At UK GovCamp recently a bunch of us looked at what an open data platform should look like. Not the technical stuff, but what a council would need to do to make the most of it. One aspect of that is how to encourage interest and trust from people who have ideas for using the data.
Simon Whitehouse has already written about the fuller discussion. Here I focus on building the relationship between developers and the council.
This is theoretical stuff, written from the point of view that you won’t get anywhere if you don’t treat people appropriately. The practical and political hurdles are many, and being from outside the sector I’m not qualified to comment on those; but needless to say they need overcoming before this model will work.
There have been a few schemes where developers have been rewarded with lunch or drinks for thrashing ideas around, but this is hardly sustainable. What happens to those ideas? How do you ensure your friendly developers don’t get disheartened or disillusioned?
In my opinion, there needs to be a genuine partnership between the developers and the council. This must be encouraged and managed by the council and must start the moment someone shows any interest.
The journey might look something like this:
[If it's worth it, I might turn this into a flowchart]
- A developer visits the council’s open data platform, where they can search the ideas that are ‘Completed’ or ‘Under development';
- OR they can offer an idea. If it matches existing keywords the developer is presented with possible duplicate ideas;
- The council agrees to support the development until completion or until the agreement is terminated (see 5.4);
- The council agrees not to use the developer’s idea independently;
- The council agrees that the developer is not bound to develop anything at all;
- The developer agrees that the council can terminate the agreement at any point if the basic parameters are not met;
- If the developer agrees then the product must not change without approval from the council;
- The idea is now ‘Under development';
- If the product does change, or the council disapproves of any changes, the council may withdraw its endorsement;
- If agreed, both parties are bound by it;
- The developer’s idea now becomes ‘Under development';
The point is that the relationship between council and citizen needs to change if anything meaningful is to come of sharing information.
Of course the council needs to retain some control over its own products, but it also needs to enter a proper, mutual arrangement with the developer if it is to keep their trust. A process such as the one outlined above should assist in that.
Such a process also ensures that the council only puts its name to products that meet its own standards. While a council can’t control how people use its open data it can control what it endorses.
If adhered to, this should help build confidence between the local authority and the development community. It should also enable a whole swathe of improvements to services, which otherwise the council would not think of or be able to develop.