Two New Cabinet Office Open Data Consultations: Data Policy and Making Open Data Real

Via the Guardian Datablog, I see that the Cabinet Office has just opened up a couple of consultations around open data:

Consultation on Data Policy for a Public Data Corporation [homepage] [Consultation]

Here are the consultation questions (also available via SurveyMonkey: PDC consultation):

Chapter 4 – Charging for PDC information

  1. How do you think Government should best balance its objectives around increasing access to data and providing more freely available data for re-use year on year within the constraints of affordability? Please provide evidence to support your answer where possible.
  2. Are there particular datasets or information that you believe would create particular economic or social benefits if they were available free for use and re-use? Who would these benefit and how? Please provide evidence to support your answer where possible.
  3. What do you think the impacts of the three options would be for you and/or other groups outlined above? Please provide evidence to support your answer where possible.
  4. A further variation of any of the options could be to encourage PDC and its constituent parts to make better use of the flexibility to develop commercial data products and services outside of their public task. What do you think the impacts of this might be?
  5. Are there any alternative options that might balance Government’s objectives which are not covered here? Please provide details and evidence to support your response where possible.

Chapter 5 – Licensing

  1. To what extent do you agree that there should be greater consistency, clarity and simplicity in the licensing regime adopted by a PDC?
  2. To what extent do you think each of the options set out would address those issues (or any others)? Please provide evidence to support your comments where possible.
  3. What do you think the advantages and disadvantages of each of the options would be? Please provide evidence to support your comments
  4. Will the benefits of changing the models from those in use across Government outweigh the impacts of taking out new or replacement licences?

Chapter 6 – Regulatory oversight

  1. To what extent is the current regulatory environment appropriate to deliver the vision for a PDC?
  2. Are there any additional oversight activities needed to deliver the vision for a PDC and if so what are they?
  3. What would be an appropriate timescale for reviewing a PDC or its constituent parts public task(s)?

And the second consultation (which is probably worth reading in the context of the [white paper PDF, feedback website]?)

Making Open Data Real: A Public Consultation [homepage] [Consultation]

  1. Glossary of key terms [link]
  2. An enhanced right to data: how do we establish stronger rights for individuals, businesses and other actors to obtain, use and re-use data from public service providers? [link]
  3. Setting transparency standards: what would standards that enforce this right to data among public authorities look like? [link]
  4. Corporate and personal responsibility: how would public service providers be held to account for delivering open data through a clear governance and leadership framework at political, organisational and individual level? [link]
  5. Meaningful Open Data: how should we ensure collection and publication of the most useful data, through an approach enabling public service providers to understand the value of the data they hold and helps the public at large know what data is collected? [link]
  6. Government sets the example: in what ways could we make the internal workings of government and the public sector as open as possible? [link]
  7. Innovation with Open Data: to what extent is there a role for government to stimulate enterprise and market making in the use of open data? [link]

I haven’t had chance to read through the consultation docs yet, but I’ll try and comment somewhere, as well as responding…

The way the consultations are presented

As to the way the consultations are presented themselves, two approaches have been taken:

– the PDC consultation embeds documenents at chapter level hosted on Scribd in a preview widget, with questions made available via a Word document or via SurveyMonkey. There doesn’t appear to be an opportunity to comment on the BIS site that is hosting the PDC consultation, even though it’s a WordPress platform running the Commentariat2 theme. To my mind, the way this consultation has be published, it’s not really of the web, and, to use a technical term, feels a little bit horrible to me… Maybe they don’t want flame wars on the domain about “Charging for PDC information”?!;-)

– the Making it Real consultation is hosted on the site, with HTML text split at “chapter” (section) level, and commenting at that level via a single bottom of the page comment box. Where documents take close reading, I think this makes commenting difficult: if you want to refer to specific, detailed points in the consultation document, I’d say it makes sense to be able to see comment at the point of reference. That is, the comment box needs to be where you can see the actual bit of text you are commenting on (which is one reason why we often annotate documents with marginalia, rather than on a separate piece of paper). Where the comment box is fixed at the bottom of the page, you need two windows open to have side by side commenting and viewing of the actual text you are commenting on.

