Democracy Club on open data: ‘Telling people where they can vote shouldn’t be this hard'

With the 2015 Open Data Awards just around the corner, we catch up with Sym Roe, Coordinator at Democracy Club, a finalist for the Open Data Social Impact Award.

The Open Data Awards celebrate innovation and excellence in open data across the world. Hundreds of inspiring people and organisations have been nominated across five categories, from social impact to publishing.

The awards will be held on July 9 at Bloomberg’s London offices on Finsbury Square. Explore all nominees and finalists and follow #ODIAwards for updates on the night.


Sym Roe

@symroe @democlub

Hi Sym! How are you doing?

Hello! I’m well thank you. I’m writing this on a train on the way back from talking to Local Government Digital about how we can work together in future. It’s exciting to see such interest in improving elections, even when we’re months away from the next set.

What do you, or your organisation, do in a nutshell?

We change the world by building live proofs of concept to inspire governments to make democracy better. In 2015 we build an open list of people who were standing for the UK General Election, tried to build a polling station locator tool, collected election leaflets, lists of husting, CVs of candidates, and lots more.

What first got you excited about open data?

Trick question: open data is not exciting on it’s own. It’s the applications that make it exciting. The first tool that I build that used open data was the website – I enjoyed seeing how the common agricultural policy could be informed by a tool that allowed journalists and the public to find out where money was being spent.

What are your biggest data challenges?

We’re trying to build tools and services that rely on data that simply doesn’t exist in the public domain. The full list of candidates isn’t even collected anywhere, so we have to compile one from news stories and party websites. The location of polling stations is known, but we only got about 5% of the data from a Freedom of Information request to all councils. Telling people where they can vote shouldn’t be this hard!

What kind of open data would you like to see more of?

Let’s start with user needs and work backwards, using open data as a tool alongside the others that are needed to improve public services (like better communication between silos). The thing I’m thinking about most at the moment is how to join councils up a bit more, and make them easier to interact with at a national level – that is, how to get a list of all the open consultations within 10 miles of you, regardless of council boundaries.

How do you feel about being nominated for an open data award?

It’s nice to be recognised after a huge amount of effort from all the team. We’ve had no direct funding for the 2015 projects we ran, but we feel like we provided an important service to the public, and made the election better for everyone in some small way. Nomination has given us the motivation to continue on into 2016.

The Open Data Awards will be held on July 9 in partnership with Bloomberg at Bloomberg’s London offices on Finsbury Square.

Explore all nominees and finalists and follow #ODIAwards for updates on the night.