Open Data Champions

In case you missed it, Devon County Council has just been recognised by Francis Maude as an Open Data Champion at an event in Whitehall on Tuesday 24th March. This is an amazing achievement; of all the local authorities of all sizes and types in the UK, just sixteen councils were recognised in this way. I was there for a practitioners round table discussion, while councillor Barry Parsons represented us at the council leaders presentation. It’s hard to begin to describe just how proud we are to have been marked out in this way. So where do we start?

First; it’s not just me who’s made this happen. I might have been in the room during the announcement, I might have been to meetings, and I might have made myself a right nuisance to colleagues by going on about this open data thing at every opportunity. Tick, tick and big tick. But I’m just one representative of this organisation, and it’s the organisation that’s just been recognised as a leader in open data. This is down to the work of many people coming together and sharing a vision of what kind of council we want to be.

I can hear you thinking, is that all it takes to be a champion? Talk a lot and get invited to the right things? Well, no. We’re champions because we care; we’re champions because we know that good government, the best government, is accountable to the people it represents; we’re champions even because we admit to not having all the answers. But mainly we’re champions because we get out and talk to seriously smart motivated people, share what’s on our mind, and bring new ideas home to try out. We’re champions because we’re not afraid to try new things in an emerging field, knowing that the early rewards will be intangible at best.

Obviously we have done a lot of work on open data that we’re rightly proud of – from running hackathons at Plymouth University, creating an open data forum, supporting the creation of the first rural ODI Node; to pushing the boundaries on which services might publish data, creating predictive models with government open data, and piloting open data clauses in our procurement process. We’re blazing a trail by trying out things here and there, where we can.

All well and good: what’s next?

Firstly we’ve got some work to do on meeting our obligations under the refreshed transparency code. Alongside what we’ve traditionally published there are several new datasets we need to release, including parking (coming soon!)

Next we will be looking at which social care datasets we can publish coming out of the study just being completed; this is breaking new ground, as this area is rightly seen as sensitive, and opening up carries some risks. Between us, Sutton Council and Kingston Council and our delivery partner FutureGov – ably assisted by data scientist Edafe Onerhime – we’ve looked at all the data used to deliver an effective adult social care service and identified several areas where opening up the information would help suppliers, customers and partners to improve the way we support older people.

After that … there’s almost no area of the council that couldn’t benefit from a closer look at how we manage our information, and some thinking about the best way to share it. We’ll be running more workshops to help staff get to grips with the new skills and tools we’ll need, and we will revamp some of our web pages to make it easier for people to find the data they want from us.

If this sounds like something you’d like to get involved in, or something you’d like to get some help with, get in touch!

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