. No harm in that if that’s the agenda but let’s not get too open government about the whole thing.

    This is an example of what we’re up against:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/council-spending/9063034/Councils-admit-we-cant-reveal-our-top-earners-its-too-costly.html

      

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    1. Michael Post author

      ‘Questions of relative power’ is exactly what this process tries to encourage. You can’t put the cart before the horse: these institutions are steeped in stuff that makes them very slow to turn around. You have to start with what they’re comfortable with else they will never engage properly and we are simply left with people versus the state. In which case there’s no point in open data at all.

        

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  3. Patrick Chalmers

    Thank you for your responses – I get what you’re saying and I think you get what I’m saying.

    My basic thinking is that our best hope of real democracy, which by definition means people governing themselves, is to build it into our political processes from the ground up, from this moment on. Your project suggests itself as a great way to do this though of course there are many others.

    I am not a programmer but a journalist, a British one normally resident in SW France but currently in SE England for a few months. My potential for practical input into your project is therefore limited. My aim here is to stir the pot on democracy, what it means in today’s poorly accountable reality and what it could mean. I do think there are ways to be more politically ambitious than the sense I get of what you’re proposing. I can’t offer much more than that.

    Please accept my comments in that spirit.

      

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    1. Michael Post author

      Of course :-) And I agree.

      I’m neither a programmer nor a council worker; I have a professional interest in civic engagement but essentially I’m just a citizen. But so, of course, is everyone who works for a local authority: it’s not ‘them and us’.

      This proposal isn’t supposed to solve everything, it’s just one of the directions that we need to push from. I don’t believe we can change anything if significant numbers of those involved feel under attack.

      I really do think that the ‘more ambitious stuff’ won’t happen overnight: a majority of people needs to feel more or less comfortable in order for things to move on.

      So we help councils feel comfortable engaging precisely so we can push ahead with the ‘more ambitious stuff’.

        

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  4. Owen Boswarva

    I read this post with interest. My impression is that you have described a reasonable approach that councils could take towards working with outside developers who want to use council data in support of council objectives. However I’m somewhat doubtful whether it has much to do with open data applications per se.

    The underlying assumption seems to be that, while as you say a council can’t control how people use its open data, councils should normally expect to be involved in the development of applications that re-use their open data. In other words you are making a distinction between the level of control councils, as producers of the data, will exert over re-use of the data by developers and over re-use of the data by the public (i.e. the end-user of the developer’s application).

    If a developer needs to seek the council’s endorsement for re-use of its data in an application, that data is by definition not “open data”. A process such as you describe would only make sense from the developer’s viewpoint if they were seeking funding from the council to build an application to deliver a council objective.

    If there’s no funding on offer, and the data is open, the developer will not normally have any incentive to go through a procurement-like process simply in order to have a council’s “endorsement” for their product.

    Where re-use of council open data is aligned with local government objectives such as transparency and citizen engagement it may well be useful for councils and developers to work together voluntarily. However as generally understood re-use of open data allows implementation of that data in any number of different contexts, including those that do not support the objectives of the open data producer itself.

    In respect of outside applications that use council open data, I think what you are describing is therefore likely to be a development model suitable for special cases but not as a normal set of requirements for local government’s approach to open data release.

      

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    1. Michael Post author

      It’s not intended as a ‘normal set of requirements’, merely a way that a council can support development by endorsing only those products that it’s happy with. This is not to stop people using the data otherwise; it’s to help change the culture of councils from being over-protective of data to engaging actively with people who want to use it.

        

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  5. Simon Whitehouse

    Hello there

    I had a word with a colleague who has done some work on pre-procurement in the area of carbon reduction technologies. She pointed me to something called Forward Commitment Procurement. This snappily titled procurement model is said to “addresses the common stalemate where organisations require products or services that are either not available or are at excessive cost.”

    Now, admittedly, this looks at the situation from a different viewpoint. It describes a situation where the public sector knows what it wants, but that thing isn’t available. You describe a situation where a developer has an idea and pitches it to the public sector organisation. But, I do think it has some relevance.

    Oh, and I do like your idea. How do you imagine this working across local authorities? Or across multiple organisations, say transportation in the local authority, the local public transport providers and blue light services? How do we structure things behind the scenes so they can collaboratively pre-procure applications and services?

      

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