Open Data views from our Chair Peter Sleight

Those of you who were at the excellent SLA event on 11th September (‘The Locational Data Market’) will have seen Prof. Bob Barr perform; and once seen, never forgotten! Given Bob’s encyclopaedic knowledge of locational data, I think we can see his hand in The Case for an Open National Address Dataset (see Sarah Hitchcock’s blog – ‘The Open Data Group – an inside view’).

Like Sarah, Bob Barr is also a member of the ODUG team. They have put together a very persuasive case for making not only the Postcode Address File – PAF – but also Ordnance Survey’s AddressBase, Open Data. These two datasets together form the National Address Gazetteer (NAG). Since the government announced NAG back in December 2010, various bodies have been lobbying to make NAG Open Data; they include the MRS Census & Geodemographics Group (CGG), the Association of Census Distributors (ACD) and the Demographics User Group (DUG).

Those of you who attended the Open Data SLA event in Winchester on 21st February this year (organised by SLA members Mark Braggins, Mike Bovis, and Steve Scholey) will remember the keynote speaker, Prof. Nigel Shadbolt, speaking eloquently about the value of Open Data. Nigel and his colleague Tim Berners-Lee are the joint ‘drivers’ of data.gov.uk.

I took the opportunity to make the case for Open NAG at that event; in conversation afterwards, I commented to Nigel that I was surprised that it was proving so hard to make this happen, given that the government’s Transparency Board, of which he is a member, had argued for just that in their minutes of June 2011. He said (discreetly !) that some parts of government were keen to ‘keep the money’!

In my view, this ODUG initiative may provide the catalyst to make this very desirable thing happen – an Open NAG, free for all to use. If you’re interested, I would encourage you to read the ODUG papers – see Sarah’s blog. Her second reference (http://data.gov.uk/blog/odug-calls-on-the-government– etc. is actually Heather Savory’s blog where you can add your comments. Why don’t you add your voice? I have a feeling that this time, the tide for Open Data is flowing so strongly that it will be very difficult for the likes of Ordnance Survey and Royal Mail to resist its force.

Peter Sleight, chair, SLA

The Open Data User Group – an inside view!

I admit that I’m relieved to be writing this blog after working with Open Data User Group (ODUG) members for 4 months, rather than within my first few weeks. Our first meeting on 10th July was held in trendy Tech City, Shoreditch. Already feeling too ‘corporate’ I sit down and pull out my notepad and pen – at that precise moment, my thirteen new colleagues open iPads, laptops and other ‘smart’ devices. Add ‘old school’ to the list of my insecurities.

As the meeting commences I realise I’ve never heard so many acronyms – it’s going to be a steep learning curve just following the conversation! It dawns on me that this is payback for being at Sainsbury’s for so long and understanding the language inside out. I’m going to have to learn the ways of the public sector – quickly!

Heather Savory, our ODUG chair is an impressive lady, and as an open data newbie she brings with her a fresh approach. Heather has a lot of experience and is chomping at the bit get things moving and to make a difference. It’s quickly apparent her strengths will be her objectivity and an ability to mesh our views together to ensure we drive results.

Having collaborated every few weeks over the past 4 months, I’ve got to know a great group of people in ODUG, and I’m really enjoying the experience. A key benefit of this group is that each participant brings experience and knowledge, between us we’ve worked across numerous different industries and sectors. Most importantly, we’ve worked with data, developed with it and have managed teams that purchase data and deliver results with it.

ODUG was set up to work with the Transparency Team in the HM Cabinet Office. We are here to represent the views of the user community and to clearly set out the arguments to release the datasets that have the potential to deliver broad benefits.

My initial concerns upon joining ODUG as the ‘large company representative’, was addressing the contentious ‘they’re big enough to pay for the data’ issue. But following our discussions, it’s clear that budget holders in large organisations are willing to pay for the value-add this data provides, and you don’t always want to spend the time doing this, providing opportunities for the smaller guys. Naturally budgets will always be tight, and some data costs may always be prohibitive – whatever the size of company.

As a relative newcomer to the world of open data, it also struck me how many different organisations are looking into the open data strategy. This is so encouraging, particularly when we all work together. We have many links through the ODUG members that will help with this:

  • Heather Savory advises the Data Strategy Board
  • Jenni Tennison is the Technical Director of the Open Data Institute
  • Mick Cory chairs the UK Location Group
  • Roger Taylor is a member Open Public Service Network at the RSA which works to make open data usable and relevant to the public

Personally, I’m staying close to the work that DUG (Demographic User Group) are doing, led by Keith Dugmore, the support the Duggers are providing is invaluable – thanks everyone!
So what progress have we made? In our first few months, we’ve made a promising start:


Many of you have also discussed the issues of data formatting, the ability to link data sets together and the issues around not releasing national UK files. ODUG’s primary objective is to push for data release, but I’m more than happy to discuss any other concerns. Hopefully we will make a few other fixes along the way…

Data requests are shown on the Data.Gov website so take a look – you may find out about data that you didn’t know existed that would help you in your role. Please request data, even if it’s already requested – this growing interest in open data helps us collect more evidence to support our quest.

Oh – and my iPad is on order.

I’d love you to get in touch to discuss your views on open data – email me at sarah.hitchcock@odug.co.uk

ONS publication of Census 2011 Geography products

ONS has just published the 2011 Census Geography products at http://www.ons.gov.uk/censusgeography.

These products, detailed in the 2011 Census Geography Prospectus, include boundaries of the modified output areas (OAs) and super output areas (SOAs). They have been made available ahead of the 2011 Census second release estimates, and can be used under Open Government Licence.

OAs and SOAs are the core statistical geography from which estimates for all higher geographies are produced, including all 2011 Census statistical releases, in line with the Geography Policy for National Statistics. They are therefore not only a key 2011 Census delivery, but also one that provides the geographical base that is used to inform policy, planning and resource allocation across the public and private sectors.

ONS Geography
National Statistics
Tel: 01329 444971
For the latest data on the economy and society consult National Statistics at http://www.ons.gov.uk