“I want to publish some open data. What do I do?”

Original image taken from: http://www.thebluediamondgallery.com/scrabble/p/publish.htm License: Creative Commons 3 — CC BY-SA 3.0

So, open data is de rigueur at the moment and has been picking up pace over the last few years. It is being mentioned in everything from local insights, big data to smart cities. But before we leap forward, how is this data released and how do we get more people to open up their data so that it is accessible, useable and discoverable?

  1. Get some data

Data you’ve collected (point locations of various objects, things, events), data you’ve customised from others or data you’re signposting so that others can find it more easily. The key thing questions to ask yourself are:

  • Is the data of use to someone else?
  • Who owns the data? If you’re nervous about data licencing the ODIHQ (Open Data Institute (ODI)) has a good Publisher’s Guide to Open Data Licensing
  • Can it be published in a format that can be accessed by others?

2. Clean it up

You can use various web services to help you clean your data so that it is in a useable and readable format. The two main issues that arise quite a lot when advising publishers on their data are usually formatting issues like, multiple row headers, merged columns and use of suitable indicator titles. A lot of these come from the traditional use of nice formatting in spreadsheets.

One web service I have used in the past is CSV Lint. It checks whether your csv data contains the appropriate columns and types of data values and really helpfully will also transform and output the data in a standardised format that you can then use to publish on your open platform. http://csvlint.io/.

CSVLint Home page Hohttp://csvlint.io/

3. Publish it

There are loads of open data platforms available to publish open data but the key thing is to get the data online. This can be through one of the official platforms but also can be on a personal space like social media, blog or personal website. Having it published on a personal site can make it more difficult to discover but it is a good first step in getting the data out there.

4. Make it discoverable by others

This doesn’t need to be complicated. Some goods ways to ensure the discoverability of your data include:

  • Telling people about it. Put it out on social media. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) make a good job of letting people know of new data sources:
Example @ONS data update tweet https://twitter.com/ONS/status/792040826671095808
  • Ensuring the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) on the web platform where you publish data is working well, so people can find your data. So, if I want some open data on a very specific topic for a local area and run a search through a web browser such as:

open data housing allowances Cambridgeshire

and it should return results that relate to this. See below:

Sample web browser search for open data
  • Getting data on a platform that others are familiar with such as data.gov.uk for government data or other open data communities.

5. Get others to use it

Communities, developers, groups. Get them involved and using the data for visualisations, open data decision making and for additional use. There are some great examples out there of communities coming together holistically and developing innovations and ideas. Open Data Camp is one such group of idea-driven community-minded individuals and they hold weekend ‘unconferences‘ that are entirely devoted to open data http://odcamp.org.uk/

Next steps

Still unsure? Well, have a look at the 5 stars of open data to give you an idea of what kind and quality of open data to produce:

5 Stars of open data http://5stardata.info/en/

Still want some ideas? Check out these links for some inspiration and innovative open data examples:

  • Open Data Aha! | Helping to put open data on the map. This website contains stories, news and case studies involving open data. They have over 2,000 stories available through search, menus, tag clouds, and maps. The expertise behind Open Data Aha! brings the open data communities together and it is well worth watching for what they are talking about as the next big thing.
  • Data | The Guardian — Latest Data news, comment and analysis from the Guardian.
  • Information is beautiful— This is a great website dedicated to distilling the world’s data, information and knowledge into beautiful, interesting and, above all, useful visualizations, infographics and diagrams. Great ideas, great examples and really inspiring.
  • Cambridgeshire Insight Open Data | Data Stories — Providing context and understanding to open data and how it is being utilised locally in Cambridgeshire. Stories written by theme experts so the publishers of the data can add their local insights and knowledge to the story. [Full disclosure: I am involved in this one :)]
  • Trafford Innovation and Intelligence Lab — The Lab is a multi-organisation, multi-discipline data lab. They are bringing together data and data/information specialists from the various organisations that work in Trafford, to work on particular problems that they think data can help with. By combining datasets and co-locating people they can give a really good understanding of needs and opportunities in Trafford. Trafford have been cutting a swathe through the local open data world and people should watch them for how they engage and develop open data with communities.