Talk at Open Data Institute Summit — Open Design for Government

Talk date: 01 November 2016

This is a 5–7 minute talk at the Open Data Institute’s annual summit, as part of a session on Designing for Open Government and Enterprise. Though published, the content here is likely to change in the run-up to the talk (3:00pm). Following my talk, there are three other talks, then a panel discussion, chaired by Martin Tisne, of Omidyar Network.

Hello — My name’s Jamie Whyte, and I currently head up Trafford Council’s Innovation and Intelligence Lab. We are a small team of data specialists and technologists dedicated to using and generating data — open and closed — to help people make better decisions about Trafford.

I’m going to talk about the sorts of things that we’re doing in Trafford to promote open. We believe open goes both ways — using other people’s open stuff, and making our own. We’ve gained a pretty good reputation over the last couple of years, and that is due in large part to being open. We use open source tools, not only because they’re free, but because they seem to work better and offer more functionality. We had to work hard to get off-network Macs, that we have full control over — so we can install things like QGIS without having to go through endless request for change processes. We made this in QGIS, with the three.js plugin, pulling Road Traffic Collision opendata onto an interactive 3d map. This is a really effective way to visualise data like this, and there’s no way we could have done it with corporate build of MapInfo version whatever.

We’re open about the stuff we make as well. If we do something that we find useful and it’s not too much trouble to do it for more people, we’ll do it. In this example we mapped deprivation for the whole of Greater Manchester, because it was useful for people who are close to the border with Manchester. Because it’s web-based, anyone in GM can use this, from the local authorities, to the public.

Because we use open source, we also want to give back to the open source community, if possible. We use Leaflet for our online maps, and we extended the marker set in Leaflet, with more colours and shapes, because we needed it for a project. We then put this on Github for other Leaflet users to use.

Further to the above two examples — sometimes we may not necessarily have a product to give back to the open community, but we do have knowledge. Where we do stuff that we feel is new, or useful to others, we’ll blog about it, or offer to show others the tools that we used and how other people might be able to replicate it.

So to our relationships with other organisations, and how we’re using open with our partners. Whilst we work for the Council, and we ostensibly operate across the whole of the Trafford Partnership, I often feel that we (as a service) are better known outside Trafford than inside. We’re working really hard to change that, and I think that we’ve cracked it, through muscling in on some high profile projects, forcing strategy people to think about data when planning for the future, and using open data to help inform their decisions. We’re starting to prepare for a set of data literacy masterclasses, to show how service managers can get hold of data themselves, and what they can (and can’t) do with it.

Our relationship with voluntary and community sector organisations has been the most surprising. We seem to have unleashed a thirst for data and evidence, through firstly a series of local open data talks and then monthly open data surgeries. We helped people and groups evidence needs, and gave them data, maps and charts that they could use to apply for grant funding. This was the subject of a blog post we wrote recently with Swirrl, as part of our open gov intelligence EU linked data project. You can see that post on the ODI website.

The local open data talks and surgeries were so successful we wanted to do more to reach out to the community, so we started pop up labs — one day a week in a library, getting on with our work, but approachable by anyone. We have data and some tech with us, to encourage people to play with it. This picture shows Google cardboard, with a member of the public experiencing (admittedly low-rent) virtual reality. This led to another group coming up with an idea to encourage isolated non-English speaking women to join the library’s language club, by first experiencing it virtually, to ease the anxiety. This is currently being worked into a proposal for a small amount of grant funding.

We are also very open with sharing our work, style and methods with other public sector organisations. As mentioned before, we share tools that we’ve made. But we also go out of our way to speak at events, and network with people, because we get as much back from events like that — advice, suggestions, and collaboration opportunities — as we give. A delegation from the Taiwanese government came to visit us to see how governments are using open data to make decisions in the uk. This is great for us, because it helps to raise awareness about what we’re doing within Trafford, to elected members and other senior officials.

Businesses are almost like the final frontier for us, and one that we’ve not really tapped into. Last month we gave a talk about open data to businesses in Trafford — about 50. We took them through some of the main open data tools that are available to them — Open Street Map, Open Corporates, Companies House, Code-point, output area classifications and more. We also showed them the tools that we’ve developed to allow them to access open data, and gave them some suggestions about how they could combine it with their own data. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with people saying they were really enthused by the possibilities.

So thank you for listening (reading…!). Hopefully this gives a very quick insight into the sorts of things we’re doing in Trafford to be open. My overarching message is that we’ve done some really good stuff in Trafford, but the only way it has happened is by being open — helping to level up other people and organisations means we all benefit.