Hi, I'm Benjamin Welby. I live in York with my wife but spend the week sleeping in Clapham. I church with sung liturgy and robes on a Sunday and then in the basement of a Soho bar on a Wednesday. I support Bradford City having studied History, Politics and International Development. At the moment I'm part of the Government Digital Service but I left my heart in local government. This blog may feature any, all or none of these things...
I first blogged in April 2009 on Blogspot and this is my 81st post. My blog doesn’t have a particular focus, this is a place where I write about the things that interest me. It isn’t therefore a ‘public sector’ blog, it’s not a work blog and it’s not official but I don’t hide who I am or where I work and sometimes I do write about it.
A couple of weeks ago #lgovsm (a weekly hour long, hosted and themed, discussion about the use of social media within local government) looked at blogging. 610 tweets have been captured on SearchHash but my follow up from it was to think about four questions – Why should we blog? Why don’t we? How can we get past those hurdles? What more could be done with blogs?
Over the last week I’ve been thinking about my experience of seeing an understanding of open data emerge within Hull City Council. Having considered ‘open data’ in part 1; the need to start internally in part 2; the importance of magicians in part 3 and recent developments in Hull in part 4 this concluding post hopes to tie those threads together.
The quantity of data which we have within local government is vast. In Adam’s pitch to the developers of Hull he mentions 150-300 disparate systems within our council, most of which will produce some kind of metrics. Whilst we all want an approach to open data which means the public sector is more transparent and active citizens are able to access that data the National Audit Office has said that attempts so far have been expensive, and haven’t engaged. Continue reading →
This is part 4 in a series thinking about whether the magic of open data in local government might be found from the inside out. Part 1 considered the phrase ‘open data’ and pointed to thoughts elsewhere; part 2 suggested we prioritise internal data over external engagement; part 3 spoke of the need for magicians and now in part 4 I’d like to share why I’ve said those things
In order for the engagement around data to be meaningful we need an internal appreciation for that to be understood as more than the Tax Payers’ Alliance rifling through our accounts. It might have taken some time but it seems that within Hull City Council we’ve hit a tipping point and for us open spending data has been the catalyst. Continue reading →
This is part 3 in a series thinking about whether the magic of open data in local government might be found from the inside out. In part 1, I considered the phrase ‘open data’ and pointed to thoughts elsewhere and part 2 suggested we needed to start from inside our organisations. In today’s third part I’m thinking about those who make magic.
Of illusions and conjuring tricks
In the last post I said that thinking about open data needed to start with how it improves what we do within our organisations because then we might understand it, recognise the value people might add to it and therefore properly champion the concept of ‘open data’.
It’s all very well saying that but if the narrative about exposing public data is difficult then an internal conversation which talks about what data could do for us is perhaps going to be thwarted before it gets off the ground anyway.
Part of the issue is that without concrete examples conversations can tend far too often towards the technicalities. The most helpful conversations aren’t comparing SOAP and RESTful APIs or talking about integration, nor will they bring up open standards or this protocol or that data format with the layman. Phil Jewitt recently wrote a couple of blog posts (1, 2) about how those beyond the project team didn’t need to know about SCRUM they just needed to know what was necessary. The most helpful conversations have at their heart somebody enthusiastically committed to sharing the secret of what’s possible.
Arthur C Clarke’s third law of prediction says that
In Part 1 of this series, I considered the phrase ‘open data’ and pointed to thoughts elsewhere about whether it’s an unhelpful phrase, how communities are engaged to use it and how the government approach has been judged thus far. Today, I’m wondering about Square One.
It is great that the focus around ‘open data’ may be shifting away from simply getting us compliant and pushing data out to instead think about how engagement can be structured around its use. It’s also brilliant to see twitter buzzing about Saturday’s National Hack The Government Day which wouldn’t have been possible without the data that is there already.
I have no doubt at all that the public sector as a whole is sitting on a goldmine of information that can help make democracy flow and services perform better. But I think there’s a danger of being excited about the cart to the forgetting of its horses.
My time at Hull City Council has coincided with an emerging Open Data movement leading calls for greater transparency in the public sector. That has raised questions for my organisation and led to a lot of circular conversations. Recently things have started to change in a way that has got me thinking that perhaps the magic of open data is found from the inside out. Hopefully this series of posts will explain what I mean.
In some circles these two little words ‘open’ and ‘data’ have prompted much debate and discussion. Touted as making the public sector more accountable. Seen as an opportunity that excites because of tools it might make possible. But in other circles it’s an alien subject and a phrase that can be a little bit obtuse to those outside the choir.
QR codes are prolific but it doesn’t seem as though people are actually using them, or convinced by their value. I like them but I can understand that agnosticism because they seem to be added for the sake of it rather than because they add any value for the person doing the scanning.
The code on this post is just like that but it was two things I saw today that prompted me to write this. Firstly, via the quite excellent WTFQRcodes.comContinue reading →
Last night I was at an event hosted by the University of York called ‘Professional Connect’. This was a great idea – a chance for current students to find out more from alumni who are already on the inside. There were three streams – finance, management and law; media, journalism and publishing; and government, public and charity sector.
Amongst the gov/pub/3rd sector alumni was a wide array of different organisations and careers. Continue reading →
‘Most governments try to make a difference to the course of history, but only a very few succeed. The fate of most is to make big claims…[but]…to leave office having tinkered piecemeal’ Anthony Seldon of Policy Exchange. Continue reading →