OpenDataCommunities: Joined up data for joined up problem solving

This post is by Sarah Roberts from ODI supporter Swirrl: DCLG’s Linked Data technology partner

The Department for Communities and Local Government’s relaunched and rebranded site, OpenDataCommunities shows how large organisations can improve collaboration and extend their data reach by using data that’s both open and linked.

Open and linked data is classed as 5 star open data. One of the things that sets it apart is that the data is available in both human readable and machine-readable formats. So DCLG can reach an extra, technical audience who can access the data to create apps or run queries.

When data is linked, each piece of data has its own page and its own URL. So people working in different organisations, with different systems, can access and use the data easily because it’s on the web: it isn’t constrained to any one system. And, much like an all you can eat buffet, you get to pick and combine exactly what you want. OK, so it’s data, not chicken wings, but the point is that because each piece of data has its own page, you can pick from a range of data across datasets and get the specific combination of data that you need.

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But how does open, linked data help solve problems practically? On a day to day basis, how does OpenDataCommunities benefit DCLG and other sectors?

Steve Peters, Head of Open Data Strategy at DCLG, had this to say:

"The prize is a 'web of data', where it is possible for anyone to reliably discover and combine DCLG and related 3rd party sources over the web, based on robust and common standards.

"OpenDataCommunities is DCLG’s contribution to this 'web of data'. We believe it creates significant potential for linking together central and local sources on key policy areas including housing, planning, and local government finance. New opportunities include:

  • Joining up DCLG’s statistics on planning decisions, house-building, and growth in households, with local sources on planning applications, and land allocated for housing development. This would provide a much richer evidence base for local authorities to better plan and target services in response to changing demand, for residents to understand and engage more effectively in local decision making, and for businesses to better align their products and services with changing local needs and circumstances (eg property developers delivering new housing)

  • Joining up DCLG’s statistics on local government budgets and expenditure, with local authority data on spending and contracts, could help local businesses to spot opportunities to bid for new business that aligns with local funding availability and priorities, and local residents to better understand and engage in spending and budgeting decisions.

"We are working with users to develop new, open linked data sources and real world practical applications in these and other areas. Examples include:

  • Collaboration with Hampshire County Council to ensure that DCLG’s statistics are reused alongside local sources in the Hampshire Hub

  • Collaboration with participants in the NESTA Housing Open Data challenge, ensuring that our rich sources on housing are available for re-use in innovative new applications.”

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OpenDataCommunities makes it easy to browse datasets and view them in visualisations. We’ve also been working on the Spreadsheet Builder, that helps you select, join up and download data from all the various datasets on the site. It works in tandem with the Geo Selector, a map-based interface to navigate the maze of England's administrative geography and choose the areas you are interested in. Find them both here.

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DCLG are embracing a shift in how we share and communicate data. The Scottish Government have also piloted this idea with OpenDataScotland and the Hampshire Hub will soon be launching a new 5 star open data platform too.

Sarah Roberts works on communications and events at Swirrl