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Trying to find useful things to do with emerging technologies in open education

The FOI Route to Real (Fake) Open Data via WhatDoTheyKnow

In FOI Signals on Useful Open Data?, I pondered whether we could make use of information about FOI to help identify what sorts of data folk might actually be interested in by virtue of making Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for that that data.

I couldn’t help but start to try working various elements of that idea through, so here’s a simple baby step to begin with – a scraper on Scraperwiki (Scaperwiki scraper: WhatDOTheyKnow requests) that searches for FOI requests made through WhatDoTheyKnow that got one or more Excel/xls spreasheets back as an attachment.

I’ve also popped up a Scraperwiki view that allows you to view data returning searches made to local councils or universities

Clicking through on an FOI request link takes you to the response that contains the data file, which can be downloaded directly or previewed on Zoho:

It strikes me that if I crawled the response pages, I could build my own index of data files, catalogued according to FOI request titles, in effect generating a “fake” data.gov.uk or data.ac.uk opendata catalogue as powered by FOI requests…? (What would be really handy in the local council requests would be if the responses were tagged with with appropriate LGSL code or IPSV terms (indexing on the way out) as a form of useful public metadata that can help put the FOI released data to work…?)

Insofar as the requests may or may not be useful as signaling particular topic areas as good candidates as “standard” open data releases, I still need to do some text analysis on the request titles. In the meantime, you can enter a keyword/key phrase in the Request text box in order to filter the table results to only show requests whose title contains the keyword/phrase. (The Council drop down list allows you to filter the table so that it only shows requests for a particular university/council.)

PS via a post on HelpMeInvestigate, I came across this list of FOI responses to requests made to the NHS Prescription Pricing Division. From a quick skim, some of the responses have “data” file attachments, though in the form of PDFs rather than spreadsheets/CSV. However, it would be possible to scrape the pages to at least identify ones that do have attachments (which is a clue they may contain data sets?)

So now I’m wondering – what other bodies produce full lists of FOI requests they have received, along with the responses to them?

PPS See also this gov.uk search query on FOI Release publications.

Written by Tony Hirst

April 28, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Posted in Data, opengov

Tagged with ,

4 Responses

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  1. [...] of publicly released datasets, and more can be found via data released under FOI requests, either made through WhatDoTheyKnow or via a web search of government websites for FOI disclosure logs. But now it seems that interest [...]

  2. [...] The publication of government department open data strategies may go some way to improving this. I’ve also been of a mind that more accessible ways of releasing data burden reporting requirements could help clarify what “working data” is available, in what form, and the ways in which it is routinely being generated and passed between bodies. Sorting out better pathways between FOI releases of data and the then regular release of such data as opendata is also something I keep wittering on about (eg FOI Signals on Useful Open Data? and The FOI Route to Real (Fake) Open Data via WhatDoTheyKnow). [...]

  3. […] And why are FOI disclosure logs interesting? Well for one thing, they allow us to take the FOI Route to Real (Fake) Open Data. […]

  4. […] argue against the non-disclosure of similar datasets from other organisations. (It also provides an FOI Route to Real (Fake) Open Data via WhatDoTheyKnow, a means by which we can build an index of data files released in response to FOI requests made via […]


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