Too Much Information, Not Enough Data?

Trying to scope out ideas for a talk I’m due to give in Manchester next week on open civic data, I came across quite a few examples of local councils making map based “data” available – on a map. For example, Milton Keynes Council has a nice collection of links to interactive maps :

The maps look very pretty, when they load… I don’t know if it was my connection that was particularly slow when I tried to grab the screenshot, but I never did manage to load any hi-res tiles…

Milton Keynes interactive map

Manchester City Council also offers a range of map based navigation for identifying local schools:

Manchester schools maps

And if we tunnel down:

Manchester schools map

The point I wanted to make here is that what the councils are doing is more to do with displaying map based information than geocoded data. That is, it’s still hard for me to create my own map based views based on the stuff the councils are publishing.

The valuable goods for me in the role of a developer is flexible access to the raw data so that I can re-present it and make sense of it in a way that I decide.

So for example, in the case of the Manchester schools data, where I might decide to throw caution to the wind and plot all the schools on one map rather than present the information in the form of schools contained in arbitrarily drawn regions, it would be nice to be able to get a raw data feed of schools under the control of the Manchester local authority…

…which I seem to remember is something I can get from the education datastore.

Looking through my own hacks, I found a description of a Yahoo pipe (that appears to have rotted:-( that will return schools given a local authority code… but what is the code for Manchester?

A quick google turned up a post by Simon Hume entitled Using SPARQL & the school data which points to a handy service that uses a query of the National Statistics SPARQL endpoint to list council ID codes (I’m not sure if this can be extended to return a Council ID code based on a user-supplied postcode? If you know how to do this, please post a clue in a comment to this post;-)

Simon’s post also contains another rather handy example of a SPARQL query over the education datastore that will “call back all the schools in your local authority”, including the lat/long coordinates, so they can be easily placed onto a map.

This is the data, the useful stuff. The maps the councils have published that are shown above display some useful information, for sure, but it’s not data…

So here’s a thought: suppose that where councils feel they’re adding value by producing maps like the ones shown above (and I think that sort of display can provide a valuable service on a council website), wouldnlt it be great if:

1) the data they used to create the map came from a public datastore, such as one of the datastores on data,, or maybe a queryable datastore local to the council; and

2) as a footnote to the page, or more likely on a page linked from it, a description was given of the query used to generate the data rendered on the information page.

Just a thought…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

2 thoughts on “Too Much Information, Not Enough Data?”

  1. One term to help you on your way might be LEA (Local Education Authority) – in effect it always seems to be the (county) council.

    By the way, the big problem I have with LEA data is that it of course only represents their own schools, not *all* schools which as a member of the public is what I’d expect to see and would find useful.

    There are ways of doing it of course, but I am still to find an LEA who takes this POV (“its not our responsibility”).

    Super cool “Find a school near you”, “on a map” – it is like serving up fish with no chips – hence the need for masher-upperers.

    (Fish and mash? better stop here …)

    1. I agree that there’s a real issue with the difficulty in getting a view over all the schools in an area. Do any of the independent schools associations have an api, I wonder?
      On the mapping front, reading the local paper just now, it struck me that as well as publishing a very wordy list of traffic notices, declaring what traffic restrictions will be in place when, it would be really useful if they also published the same information in a kml data form?

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