countculture

Open data and all that

Opening up local government data – a local TheyWorkForYou

with 5 comments

While all the hullaballo about MPs expenses has been raging, I decided to leave the parliamentary stuff for a while to the big boys, and have a look at local government instead. Wasn’t looking for any dirt; just trying to get a feel for how it worked, possibly run a few comparisons.

Unfortunately, as anyone who has been down this road knows, pulling together information on local authorities is fraught with difficulties, of which the most serious is the fact that for most things there’s no single source of data

Now, perhaps things may change now that Tim Berners-Lee is on the case, or perhaps David Cameron will really make a difference to local authority data (though he seems to misunderstand the problem — it’s not that council minutes aren’t published, it’s that they’re in a form that can’t easily be monitored, analysed or merged with other data).

So decided to scratch my own itch, as they say. The result is OpenlyLocal.com, a first draft of getting hold of and making accessible local government data in a consistent and useful form – a TheyWorkForYou Local, if you like.

council_page july 09

To start off, I’ve concentrated on getting the basic information — current councillors, committees, membership of those committees, and minutes for those committee meetings. I started off with a little over a dozen councils (though that’s since increased to over 40 of them). Since starting the project I’ve had some great feedback and, increasingly, cooperation from many of the people working in this field, including in councils.

Don’t expect fancy styling(as you can see from the screenshot above)  — the key is to get the data, and make it accessible. That means making the data available through an API (either as XML or json) from day one, and supporting open standards (I’m looking at RDFa at the moment).

Want to help? If you can code in Ruby, then grab the code at github and start contributing patches (with tests). Or if your council’s already listed, see if you can find any errors, and let us know what other data you’d like on OpenlyLocal. Or build a mashup based on the data exposed by the API.

Written by countculture

July 9, 2009 at 3:46 pm

5 Responses

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  1. […] Opening up local government data – a local TheyWorkForYou « countculture (tags: councillors gov2.0 transparency localgovernment) […]

  2. What a great idea. Getting this information out of councils is hellishly difficult. I’ve been working on a project to get Electoral Wards & Polling Booth data from councils – http://voteuk.shkspr.mobi/

    I’ll certainly be using your API in my project🙂

    T

    Terence Eden

    July 20, 2009 at 10:48 am

  3. Fantastic work! Thank you for doing this. It’s a big step in the right direction.

    You can get Mash the State’s RSS feed data for councils from here:

    http://www.mashthestate.org.uk/data

    Before you go any further can we have a chat about standardising the council IDs? There are already several in use and I’d hate to see further proliferation.

    • Adrian
      Have emailed you in detail but for other visitors — yes definitely. OpenyLocal.com is actively trying to standardize the reference system — with (at the moment) a preference for ONS SNAC codes, and we expose these on the page and through the XML/json interface. In fact if you can use the XML listing of the councils (OpenlyLocal.com/councils.xml) as a look-up table matching SNAC codes, eGovernment Register ID, OpenlyLocal internal IDs, Wikipedia pages, and WhatDoTheyKnow names.

      countculture

      July 21, 2009 at 8:33 am

  4. […] Local is a recently launched “first draft of getting hold of and making accessible local government data in a consistent […]


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