Opening up local government data – a local TheyWorkForYou
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.
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.