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November 03 2010


Open data from the inside: Lichfield Council’s Stuart Harrison

I’m trying to get a feel for what some of the most innovative government departments and local authorities are doing around releasing data. I spoke to Stuart Harrison of Lichfield Council, which is leading the way at a local level.

What has been your involvement with open data so far?

I’ve been interested in open data for a few years now. It all started when I was building a site for food safety inspections in Staffordshire (http://www.ratemyplace.org.uk/), and after seeing the open APIs offered by sites such as Fixmystreet, Theyworkforyou etc, was inspired to add an API (http://www.ratemyplace.org.uk/api). This then got me thinking about all the data we publish on our website, and whether we could publish this in an open format. A trickle quickly turned into a flood and we now have over 50 individual items of open data at http://www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/data.

I think the main thing I’ve learnt is that APIs are great, but they’re not always necessary. My early work was on APIs that link directly into databases, but, as I’ve moved forward, I’ve found that this isn’t always necessary. While an API is nice to have, it’s sometimes much better to just get the data out there in a raw format.

What have people done with the data so far?

As we’re quite a small council, we haven’t had a lot of people doing work (that I know of) with much of our data. The biggest user of our data is probably Chris Taggart at Openly Local – I actually built an API (and extended the functionality of our existing councillor and committees system) to make it easier to republish. To be honest, unless I know the person and they actually told me, I doubt I’d actually know what was going on!

What do you plan to do next – and why?

Because of the problems stated before, we’ve got together with ScraperWiki to organise a Hacks and Hackers day on the 11th November, which will hopefully encourage developers and journalists to do something with our data, and also put the wheels in motion for organising a data-based community, which means that once someone does something with our data, we’re more likely to know about it!

October 06 2010


Event: Hacks and Hackers Hack Day Lichfield (#hhhlich)

We have another event to announce, as part of Scraperwiki’s UK & Ireland tour. We’re going to Lichfield, Staffordshire! In partnership with Lichfield District Council, we’re holding a hacks and hackers hack day at Venture House on Monday 11th November.

“Lichfield District Council have been publishing open data for a while now, and it seems a good fit to put on a day where we can showcase the data we have published, as well as encourage people to do something with it,” said council webmaster Stuart Harrison.

“We’re not precious though, and if something is built using other public data, we’ll be just as happy!”

The details:

What? Scraperwiki, the award-winning new screen scraper and data mining tool, funded by 4iP and Lichfield District Council are putting on a one day practical hack day* in Lichfield, Staffordshire at which web developers and designers (hackers) will pair up with journalists and bloggers or anyone with an interest in media and communications (hacks) to produce a number of projects and stories based on public data. It’s all part of the ScraperWiki UK & Ireland Hacks and Hackers tour.

Who’s it for? We hope to attract ‘hacks’ and ‘hackers’ from all different types of backgrounds – across programming, media and communications.

What will I get out of it?
The aim is to show journalists how to use programming and design techniques to create online news stories and features; and vice versa, to show programmers how to find, develop, and polish stories and features. To see what happened at our past events in Liverpool and Birmingham visit the ScraperWiki blog.

How much? NOTHING! It’s free, thanks to our sponsors

What should I bring? We would encourage people to come along with ideas for local ‘datasets’ that are of interest. In addition we will create a list of suggested data sets at the introduction on the morning of the event but flexibility is key for this event. If you have a laptop, please bring this too.

So what exactly will happen on the day? Armed
with their laptops and WIFI, journalists and developers will be put
into teams of around four to develop their ideas, with the aim of
finishing final projects that can be published and shared publicly. Each team will then present their project to the whole group. Overall winners will receive a prize at the end of the day.

*Not sure what a hack day is? Let’s go with the Wikipedia definition: It “an event where developers, designers and people with ideas gather to build ‘cool stuff’”…

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