If we hadn’t decided that things had moved on enough in the way consultations were being handled to close WriteToReply (WriteToReply is closing. Come get your data if you want it), I think there’s a good chance we would have hosted both these consultations… Maybe our thinking that WriteToReply had nudged things far enough was a bit hasty? (The theme is out there, but as yet hasn’t been trialled on a departmental basis, I don’t think, even though we did try to respond to the commissioned accessibility audit. (Are Scribd docs accessible?) is running on the JISCPress site though.

(I’m suddenly fired up again by the thought that consultation docs could be so much more “of the web” as well as easier to engage with… Hmmm, when’s the closing date for these consultations? Maybe there is time for one last WriteToReply outing…?)

PS How did I miss out on subscribing to the Government Digital Service? e.g. Neil Williams on A vision for online consultation and policy engagement

Using WriteToReply Documents as the Basis for Discussion in a Meeting Room Setting

One of the things I experimented with a long time ago was the ability to use an RSS feed to power a presentation (e.g. Feedshow Link Presenter – Testing Audience Synch). The idea was that that you should be able to bookmark a set of webpages using a social bookmarking tool, and then take the RSS feed of those bookmarked links and use it to drive a presentation; the presentation itself would be a walkthrough of the bookmarked pages.

Anyway, not so long ago, the Delicious social bookmarking service started to offer a similar service: Browse These Bookmarks, so that’s all well and good..:-)

One of the things that I had on the Feedshow Presenter to do list (and I’m not sure whether I ever coded this up or not) was to be able to display any description text saved with a bookmark before showing the contents of the bookmarked page. This in turn suggests another way of using a feed powered presentation tool – as a vehicle simply for displaying text elements from an RSS feed in a presentation like format.

Now I know that death by Powerpoint is often brought on by text heavy slides, but sometimes you may need to chat around text; and sometimes, splashing the text you want to talk around on a screen might be a handy thing to do…

Enter Google Reader Play, a tool that does exactly that – give it an RSS feed, and it will let you present one feed item at a time. Like this:

Google reader play

So what I’m thinking is, if you want to talk around a document, then maybe talking around the document at a paragraph level is a handy thing to be able to do.

And a good place to find paragraph level feeds is from something like WriteToReply…

So for example, if you look at the Digital Economy Act on WriteToReply, and go to a particular page such as, you can get an RSS feed from that page by constructing a URL of the form

(Note there’s a minor glitch at the moment – the title of the feed itself is incorrect…)

So to discuss each paragraph in turn from that page, all we need to so is view the feed in Google Reader Play.

To make things easier, I’ve created a couple of bookmarks (bootstrapped from my “Get Current URL” pattern bookmarklet generator).

Firstly, given any RSS feed, here’s a bookmarklet for viewing it in Google Reader Play:

javascript:(function(){ window.location=''+encodeURIComponent('/'+window.location.href);})()

Secondly, given a page from a document hosted on WriteToReply, (not the RSS feed – the actual page; such as this one) this bookmarklet will construct the paragraph level page feed and pass it to Google Reader Play:

javascript:(function(){ u=window.location.href.replace(/(.*\/[^\/]*)\/(.*)/,"$1/feed/paragraphlevel/$2"); window.location=''+encodeURIComponent('/'+u);})()

So there you have it, another way of supporting discussion around documents hosted on WriteToReply :-)

If You Don’t Like REF, What Are You Gonna Do About It?

I have to admit that I’m still not totally sure that I know what digital scholarship is all about, or its relationship to celebrity blogging, so I thought I’d try to consider it in terms of what it means for ‘outreach’.

