When Cambridgeshire County Council received the funding to develop our approach to Open Data in the County we were naturally very pleased. Eight months later after the hard slog of delivering a project to time / budget we can reflect back on what we’ve learnt.
Our initial proposal to the LGA was that we would develop a sustainable method / website for publishing Open Data for Cambridgeshire and that we would focus particularly on hither-to unreleased data that would benefit the local economy. In practice this meant delivering a number of different work packages:
- An inventory of data whose release could benefit the economy
- Consultation with users / interested parties on the site / methodology and datasets
- Development of an IT platform
- Development of a methodology of how to do Open Data
- Development and release of new data.
As well as delivering these we’ve learnt a number of important lessons along the way that are worth sharing with a wider audience.
Firstly, a project like this needs to be data driven; that is to say focused on delivering the data that people are interested in. That may sound obvious but looking around the country there are many examples of projects that are too focused on IT and technology. A sophisticated website with a wide range of tools is all very well but if it omits to undertake the basics in terms of providing useful data then the overall benefits we hope to gain from Open Data will not be achieved.
Secondly, there is still an element of mystery on Open Data with local authorities. Outside of doing the minimum and publishing the statutory datasets there is still uncertainty about basic things such as terminology and data standards that deters publication. That isn’t to say there isn’t enthusiasm for publishing, far from it, but there is a distinct lack of knowledge and skills.
Finally, there is still a need to demonstrate the local benefits of publication. The national business case has already been made through the Open Data ‘White Paper’ and accompanying initiatives. But the squeeze on local government resources puts real pressure on time and investment on that most valuable of commodities (time) in developing new releases needs to be justified. Locally two examples we’ve come across is to head off Freedom of Information requests by readily publishing data and also rather than developing expensive ‘apps’ for things like local bus / travel times focus instead on the cheaper alternative of releasing the data in an Open format for others to exploit.
Beyond the end of this project we will be seeking to address these points. Realising the benefits of publication, spreading the skills within the public sector and making the case for the further release of data in Cambridgeshire so watch this space.
Cambridgeshire Insight Open Data Project