Guest blog: Open Data in government, inspiring better and cheaper services

3 Dec 2015, 12:12 pm

by John Jackson, CIO, Camden Council

Open Data can fundamentally change government and the way we govern says John Jackson. Being ‘open data by default’ puts councils in the shoes of their customers and incubates fresh thinking and innovation service delivery. Better still, it can inspire better and cheaper services.

john jackson camden

When I first heard about Open Data about three years ago I really didn’t get it. So long as the finance numbers made it to the website in some kind of excel spreadsheet then all was well, no need to worry.

Back then the lack of meta data, APIs and citizen dashboards didn’t seem something to worry about. How wrong was I!

Today, getting good quality digital data out there to those who need it and proactively sharing it across silos and sectors are two incredibly important things every council’s digital strategy should focus on.

Yes, being good at Open Data means we tick the box on compliance with the Transparency Code. Yes, it helps local hack groups do innovative stuff with applications that are just better and easier to use than a lot of the stuff we have today.

But more than that, Open Data can fundamentally change government and the way we govern.

How? Firstly, committing the whole organisation to publish its data online  by default means that every council employee owns the data quality and data sharing agenda. It means a systemic problem that every council struggles to solve, or justify spending time on, now has collective significance and has to be sorted.

Being an Open Data council by default means everyone has to care about the quality of what they publish and to whom. That is massive in itself.

Secondly, it means services need to think creatively about what they put out there and why. Putting themselves in the shoes of their customers incubates fresh thinking and innovation in terms of service delivery. So instead of asking people to ring us about where they on the school waiting list, we just publish the waiting list online, refresh the data constantly and point parents to the open data platform so they can monitor when it’s convenient to them.

Thirdly, you can massively amplify the power of your data by linking it with other digital initiatives. So, for example, when we publish information on planning in Camden on our open data platform, we automatically let citizens who have subscribed to alerts in a council account know that there is a property development near to them which they may be interested in.

Several councils, including my own, use Socrata to facilitate use of Open Data. It’s a tool for local government to transform data into actionable insights for public and internal use. It includes a range of APIs to enable the analysis of data, includes data visualisation and usefully, comes with a community of like-minded councils who are encouraged to share code, applications and thinking.

My advice is, let’s get digital. Let’s get open!