Giuseppe Sollazzo: 'Teaching medical researchers about data risks and opportunities is an exciting challenge'
With the 2016 Open Data Awards just around the corner, we catch up with Individual Champion award finalist Giuseppe Sollazzo about the many data projects he works on, from data analysis to advising ministers on standards and transparency.
The Open Data Awards celebrate innovation and excellence in open data across the world. Hundreds of inspiring people and organisations have been nominated. The awards will be held on 1 November 2016 at the BFI Southbank. Explore all nominees and finalists and follow #OpenDataAwards for updates on the night.
Hi Giuseppe! What do you do, in a nutshell?
I do a number of things. My 9-5 life is at a medical school called St George's, University of London, where I have an entertaining and challenging job as Senior Systems Analyst.
I lead the IT Systems team, making sure operations run smoothly. I also work a lot on data and information-rich R&D projects – for example, I'm building our High-Performance Computing capability and capacity, both in terms of infrastructure and skills.
I have an extensive portfolio of freelance consultancy on the side, including data management, analysis and development, digital projects, and ministerial advice on standards and transparency.
What first got you excited about open data?
I remember the early days, when discussions with people like Hadley Beeman and Tim Davies showed me the benefits of increasing transparency through data releases as a way to engage with the community, highlighting the opportunities a more open government could create.
However, it was in 2011 that I really got excited about it. I met Emer Coleman at City Hall on a chilly September morning. At that time, Transport for London were starting to be more open about their data. The discussion we had convinced me that open data could go beyond being a good way to increase transparency and engagement, but also a method to actively solve our city's – and our society's – problems, by using evidence, facts and reliable processes.
The union of these two concepts – a transparency ethos and a problem-solving attitude – is still what makes me an open data enthusiast.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?
One interesting challenge I am facing at St George's is that in a medical context researchers are often not trained to appreciate informational issues: concepts like the degree of data openness, the computational complexity of algorithms analysing "big data", the risks and opportunities of sharing data, etc.
The biggest challenge for me is making everyone appreciate these concepts by building capability while we develop our computational platforms. It's a hard challenge, but a very exciting one.
What kind of open data would you like to see more of?
I'd like to see more open data that can empower citizens to make their own decisions, and empower authorities to power operations: transport planning, live transport and traffic, public health, waste management, weather and forecasts.
What are you most looking forward to about the ODI Summit and Awards?
I'm looking forward to engaging and networking with other data publishers, users and activists, and learning about what they are doing with data.
I'm not super-competitive, so I'm incredibly flattered to be in the shortlist and very happy regardless of who wins the award. All the people in the shortlist are amazing open data ambassadors.