On the occasion of International Open Data Day 2015, the first meeting of Open Data Wales took place. This is the first time that a group has gathered in Wales with the intention of driving the Open Data agenda forward. Here is a quick run down of what we found, what we think we need to do next, and how you can get involved.
The state of Government Open Data in Wales
The news is not good. There is currently only one government open data page in Wales. The majority of the data sets listed on it are not in fact open at all. In several cases the datasets it links to are obscured behind rendering interfaces. The notable exception is the Programme for Government data which provides access to data as json, however the volume of data is rather small and of niche interest.
Of the 22 local authorities in Wales, only one has an open data page, and that page contains no data at all.
Slightly better news is that a search on data.gov.uk returns 289 data sets published by Welsh Government, some of which are made available under the open government licence.
Essentially, the baseline from which we are starting the open data story in Wales appears to be marginally just above zero. The good news is that we can probably benefit from the vast global pool of experience to start building a capacity while avoiding the mistakes and stumbles of the open data pioneers.
It seems pretty clear that the case for why open data is a good idea still needs to be made in Wales. From conversations leading up to today it is clear that the level of understanding as to what open data actually is, is fairly low or non existent. We need to start having those conversations to educate people. We have set up a facebook group and a separate mailing list to start mobilising people with an interest, or relevant competencies in open data to coordinate. We will also be holding a monthly meetup on the second Tuesday of the month to make some regular contact points available. This is starting in Cardiff, but we’re talking about open-data-wales here so it would be encouraging if others could start meetups around Wales.
We need a data store for Wales. The majority of the datasets pertaining to Wales are currently hosted on data.gov.uk so there may be an argument for just publishing data there. Since none of the local authorities in Wales have their own datastores, it may be a good option to bypass the idea of each one creating one and make a central one to host all the local authority data, perhaps with Welsh Government data as well.
CKAN seems to be the standard for open data stores, it is open source and can be self hosted. We could relatively easily spin up a prototype instance and develop it as we learn where the requirements for effective open data publishing are coming from in Wales.
We probably also need to identify some tangible use cases for open data so we don’t fall into our habit of having endless circular discussions around abstract notions. One useful (timely) suggestion has come from the NUS to Welsh Government around the location of polling stations for the upcoming elections. If you want to understand the issue, try going to your local authority website and asking its search bar ‘Where do I go to cast my vote?’ (please share your experiences of success or failure in the comments below). Any other suggestions?
What can I do?
2. Put your hand up if you have any technical skills you can contribute.
3. Come to a meetup on the second Tuesday of the month, starting March 10th.
4. Start telling your government that you want them to take open data seriously, and help them by understanding what kind of data you want to work with and how they should make it available to you.
Many of you reading this will have better ideas on how we can move this agenda forward, please share in the comments here or on the mailing list and facebook group.
What is quite clear though is that it is no longer acceptable for Wales to remain in the stone age when it comes to open data. The process has begun and there’s no turning back.