Let’s not just make open data sexy… let’s make it really useful!

To register for the Really Useful event of 1st of July go to http://reallyuseful2011.eventbrite.com and vote for the challenges at http://ru11.ideascale.com

Ever since the launch of open data here in the UK by Sir Tim Bernes-Lee in  January 2010 with data.gov.uk (who ReadWriteWeb says actually put the US version Data.gov to shame due to the volume of data data.gov.uk offered was far more than the U.S. site), we here in the UK have seen some interesting stuff coming out from raw data.

There has been much talk recently at the Guardian regarding whether or not open data can actually create more efficient services. For fellow enthusiasts, this statement itself makes you want to jump out of your seats and say YES!  But for many others, the statement still remains a question. Can it or does it not?

Or as young people might say these days, is it a STUD or a DUD???


Tiny details aside, we’ve had some marvellous efforts by our friends OpenlyLocal who are collecting information on which local councils have open data. And also LinkedGov founded by my good uni friend Hadley Beeman who has setup a community project to collaboratively clean and make usable data from local authorities and other public bodies.  NESTA has also been doing some useful things too with their ‘Make It Local’ campaign.


Need I say more? I’ll leave it to the man himself to tell him why open data is relevant, plus a reference to the lovely Paul Clarkes blog!


The idea of open data and doing wonderful things with it in the forefront might be an attractive thing but its not always useful. So how do we know if that information is useful to the people we serve?  How do we, as local authorities help assist developers to identify citizen’s issues? With the thousands of data available and the variety of services we deliver, how do we give our data A VOICE?  Or more importantly, how do we GIVE CITIZENS A VOICE? And also how do we give LOCAL AUTHORITIES A VOICE?


Ideally in a perfect world, we’d have developers, citizens and local government sitting together in a room with tea and biscuits and talk about our problems and find ‘Really Useful’ solutions. Although this might be happening already, it needs to be happening on a larger scale. Like Lee Bryant from Headshift said (which I completely agree with and could not put any better)…

I would strongly urge developers to answer the call to get involved, and ideally to avoid obsessing about tiny details of data formats and licensing in favour of actually building something that is (a) useful and (b) communicable to normal people rather than just data geeks. It is easy to forget that what we are doing here is so utterly marginal in terms of both investment and impact that it barely registers on either government’s or citizens’ radar right now. But there is no doubt in my mind that this is where government should be headed if it is serious about engaging better, improving services and getting more value out of existing investment.


With that quote, it is my pleasure to announce a ‘Really Useful’ event (#RU11) that will be happening within 6 months (both online and offline) where it aims to: –

  • To seek innovative ways of using local datasets in ways that help citizens by taking a user led approach
  • Create a collaborative space for policy and service managers to help shape developments based on user need using customer centric intelligence
  • Make use of existing standards and influence further enhancement of standards
  • To support the development of web and mobile applications and web services to support the sector in using its data to support improvement, efficiency and innovation
  • To identify and remove barriers to innovative developments using local datasets
  • To facilitate collaboration between different areas of public sector


  • 1st July – The first event will identify possible apps and uses for open datasets. Developers and LA users will be able to discuss feasibility, build business cases and sustainability models and functional specifications. All apps going forward should have a sponsor. (Register interest by emailing liz.azyan@camden.gov.uk, kindly indicate 1st July event in subject heading)

To register for the Really Useful event of 1st of July go to http://reallyuseful2011.eventbrite.com and vote for the challenges at http://ru11.ideascale.com

  • August (TBC) – The outputs from the initial day(s) will be posted on a COP site and developers and La users will improve the specifications and post new ideas. Sponsors will find datasets and remove obstacles wherever possible.
  • September (TBC) – LG group envisage a two day event where developers can come together and continue to realise the most popular specifications. (Register interest by emailing liz.azyan@camden.gov.uk, kindly indicate ‘September event’ in subject heading)
  • October/November (TBC) – Further work to take place on the CoP: look for opportunities for deployment/distribution and productisation etc
  • December (TBC) – The developer teams return to showcase their apps, tell of success, lessons learnt etc. This event would be open to a much wider audience- useful to involve central gov and also CAs and cllrs from local government. (Register interest by emailing liz.azyan@camden.gov.uk, kindly indicate ‘December event’ in subject heading)


The ‘Really Useful’ event also wants to hear from you about your apps and hopefully (time permitted) review it too! So if you have an exciting app that you developed from open data in local government and want to share it with the world, drop by our forum and stick your linkHERE!

We’re looking forward to being ‘Really Useful’! Are you?

To register for the Really Useful event of 1st of July go to http://reallyuseful2011.eventbrite.com and vote for the challenges at http://ru11.ideascale.com

Liz Azyan (Really Useful Enthusiast)

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  1. cb

    As a frontline practitioner (social worker), I’d love to be involved in an event like this not least because I can think of a million applications that might be useful in my day to day work all too often the information and database sets provided to us have been dictated from above with little input from front line practice.

    Unfortunately due to the ways that social services are run and the hold that is over us by our contracts and our voices, I have to remain anonymous. I do think there is a case for real frontline practitioners to be involved though as opposed to media and comms teams because, we, at front line practice, are often the mirror through which the effectiveness or not of local government is felt ‘at the sharp end’.

    I think we (social workers/social services) have important voices to share regarding service users who might be marginalised and less able to involve themselves in these kinds of events due to lack of capacity (in my case as I work with a lot of people who have dementia) or lack of access to digital means (poverty).

    Good luck with the idea though. I hope one day people like me won’t need to be anonymous and our employers won’t be so frightened of us having our own voices and will see the benefits of it and I really hope some great apps which are able to improve the quality of the service we provide are identified!