First Sightings of the Data Strategy Board

Via a BIS press release earlier this week – Better access to public sector information moves a step closer – it seems that the Data Strategy Board is on its way, along with a Public Data Group and an Open Data User Group (these are separate from the yet to be constituted Open Standards Board (if you’re quick, the deadline for membership of the board is tomorrow: Open Standards Board – Volunteer Members and Board Advisers, – Ref:1238758) and its feeder Open Data Standards, and Open Technical Standards panels).

So what does the press release promise?

A new independently chaired Data Strategy Board (DSB) will advise Ministers on what data should be released [will this draw on data requests made to data.gov.uk, I wonder? – TH] and has the potential to unlock growth opportunities for businesses across the UK. At least one in three members of the DSB will be from outside government, including representatives of data re-users.

The DSB will work with the Public Data Group (PDG) – which consists of Trading Funds the Met Office, Ordnance Survey, Land Registry and Companies House – to provide a more consistent approach to improving access to public sector information. These organisations have already made some data available, which has provided opportunities for developers and entrepreneurs to create imaginative ways to develop or start up their own businesses based on high quality data.

Looking at the Terms of reference for the Data Strategy Board & the Public Data Group, we can broadly see how they’re organised:

Three departmental agendas then…?! A good sign, or, erm..?! (I haven’t read the Terms of reference properly yet – that’s maybe for another post…)

How these fit in with the Public Sector Transparency Board and the Local Public Data Panel, I’m not quite sure, though it might be quite interesting to try and map out the strong and weak ties between them once their memberships are announced? It’d also be interesting to know whether there’d be any mechanism for linking in with open data standards recommendations and development (via the Standards Hub process to ensure that as an when data gets released, there is at least an eye towards releasing it in a usable form!

The Government is making £7m available from April 2013 for the DSB to purchase additional data for free release from the Trading Funds and potentially other public sector organisations, funded by efficiency savings. An Open Data User Group, which will be made up of representatives from the Open Data community, will be directly involved in decisions on the release of Open Data, advising the DSB on what data to purchase from the Trading Funds and other public organisations and release free of charge.

So the DSB is a pseudo-cartel of sort-of government data providers (the Trading Funds) who are being given £7 million or so to open up data that the public purse (I think?) paid them to collect. The cash is there to offset the charges they would otherwise have made selling the data. (Erm… so, in order for those agencies to give their data away for free, we have to pay them to do it? Right… got it…) Presumably, the DSB members won’t be on the ODG who will be advising the DSB on what data to purchase from the Trading Funds and other public organisations and release free of charge (my emphasis). Note the explicit recognition here that free actually costs. In this case, public bodies are having data central gov paid them to collect bought off them by central gov so (central gov, or the bodies themselves) can then release it “for free”? Good. That’s clear then…

Francis Maude also clarifies this point: “The new structure for Open Data will ensure a more inclusive discussion, including private sector data users, on future data releases, how they should be paid for and which should be available free of charge.”

In addition: The DSB will provide evidence on how data from the Trading Funds – including what is released free of charge – will generate economic growth and social benefit. It will act as an intelligent customer advising Government on commissioning and purchasing key data and services from the PDG, and ensuring the best deal for the taxpayer. So maybe this means the Public Sector Transparency Board will now focus more on “public good” and transparency” arguments, leaving the DSB to demonstrate the financial returns of open data?

The Open Data User Group (ODUG) [will] support the work of the new Data Strategy Board (DSB). [The position of Chair of the group is currently being advertised, if you fancy it…: Chair of Open Data User Group, – Ref:1240914 -TH]. The ODUG will advise the DSB on public sector data that should be prioritised for release as open data, to the benefit of the UK.

As part of the process, an open suggestion site has been set up using the Delib Dialogue app to ask “the community” How should the Open Data User Group engage with users and re-users of Open Data?: [i]n advance of appointing a Chair and Members of the group, the Cabinet Office wants to bring together suggestions for how the ODUG should go about this engagement with wider users and re-users. We are looking for ideas about things like how the ODUG should gather evidence for the release of open data, how it should develop it’s advice to the DSB, how it should run its meetings and how it should keep the wider community up to date on developments (as well as other ideas you have).

