Talking Open Data at #VCSSCamp

I attended #VCSSCAMP – for people from VCS Local Infrastructure Organisations across the country to meet [that’s CVSs and Volunteer Centres etc] and what a bunch of enthusiastic people they are.

I was reminded by Nick Booth of just how important it is to tell people what you are doing now, not what you did or are going to do, thus this post[1].

There were several great sessions (look up the #hashtag or view the storify [to follow]), but I became most animated during the Open Data session – no surprise there.  This session had two main threads, the first detailing the sorts of things that can be done when you mix and match data that is open (I used the example of Birmingham Council spending over £500 to the Open Corporates data – including turnover) and a few more were mentioned that to prevent red faces on the targets I won’t mention.  The second thread was on how sharing your data can bring unforeseen benefits from people producing apps and mash-ups (linking the data in interested ways) to finding links to organisations that you would, at first thought, not have expected to be relevant.

A possible third thread nearly appeared – where do we find out how to do this? A topic that was touched on several times and specific questions were answered which (as the participants were so polite) were not really followed up. The ODI were mentioned, but not everyone can go to London to attend their events.  Those in the know did mention the West Midlands Open Data Forum, Open Mercia, the projects in Leeds, Manchester and Bristol but these are not really learn-how, more learn-with.

That said, this seems to be a recurrent theme across a lot of (un and) conferences I have been to recently and I normally answer with “There are a lot of tutorials out there” which is a non-answer. You would need to know what is possible, and what search terms to use, before you know how to find the tutorial.

Paul Bradshaw has done an excellent job with Hacks and Hackers of mixing people who want to know with people who know and I wonder if this system could or should be replicated outside of journalism to a wider audience – not just VCS but housing associations, uniformed groups (Scouts, St. John’s Ambulance etc) and others.

This leads me to wonder if there would be an appetite for an “Open Data 101″ – what is Open Data, how do I use it and (hopefully) how do I open my data.  If there is enough interest, I would be willing to see if anyone (maybe RnR , the ODI or even Data Unlocked) could put something together in your area. This would (ideally) be from [boring] “I know nothing” to [fascinating] “Hey! Who knew?” over a series and would maybe involve setting something like a hangout up (Google+) to enable the participants to help each other as they explore their new skills. Maybe bring in people like Paul Bradshaw, Dave Harte and Nick Booth who can explain how to turn your wow-factor into something that a local paper will use…

*1 I would like to blame coffee for this blog post, but it is probably more the enthusiasm hormones from today.