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May 27 2011

17:18

#Newsrw: ‘There is no point in having data unless you have context to go with it’

Open data is essential, but useless without context – that was the consensus at the local data session.

A lively debate took place, where delegates heard from a range of speakers and their attempts to fill the niche in local data, creating “open data cities” and encouraging transparency.

Greg Hadfield of Cogapp cited three key elements that were required to create an open data city.

“Data must be made available in a structured format, they must have a commitment to transparency and accountability, and be a city that thinks like the web,” he said.

Hadfield also mentioned the Road Map for the Digital City, a project based in New York headed by Rachel Sterne intended to provide a comprehensive guide to make it the leading digital city.

He also referenced his own experience in trying to transform Brighton into an open data city, saying the only organisation who weren’t part of a conversation that included councils, nhs trusts and businesses were the traditional media.

“Monolithic media is lacking in innovation, is organisationally dysfunctional, careless about readers, users and communities.

“It’s guilty of continuous betrayals of trust at the expense of journalists, communities and shareholders,” he said.

Philip John of the Lichfield Blog confirmed this view, saying that people who ran hyperlocal websites like his were often far more passionate about their local area than journalists who worked for local newspapers.

@philipjohn speaking at #newsrw by JosephStash

The Lichfield Blog was born out of connecting to the community and creating something more in tune with the people who live there.

“There is no point in having data unless you have context to go with it. If we’re talking about journalism, we’re trying to find a story,” he said.

Chris Taggart and Jonathan Carr-West (of OpenlyLocal and the Local Government Information Unit respectively) both touched on the idea of not confusing technology with innovation.

“What matters is not the technology or the tools, but the uses that you put them to. This is the new emphasis on openness,” said Carr-West.

He spoke about finding the right tool for the job, and not thinking there is a one-size fits all solution to finding and releasing data.

Taggart has a background in magazine journalism but identified the lack of local data that was available on the web when he started his OpenlyLocal project.

He spoke about the brilliant stories that journalists can find by digging in councils, and the new opportunities that open local data presented.

“The information is out there, but we have a lack of resources and journalists.

“The opportunity is out there, but we need people to chase it and follow it up,” he said.

13:32

LIVE: Session 3A – Local data

We have Matt Caines and Ben Whitelaw from Wannabe Hacks liveblogging for us at news:rewired all day. You can follow session 3A ‘Local Data’, below.

Session 3A features: Philip John, director, Lichfield Blog; Chris Taggart, founder, OpenlyLocal; Greg Hadfield, director of strategic projects, Cogapp; Jonathan Carr-West, director, Local Government Information Unit. Moderated by Matthew Eltringham, editor, BBC College of Journalism website.

September 06 2010

20:35

Charities data opened up – journalists: say thanks.

Having made significant inroads in opening up council and local election data, Chris Taggart has now opened up charities data from the less-than-open Charity Commission website. The result: a new website – Open Charities.

The man deserves a round of applause. Charity data is enormously important in all sorts of ways – and is likely to become more so as the government leans on the third sector to take on a bigger role in providing public services. Making it easier to join the dots between charitable organisations, the private and public sector, contracts and individuals – which is what Open Charities does – will help journalists and bloggers enormously.

A blog post by Chris explains the site and its background in more depth. In it he explains that:

“For now, it’s just a the simplest of things, a web application with a unique URL for every charity based on its charity number, and with the basic information for each charity available as data (XML, JSON and RDF). It’s also searchable, and sortable by most recent income and spending, and for linked data people there are dereferenceable Resource URIs.

“The entire database is available to download and reuse (under an open, share-alike attribution licence). It’s a compressed CSV file, weighing in at just under 20MB for the compressed version, and should probably only attempted by those familiar with manipulating large datasets (don’t try opening it up in your spreadsheet, for example). I’m also in the process of importing it into Google Fusion Tables (it’s still churning away in the background) and will post a link when it’s done.”

Chris promises to add more features “if there’s any interest”.

Well, go on…

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