Issue 1: December 2011

OPEN DATA: A DIGITAL OPPORTUNITY FOR SOCIAL, ECONOMIC, AND FINANCIAL WINS

By David Mitton, Listpoint

It will not be news to this audience that governments around the world are under pressure to revive economies and support their local communities. At the recent GovCamp Scotland I was genuinely inspired to see the significant participation of industry and academia and their willingness to play their part in this revival.

Collaboration was predictably a much used term but let’s hope that as a consequence of this conference these traditionally uncomfortable bed fellows can actually work together. What is more, with economic challenges biting deeper and deeper, a solid connected platform where expertise and costs are shared is the only way to secure a prosperous future.

One of the challenges for the Scottish Government, in trying to realise the potential for digital collaboration and harvest early success, is in building a plan to publish data sets for re-use and in order to build applications. The challenge, I believe, is for Scottish Government to do this quickly and achieve rapid outcomes. The barrier is the extraction and publication of data sets while ensuring personal data is not released by accident. Other Governments have already started to release huge quantities of Open Government Data although the quality, structure and accessibility of it are extremely varied.

There is little or no risk involved in releasing reference data and yet in the right context it has enormous value and the potential to create huge efficiency, savings and growth.

What is often overlooked when faced with the complex nature of these tasks is that there can be 'quick wins'. All local and central government departments can participate and at the same time share the resource burden to make it happen. Our rallying cry should be 'Release your code lists' (that‘s reference data)! Code lists are used on all IT systems in order to support efficient database searches. An example of a code list is country codes eg the code for United Kingdom = GBR.

There is little or no risk involved in releasing reference data and yet in the right context it has enormous value and the potential to create huge efficiency, savings and growth.

How can reference data support social and economic development?

Actually the benefits and applications are in the simple and everyday patterns of work and living.

As recently as early October yet another person was injured when the top deck of a bus collided with a bridge in Edinburgh. In order to help reduce instances of HGVs and buses hitting bridges the release of Low Bridge location codes could be developed into an App for smart phones and SatNav systems, simply warning drivers of impending danger.

Across the UK, crime is already being routinely prevented across borders by the introduction of the Police National Database. That database relies hugely on the management of the code lists which underpin data standards and range from gender and ethnicity codes to offence and vehicle codes.

Commercially, improved sharing and exploitation of code lists will bring savings to everyone. A vehicle’s make/model code is maintained by the DVLA and is used to help provide services to the public through policing, insurance, financing, servicing, parts delivery and road side assistance. For example, code lists are what help you to find the right vehicle when searching for insurance or to make sure replacement windscreens are delivered for the right vehicle. If we make code lists like this more accessible to the developer community they will provide Apps that improve efficiencies across all these services and all from a single Government list.

Possibly the most focused part of GovCamp was the Public Service Delivery breakout session. Following the debate the panellists were invited to provide advice to the Scottish Government with regard to its "Open Data Policy". They outlined their advice with the analogy of climbing a mountain.

The first part of the advice was to start climbing straight away even if the peak could not be seen from the very bottom of the mountain. The response stressed the need for an evolving strategy as the mountain was climbed, for if a climber waited for perfect conditions and a perfect support infrastructure then no mountain would ever be climbed.

We need to do everything that can to open up reference data today, because it will enable the widest community to start participating, build proving points and help to establish the longer term Open Data strategy and at little or no risk. This simple, single activity could provide positive social, economic, and political outcomes supported by the connected community and take Scotland dramatically forward in realising its digital opportunity.

 

 

By David Mitton, Listpoint

Issue 1: December 2011

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