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.