[Antescript – there are a lot of “I”s in this post… sorry about that…]

When I started out as an academic at the OU ten or so years ago, I fell into the whole schools outreach thing, delivering hands-on robotics related activities all over the place (including a trip to Japan with a group of Blue Peter competition winners, a blagged film preview, the occasional public engagement grant and so on…). This naturally led into the idea of ‘in-reach’, helping programme the first few RoboFesta-UK meetings for robotics educators and interested parties in schools, HE, and industry, running the Creative Robotics Research Network for a couple of years, and convening a couple of workshops at SGAI (one on public engagement around intelligent robotics, the other on ethical issues in intelligent robotics research).

These moves towards trying to engage peers rather than populace (for want of a much better phrase) was informed in part by one of the most rewarding programmes of activity I have ever been involved with – the NESTA Crucible. Part of the reading I did around the Crucible weekends was a Demos report on ‘upstream’ engagement (See-through Science). This report, and the related discussions we had around it, plotted the evolution of science outreach and communication activities from ideas relating to the public understanding of science, to public engagement with science, and thence ‘upstream’ engagement with policy formation. (I also learned a truism of public consultation exercises – that they are organised in order to find the best way of telling folk what you’ve already decided upon…;-)

So what has this to do with digital scholarship? Well, if the digital scholar is to trad academic, what is digital outreach as to trad outreach? Can we plot a similar evolution in the communication activities of digital academics, from telling folk what’s good for them though our blogging activities, through trying to engage them in conversation (or at least, trying to get them to spread our crude attempts at video making as viral warez), to engaging with policy makers on twitter and via gov departmental blogs?

I have no idea…

Because really this whole post is a badly contrived attempt to plug the WriteToReply republication of the Research Excellence Framework consultation document.

If the thought of reading the whole thing puts you off, we’ve published a Quick Start Guide you can find the area of the consultation that particularly appeals to you, and just comment on that: Research Excellence Framework consultation: Quick Start Guide

As with every other WriteToReply republication, each paragraph has a unique URI that you can link to from a commentary on your own website; you can also comment directly on individual paragraphs, as well as subscribe to comment feeds on a per section or per commenter basis (see here for more details, including information on how you can use the republication to formulate your own official response to the consultation).

So go on, what are you waiting for…?!

PS Hmmm, stumbling across Martin’s What would ALT-REF look like? just now, I wonder: should we set up a “Fake REF” wiki, a bit like the Fake Digital Britain Report we hosted earlier this year?!;-)

PPS it seems as if University of Leicester Library is already pre-empting part of the outcome: Job Ad: Bibliometrician (bibliometrics feature quite strongly in the consultation).

Idle Thoughts on Micro-Chunked Consultations

Last week, Steph Gray announced yet another innovative way of trying to engage people in public consultations in his blog post Your starter for ten. The piece describes a scheme in which a series of pub quiz style “killer facts” are pulled out of a current consultation document on consumer rights and credit and then represented in a quiz format along with why you should care/what the consultation is seeking to do to address the issues raised by each quiz question. (You can find the quiz from a link on here: Government action to secure a better deal for consumers.)

This idea, of microchunking particular elements of a consultation and then trying to use these microchunks to draw people into commenting on a consultation document, is one that Joss Winn and I have casually explored in the context of WriteToReply. In that case, we discussed whether or not we should pull out intriguing facts or potentially contentious questions that we could then tweet, along with a link to the appropriate part of the consultation document, in order to entice people into commenting, either directly on the WriteToReply site, or by remote commenting (that is, posting a blog comment or tweet that links back to a particular paragraph on the WriteToReply site site that we can then track via a Trackback).

(As part of this, we imagined creating a list of ‘nuggets’ pulled from consultation docs as we imported them into WordPress; it strikes me now that if we did have such a list, we could set up a twitter account for each consultation that could be run on a ‘daily feeds’ like basis – whenever anyone subscribes, they start to receive tweets @’d to them, according to a personal schedule starting at the moment they follow the consultation, as well as more general broadcast tweets?)

