“I have always been of a mind that data can be very elitist and that you’ve got to be quite technical to understand it,”
So Mark Barrett, director at Hebe Works, and his team decided to build the Solomon Dashboard, a free web application aiming to make open data easy to understand and improve access to local knowledge throughout the UK.
Local journalists will be able to use the tool, released at the end of September, to support their articles with figures on issues affecting the population in their area, or to find stories in the data itself.
“What we wanted to try and achieve was to make data understandable to everyone, so that they could interact with it and understand their city in great detail,” Barrett added.
After loading the platform on their mobile, tablet or desktop, users can customise the software to suit them, getting up to date information on a range of issues, from the standard of water quality in their area to when their next bin collection day is.
The dashboard contains ‘canvases’ on wider subjects like environmental issues, that hold individual ‘stories’ on more focused topics such as how many people are cycling in the city, or where the bike spaces are.
For example, a user might create a canvas populated with stories that focus on public transport in the area where they work, and another that focuses on education where they live.
As the Solomon software is open source, all the code the team at Hebe Works write is published to GitHub for the public to use freely and create their own stories.
“We ask that people contribute back any improvements they make,” said Simon Zimmerman, director at Hebe Works.
“Anyone with a GitHub account can download Solomon today and start making their own stories – we’ve added some documentation to help developers get started and we’ll be adding to this as questions arise.”
Users can run the application in any modern web browser, to be viewed on desktops and mobile platforms.
The application is currently in Beta – publicly available, but as an incomplete version of the service. The company is currently improving certain aspects of the tool, such as allowing future users to password protect their work.
The project is partly funded by Leeds City Council, so existing stories are currently very focussed on the city and have been created using open data from the Leeds Data Mill.
But Hebe Works is looking for other organisations who have data and want to work with them to provide citizens with self-service, on-demand access to local information.
You can access a demonstration of the Solomon Dashboard here.