Open data hacking at Warwickshire County Council

Last week I had the good fortune to attend SOCITM* West Midlands November meeting. It was one of those sessions you are in two minds about attending, as you weigh it up against a groaning inbox and a backlog of voicemails. But I was very glad I did go. Apart from a rather nice lunch sponsored by Virgin Media Business and sparkling organisation by Lynda and Steve, I experienced one of those genuine ‘wow’ moments not once, but twice. I wasn’t rendered speechless (that’s a once-a-year phenomenon) but I was gobsmacked by two of the presentations and their implications. I’ll write about the second one on i-devices in another blog, but first up, ‘open data’.

The open data presentation was given by the rather fabulous Kate Sahota from Warwickshire County Council (WCC). Kate gave a presentation on WCC’s Open Data project. This project takes any data available to the public (the acid test being whether or not it would be presented via an FOI** request) and offers it out to independent developers to write an app to make the data useful. The project had the full backing of the top man at WCC IT, and by jingo, the results are belting. There is more information here: Hack Warwickshire but this represents the shift in the use in IT that the CSR and the ‘Big Society’ mantra has demanded, driving innovation and openness. From identifying where your mobile library van is, working out where lollipop men/women are working and information on schools exclusion rates, the project takes mundane information from a spreadsheet and presents it in a meaningful manner. And everybody wins. The Council presents its data to the public in a useful format, the developers get some publicity for their abilities and the citizen suddenly finds useful information about local services. The cost for WCC was minimal, but it is a prime example of the type of innovation local authorities should be looking for.

Some additional links are here, including to Kate’s blog:

http://warwickshireopendata.wordpress.com/
http://data.gov.uk
http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog

And Kate’s own blog:

http://808kate808.wordpress.com/

To my mind, WCC’s project is a prime example of the sort of thing SOCITM** should be pushing. Having been a member for years, I’ve seen change working its way through. I’ve been sat on the metaphorical bench for a couple of years as my job has dictated, but I have now decided it’s time to get stuck in again as a participatory member. As an organisation, SOCITM did in the past occasionally feel a bit like an old-boys network, but it has something tangible to offer in terms of a collective voice and its ability to promote innovation. For example, this Open Data project is a perfect opportunity for it to spread the gospel and lead from the front. I look forward to seeing what happens with interest.

The IA angle here is that InfoSec officers need to embrace this sort of work and assist people like Kate in getting this open data out there. Our natural inclination is to put barriers up, but this style of working requires us to be involved and to find solutions. Projects like these are going to become commonplace, and we need be flexible in our approach and thinking. I think the strap line needs to be ‘Innovate not procrastinate’ (I should be in marketing!!)

My final note is that Kate has promised me in writing she will deliver her next presentation through the medium of interpretive dance and mime, so I should book her now.

*Society of IT Management
**Freedom of Information

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About Graeme Stewart, McAfee

I work for McAfee as Director of Public Sector Strategy and Relations, UK&I
This entry was posted in CSR, Efficiency, Security, SOCITM, Sophos. Bookmark the permalink.

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