So for example, here are a couple of tweets that we sent out yesterday in support of a new consultation doc on WriteToReply about funding local and regional news (Sustainable independent and impartial news):

One thing to note here is that rathr than linking to the actual paragraph that contains the question, which is what we’d normally do, these tweets link to paragraphs that preview, and provide the context for, the questions. So if you follow the link, you are lead into the body of the consultation document, and if you read on you then come to the question included in the tweet. That is, the tweet provides the question that sets the contest, the link leads through to the part of the consultation that provides the context for the question, and then to the question as it appears in the consultation doc.

Also on Twitter, Joss and I fell into a conversation with Steph and Richard Stirling about the different audiences for consultation docs and what the appropriate means of publication are for those different audiences. So for example, Steph suggested “Consultations have multiple audiences. Suspect downloadable PDFs actually not bad for policy folk. But for public?” [ref], which was backed up by Richard: “I agree with @lesteph’s point. As a policy person I often want to read the whole doc – not sections. PDF works.” [ref].

However, if the aim is to reach outside the policy wonks and the committed lobbiests/interest group members, then I suspect we need smaller ‘headline’ chunks, or atomic parts of the consultation document, to pull people in to the consultation. (Also, we may learn something form the journalists here, and the way they construct stories to lead people in, or at least, give them some of the facts – that is, facts they can misquote in the pub later! – up front.)

There are dangers with the headline approach, of course, as the ‘simplistic’ tweeted questions shown above suggest… At the simplest reading, they just solicit a trivial yes/no answer, rather than an informed comment. But bear this in mind too – those questions were taken from the consultation document itself.

A further thing that’s interesting to note is how the consultation document is actually constructed. The ‘argument’, such as it, and the issues that the consultation wishes to be taken into account, are used to preface the actual questions (see the sections on Potential Sources of Top-Up Funding or Protecting the BBC’s Funding for a couple of examples).

That is, some issues a presented, and then the question is asked. But how likely is this to work as an engagement strategy? A cold start conversational strategy would probably be more likely to start with a question, followed by a discussion (or argument) and an agreement to disagree.

So on the WriteToReply “plural news” consultation dashboard, we have started to explore how we can hook people into the consultation, first through a re-presentation of the consultation questions as simple polls:

and also by using the questions to lead in to some of the discussion that actually appears before the questions in the original consultation document:

We’ve also started looking at pulling related news stories in to the dashboard, in the first instance from the Guardian using the Guardian OpenPlatform API, to try and embed the consultation in a wider context:

There is an issue of circularity here, of course – the news reports presented to date stem largely from responses to the original consultation call, so rather than setting the consultation in context, you could argue they are just responses to it.

Cf. also the approach taken particularly on BBC sites where full articles on a government documents are often backed up with a link to the original document:

But we have to start somewhere, and we are, after all, making this stuff up as we go along. If nothing else, we are exploring how to re-balance the presentation of the consultation doc and associated news stories compared to the mode of presentation used by the BBC et al.

And finally (and slightly off topic!), note that we’re also using WordPress feed to pull in both the content of the report and the comments from the WriteToReply republication of the original consultation document:

However, whilst we can pull the content of the report into the dashboard via an RSS feed, the paragraph level links and links and comment links are not passed though the RSS:

(I suspect this is because the linking is managed by the CommentPress theme? Joss – maybe we need to look at adding paragraph and “comment here” links to the RSS content too?)

The Fake Digital Britain Report

Jumping on the “Fake” bandwagon, we’ve decided to do a little experiment over on WriteToReply, by providing t’community who complained bitterly about the Digital Britain Interim report an opportunity to come up with something better…

And so, I’d like to announce the The Fake Digital Britain Report wiki.