A Twitter account has also been pre-emptively set up to manage some of the social media engagement activites of the group: @oduguk

The account currently has just over a couple of hundred followers, so I grabbed the list of all the folk they follow, then graphed folk followed by 30 or more current followers of @oduguk.

Here’s the graph, laid out in Gephi using a fore directed layout, with nodes colured according to modularity group and sized by eigenvector centrality:

Here’s the same graph with nodes size by betweenness centrality:

By the by, responses to the Data Policy for a Public Data Corporation consultation have also been published, including with the Government response, which I haven’t had chance to read yet… If I get a chance, I’ll try to post some thoughts/observations on that alongside a commentary on the terms of reference doc linked to above somewhere…

Government Communications – Department Press Releases and Autodiscoverable Syndication Feeds

A flurry of articles earlier this week (mine will be along shortly) about the Data Strategy Board all broadly rehashed the original press release from BIS. Via the Cabinet Office Transparency minisite, I found a link to the press release via the COI News Distribution Service…

…whereupon I noticed that the COI – Central Office of Information – is to close at the end of this month (31 March 2012), taking with it the News Distribution Service for Government and the Public Sector (soon to be ex- of http://nds.coi.gov.uk/).

In its place is the following advice: “For government press releases please follow this link to find the department that you require http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Dl1/Directories/A-ZOfCentralGovernment/index.htm This leads to a set of alphabetised pages with links to the various government departments… i.e. it points to a starting point for likely fruitless browsing and searching if you’re after aggregated press releases from gov departments.

(I’m not sure where News Sauce: UK Government Edition gets its data from, but if it’s by scrapes of departmental press releases rather than just scraping and syndicating the old COI content, then it’s probably the site I’ll be using to keep tabs on government press releases.)

FWIW, centralisation and aggregation are not the same in terms of architectures of control. Aggregation (then filter on the way out, if needs be) can be a really really useful way of keeping tabs on otherwise distributed systems… I had a quick look to see whether anyone was scraping and aggregating UKGov departmental press releases on Scraperwiki, but only came up with @pezholio’s LGA Press Releases scraper…

An easier way would be to hook up my feed reader to an OPML bundle that collected together RSS/Atom feeds of news releases from the various government websites. I’m not sure if such a bundle is available anywhere (if you know of one, please add a link in the comments below), but if: 1) gov departments do publish RSS/Atom feed containing their press releases; 2) they make these feeds autodiscoverable via their homepages, and: 3) ensure that said feeds are reliably identifiable as press release/media release feeds, it wouldn’t be too hard to build a simple OPML feed generator.

So for example, trawling through old posts, I note that the post 404 “Page Not Found” Error pages and Autodiscoverable Feeds for UK Government Departments used a Yahoo Pipes pipe to try to automatically audit feed autodiscovery on UK gov departmental homepages, though it may well have rotted by now. If I was to fix it, I’d probably reimplement it in Scraperwiki, as I did with my UK HEI feed autodiscovery thang (UK university autodiscoverable RSS Feeds (Scraperwiki scraper), and Scraperwiki View; about: Autodiscoverable Feeds and UK HEIs (Again…)). If you beat me to that, please post a link to your scraper below;-)

I have to admit I haven’t checked the state of feed autodiscovery on UK gov, local gov, or university websites recently. Sigh… another thing to add to the list of ‘maybe useful’ diversions…;-)

See also: Public Data Principles: RSS Autodiscovery on Government Department Websites?

PS This tool may or may not be handy if feed autodiscovery is new to you? Feed Autodiscovery in Javascript

PPS hmm, from Tracking Down Local Government Consultation Web Pages, I recall there are LGD service ID codes that lists identifiers for local government services that can be used to tag webpages/URLs on local government sites. Are there service identifiers for central government communication services (eg provision of press releases?) that could be used to find central gov department press releases (or local gov press releases for that matter?) Of course, if departments all had autodiscoverable press release feeds on their homepages, it’d be a more weblike way;-)