Earlier this week I posted briefly on what I consider to be the most significant move for journalism by the UK government since the Freedom of Information Act. But I wanted to look more systematically at what is likely to be a huge change in the information landscape that journalists deal with…
So. In the spirit of data journalism, here is an embedded spreadsheet of the timetable of data to be released by national government, local government, and other bodies. I’ve added notes on how I feel each piece of data could be important, and any useful links – but I’d like you to add any thoughts on other possibilities. Here it is:
Meanwhile, over at Data.gov.uk, the Local Data Panel has published a post inviting comment on the format that data might be supplied in, and fields it might contain.
- As a first stage, publish the raw data and any lookup table needed to interpret it in a spreadsheet as a CSV or XML file as soon as possible. This should be put on the council’s website as a document for anyone to download. Or even published in a service such as Google Docs
- There is not yet a national approach for publishing local authority expenditure data. This should not stop publication of data in its raw, machine-readable form. Observing such raw data being used is the only route to a national approach, should one be required
- Publishing raw data will allow the panel and others to assess how that data could/should be presented to users. Sight of the data is worth a hundred meetings. Members of the panel will study the data, take part in the discussion and revise this advice.
- As a second stage, informed by the discussion, the panel and users can then give feedback about publishing data (RDF, CSV, etc) in a way that can be consistent across all local authorities involving structured, regularly updated data published on the Web using open standards.
Help Me Investigate contributor and all-round good guy Neil Houston has already responded with some very interesting points.
“You’d be surprised how many times there are some systems where it’s not totally easily to identify the payment, back to the relevant invoice (apart from a manual reconciliation), you need to know the invoice side of the transactions – as that is where the cost will be booked to (as the payment details will just be crediting cash, debiting Accounts Payable).”
It’s great to see that “Open Data” has become a global movement. I’d encourage organizations to consider three distinct constituent groups when publishing data. 1) Programmers want an API, not a bulk download; 2) Researchers, Analysts, Scientists, Economists and the Media require bulk download in a variety of formats including XML, CSV and JSON; 3) Non-technically trained citizens need ad hoc, interactive access to data allowing them to sort, search, filter, visualize and share data.
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