So if you think that we need 2Gbps rather than 2Mbps broadband access, then argue your case on the wiki pages…

The initial section headings are taken form the original WTR republication of the report (“Digital Britain Interim Report” on WriteToReply although of course, they are subject to change… (A lot of people were complaining that the UK games industry was not well represented in the interim report, so now they have an opportunity to add in the missing section…;-)

As ever, a feed is available from the fake report in the form of a changes feeds to the wiki: Recent changes to “The Fake Digital Britain Report” feed.

Another thing we’re trying to do with the Fake Digital Britain report is find a way of supporting the wiki activity by pulling in comments made to the report on WriteToReply to the “Fake Digital Britain Report” discussion page:

This is achieved using the MediaWIki Extension:RSS:

The re-use of the original section headings in the wiki page means that there’s also a sensible mapping to the comments in the discussion page, which are pulled in at the section level from WTR.

PS We’re also going to have a look at the WIki Article Feeds Extension to see if we can do anything interesting with that… In the meantime, we’ve already got a demonstration of how to pull a mediwiki page into WordPress page here: Guidelines for re-publishers (scraped from the wiki) (uses the Append WIki page plugin (I think?).

Who knew that blikis could be so much fun…?;-)

Teaching Round the Issues on WriteToReply

No time for blogging properly at the mo – too much crappy crap “work” crappy crap to do – but looking through some recent comments on WriteToReply just now, I saw this one:

a trackback from a blog post – Money Programme – Media Revolution: Tomorrow’s TV – that reviews a recent episode of the Money Programme that “explains the importance of the formula in raising money and the reduced role of direct TV production funding as a proportion of costs”, an issue that is also touched upon in Digital Britain – The Interim Report.

The post links to the actual programme, which you can view (at the moment) on iPlayer: Money Programme – Media_Revolution: Tomorrows TV (on iPlayer)

(I’m not sure if this one is an OU co-pro, too?)

This put me in mind of Trackforward – Following the Consequences with N’th Order Trackbacks and Trackbacks, Tweetbacks and the Conversation Graph, Part I where I’d started thinking about the “link context” around web content.

So I’m wondering – would it make sense to have someone doing some “gardening” around the report, looking to see if there is content – such as the Money Programme episode referred to above – that could be linked to and used to help people make sense of the issues raised by things like the Digital Britain report, or “educate them” in the issues, even?!

That is, as well as using WriteToReply as a place where people can comment back on reports, could we also find ways of using it as a resource that helps people learn about the issues raised by the report, whether or not they want to comment back?

Comment on “Digital Britain” at

In an scathing review of Stephen Carter’s “Digital Britain” interim report – Reporting behind closed doors – technology columnist Bill Thompson noted how difficult it is for the digerati to comment back on the report:

The widespread coverage has certainly provided a rich source of suggestions, comments, ideas and critical reviews to feed into the next stage of the process.

Unfortunately for those who lack access to mainstream media outlets like newspapers and broadcasters or their associated websites, there is no easy way to respond directly to its author. The report website has no information at all on how to make a contribution, and you’ll have to read through 72 pages of the report before you find a suggestion that “organisations or individuals interested in joining the discussion should register their interest at”

Apparently the Digital Britain team will follow up these expressions of interest, which is nice of them, and we must just hope that Carter and his expert panel will be carefully reviewing every blog post and online comment to ensure they don’t miss anything important.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, as the some of the consultation initiatives coming out of DIUS show (Public Policy Engagement with Commentariat).

So a couple of days ago I posted the following tweet:

And I got this reply…

…which was quickly followed by this one…

And now, two evenings (incl. a rather late night, last night), a lunchbreak and morning coffee later, Joss has up and running (I got in the way not getting Daily Feeds working;-), a commentpress site for commenting on public documents.

And the first report to be hosted there? Digital Britain – The Interim Report, of course:-)

So if you want to comment on the report, as @billt surely does, head over to now and follow the link for the Digital Britain, Interim Report; or go there directly: Digital Britain, Interim Report on

We can’t guarantee that anyone who actually produced the report will read the comments, of course, but there is a comment feed for them to subscribe to if they want to;-)