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Data? What is it good for?

Julian Thompson

Our Digital Coordinator, Julian Thompson, explorers the some of the challenges and opportunities presented by Open Data, as we celebrate Open Data Day.

Data? What is it good for?

Not much: on its own, siloed and unreadable…

But open up that data and allow it to take shape in your imagination and it can change the world (or at least how we visualise and interact with it).

To plan, you must start with information: what, how, when & who. Information becomes important; easy access and interpretation essential.

To imagine something different and to plan to achieve it, you need a starting point. Your ability to visualise your world using geospatial technology is improving daily. But it all starts with Data. We are, after all, entering the fourth industrial revolution which is fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds; impacting all disciplines, economies, and industries.

Therefore, the quality of (and access to) our Data must match our ability to visualise and imagine.

Sadly, these things do not always align… Data produced both by government and the private sector frequently doesn’t meet requirements… Why?

Old systems, poor collection (quality), no plan for how the data would (or could) be used in future, disparate procurement (different IT systems and providers), no central standards (taxonomy), no defined formats, no central storage, no easy way to access or update are just a few of the issues.

When recently shown 2,000 PDF documents, which were outputs from planning consultancies, posted on a local authority website, I was shocked at how information can become obscured. Each document was conveniently labelled with a naming convention (think 0001, 0002), with no clue as to contents, no description etc. Publicly procured reports, containing valuable data, helpfully published and open to the public – but would you open 2,000 documents to search for the bit of text relevant to you, or your area?

Taxonomy (from Greek “taxis” meaning arrangement or division and “nomos” meaning law) is the science of classification according to a pre-determined system with the resulting catalogue used to provide a conceptual framework for discussion, analysis, or information retrieval.

The time has come for standardisation of data to provide this framework for discussion and analysis, on which to base decisions. This means a change in culture in collection and quality of our data.

As I write this, it is Open Data Day – an annual celebration of open data all over the world.

For the seventh time in history, groups from around the world will create local events on the day where they will use open data in their communities. It is an opportunity to show the benefits of open data and encourage the adoption of open data policies… I’m attending 360 Giving’s Open Data Day, with a view to seeing how we can connect access to land and local people, to available funding, via our mapping application Land Explorer.

The aim of open data is to democratise access to data, to open research data, track public money, open mapping and provide data for equal development. We’re pleased to be working with The Open Data Institute, as this movement gains traction, to open up both government and local authority Data. We’re excited to see what the geospatial commission’s output will be with regard to the chancellors’ budget announcement on Ordnance Survey MasterMap Data. After all, you’ve already paid for the data. Why not use it?

Open data will create new and exciting opportunities with funding, getting it where it’s most needed. Organisations like Solidarity Economy are mapping coops – connecting grass roots groups and movements.

The Data we can now play with will touch all aspects of our lives, from food production, distribution networks and transport, planning and power generation – even what’s underneath the ground; Ordnance Survey & the British Geological Survey are mapping what’s under our feet, with Project Iceberg.

It all starts (and ends) with Data… as we then collect Data on outcomes and start to measure the success or impact of projects and the changes on our lives.

The challenges we have are: varying methods for access to data, limited data coverage, no feedback loop, poor quality data, speed of access and data interoperability.

So, it’s more important now than ever before that we adopt a culture that appreciates the importance of our Data, its capture, its quality and its openness. You never know who might connect the dots, or where it might lead…

I’m excited about the possibilities and what the future holds.

Data isn’t exciting. What we can do with it is.

#lovedata #opendataday

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