Tag Archives: Chris Taggart

Open data meets FOI via some nifty automation

OpenlyLocal generated FOI request

Now this is an example of what’s possible with open data and some very clever thinking. Chris Taggart blogs about a new tool on his OpenlyLocal platform that allows you to send a Freedom of Information (FOI) request based on a particular item of spending. “This further lowers the barriers to armchair auditors wanting to understand where the money goes, and the request even includes all the usual ‘boilerplate’ to help avoid specious refusals.”

It takes around a minute to generate an FOI request.

The function is limited to items of spending above £10,000. Cleverly, it’s also all linked so you can see if an FOI request has already been generated and answered.

Although the tool sits on OpenlyLocalFrancis Irving at WhatDoTheyKnow gets enormous credit for making their side of the operation work with it.

Once again you have to ask why a media organisation isn’t creating these sorts of tools to help generate journalism beyond the walls of its newsroom.

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Charities data opened up – journalists: say thanks.

Having made significant inroads in opening up council and local election data, Chris Taggart has now opened up charities data from the less-than-open Charity Commission website. The result: a new website – Open Charities.

The man deserves a round of applause. Charity data is enormously important in all sorts of ways – and is likely to become more so as the government leans on the third sector to take on a bigger role in providing public services. Making it easier to join the dots between charitable organisations, the private and public sector, contracts and individuals – which is what Open Charities does – will help journalists and bloggers enormously.

A blog post by Chris explains the site and its background in more depth. In it he explains that:

“For now, it’s just a the simplest of things, a web application with a unique URL for every charity based on its charity number, and with the basic information for each charity available as data (XML, JSON and RDF). It’s also searchable, and sortable by most recent income and spending, and for linked data people there are dereferenceable Resource URIs.

“The entire database is available to download and reuse (under an open, share-alike attribution licence). It’s a compressed CSV file, weighing in at just under 20MB for the compressed version, and should probably only attempted by those familiar with manipulating large datasets (don’t try opening it up in your spreadsheet, for example). I’m also in the process of importing it into Google Fusion Tables (it’s still churning away in the background) and will post a link when it’s done.”

Chris promises to add more features “if there’s any interest”.

Well, go on…

Some other online innovators for some other list

Journalism.co.uk have a list of this year’s “leading innovators in journalism and media”. I have some additions. You may too.

Nick Booth

I brought Nick in to work with me on Help Me Investigate, a project for which he doesn’t get nearly enough credit. It’s his understanding of and connections with local communities that lie behind most of the successful investigations on the site. In addition, Nick helped spread the idea of the social media surgery, where social media savvy citizens help others find their online voice. The idea has spread as far as Australia and Africa.

Matt Buck and Alex Hughes

Matt and Alex have been busily reinventing news cartoons for a digital age with a number of projects, including Drawnalism (event drawing), animated illustrations, and socially networked characters such as Tobias Grubbe. Continue reading

Don't stop us digging into public spending data

A disturbing discovery by Chris Taggart last week: a number of councils in the UK are handing over their ‘open’ data to a company which only allows it to be downloaded for “personal” use.

As Chris himself points out, this runs completely against the spirit of the push to release public data in a number of ways:

  • Data cannot be used for “commercial gain”. This includes publishers wanting to present the information in ways that make most sense to the reader, and startups wanting to find innovative ways to involve people in their local area. Oh, and that whole ‘Big Society‘ stuff.
  • The way the sites are built means you couldn’t scrape this information with a computer anyway
  • It’s only a part of the data. “Download the data from SpotlightOnSpend and it’s rather different from the published data [on the Windsor & Maidenhead site]. Different in that it is missing core data that is in W&M published data (e.g. categories), and that includes data that isn’t in the published data (e.g. data from 2008).”

It’s a worrying path. As Chris sums it up: ” Councils hand over all their valuable financial data to a company which aggregates for its own purposes, and, er, doesn’t open up the data, shooting down all those goals of mashing up the data, using the community to analyse and undermining much of the good work that’s been done.”

The Transparency Board quickly issued a statement about this issue saying that “urgent” measures are taking place to rectify the problem.

And Spikes Cavell, who make the software, responded in Information Age, pointing out that “it is first and foremost a spend analysis software and consultancy supplier, and that it publishes data through SpotlightOnSpend as a free, optional and supplementary service for its local government customers. The hope is that this might help the company to win business, he explains, but it is not a money-spinner in itself.”

They are now promising to make the data available for download in its “raw form”, although it’s not clear what that will be. Adrian Short’s comment to the piece is worth reading.

Nevertheless, this is an issue that anyone interested in holding power to account should keep a close eye on. And to that aim, Chris has started an investigation on Help Me Investigate to find out how and why councils are giving access to their spending data. Please join it and help here.

(Comment or email me on paul at helpmeinvestigate.com if you want an invitation.)