One of the problems with doing “data stuff” in a particular sector is finding data from across the sector. data.ac.uk seeks to help simplify the discovery of (and maybe even normalised access to) data published across the UK Higher Education sector.
A new unveiling this week was the HE equipment register (which I think grew out of the Uniquip equipment and facility sharing project?), and which is intended to provide a single point of access for looking up access to research facilities and equipment.
(I think the research councils increasingly require universities to have a plan for making funded research equipment available to businesses, and providing a catalogue to look up such equipment facilitates that.) I’m not sure about the coverage of this catalogue at the moment, or how it relates (not least in a data sharing way) to research equipment sharing consortia such as the N8 Research Partnership (Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York) or the M5 Group (Birmingham, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham, Warwick, and Aston). (There’s also fragmentary evidence of an S5 grouping (Cambridge, Imperial, Oxford, UCL and Southampton) but I haven’t found a public website for them?)
Another area of the data.ac.uk provides a handy link to “administrative” information relating to HEIs – Learning Providers data, although I’m not sure to what extent this overlaps with the data contained in the JISC Monitoring Unit (JISC MU) database?
One problem with open data sites having national or sector coverage is that, whilst we might hope that individual locations will submit data to the datastore, its often more likely the case that a dataset will need curating and collecting together by a dedicated and interested (obsessive?) individual. To date, Chris Gutteridge has been doing a lot of the work on data.ac.uk, but he doesn’t necessarily scale!;-)
Architecturally, the site is designed to support what I guess we could describe as federated management. Subdomains are used to identify different topic or category areas, with a top bar menu providing navigation to other areas of data.ac.uk. In principle, anyone could propose, host, and curate data from across the sector relating to a particular topic. Unlike sites such as OpenlyLocal, the model does not (yet?) support pages built around the opendata offerings of a particular institution, though I guess someone could generate something like quickdata.ac.uk/university-name to provide a summary page for each university on a “quickdata” subdomain?
There is possibly an issue regarding the “status” of data.ac.uk in respect of the extent to which it provides a single point of access to normalised data within a topic area, compared to linking out to locally hosted versions of data relating to particular items (for example, we might imagine foi.data.ac.uk linking to FOI homepages on each university website, or orgcharts.data.ac.uk linking to data source pages on university websites, ordered by university). On the other hand, there are pre-exisiting “national datasets” such as the data collated by JISC MU, or the research council funding data that looks as if it’ll be made available via the Research Councils UK Gateway to research. For these national colletions, the data.ac.uk model would “allow” for sites like Gateway to Research to take over something like the gtr.data.ac.uk subdomain, and add the data.uk.uk top bar to their site, though I could see all sorts of issues with that relating to perceived ownership! One possible way around this would be to provide a button that “partner” sites could include that would identify a site as being part of the data.ac.uk federation and then popping up the top bar if folk wanted to explore other data.ac.uk federation sites? URLs such as gtr.data.ac.uk would then simply act as redirects into sites with independent branding/look and feel, but a data.ac.uk federation member button on them somewhere?
In other news, the Linked Up Challenge also launched this week “promoting the innovative use of linked and open data in an educational context”.
The competition will be making available data drawn from across the European HE sector and published as Linked Data:
For some reason, this springs to mind…