Just back from a surprisingly entertaining panel discussion on the future of data in Government, hosted by those nice Mashed* types.
Lots of extremely intelligent people, many of whom appeared to be balding blokes in specs. I half-blended in.
William Perrin, Secretary to the Power of Information Taskforce, and right-hand man to everyone's favourite blogging MP Tom Watson, was one of them.
He sat alongside John Sheridan, from the Office of Public Sector Information. Also up on stage were Steve Palmer, CIO of Hillingdon Council, and Mike Bracken, Technology Director of the Guardian (who have obviously been running the Free our Data campaign). And Mr Will Mcinnes took his usual provocative chairing role with aplomb.
Some of the key points which popped out of it:
- Government really is moving from establishing websites to freeing up data to be used off-site, it's just that some departments aren't running as fast as others (Andrew from Ononemap.com pointed a wagging finger at the Environment Agency, by way of example)
- OPSI are extremely willing to nudge the right people to provide the right data in the right way - use the access form on their site
- The more examples that the digital communications industry can demonstrate that it's in Government's best interest (both economically and socially) to publish xml files or spreadsheets, the more likely they will play ball on a bigger scale
- There's money in them there hills - innovation can come from within Government, but is highly likely to come from outside
- Google Maps API is imperfect. And without a Universal Service Obligation from any company in place ("Who's going to map Shetland?") no exclusive access could be given to the data. In fact, even without it there'd be no exclusive access
- According to Nick Jones, Director of Interactive Services at the COI, Canada and the Nordics are ahead of the curve (though the UK is very well placed in Europe)
1) Interpreting data remains at the heart of the stories that Government can tell - By asking for the right data, in the right way from the right Department we [disclosure: my employers, Fishburn Hedges, do a lot of Government work] can generate new and more interactive stories about how citizens relate to Government, and vice versa
2) As PR/digital communications specialists, the release of the data and the APIs means we can start thinking very differently about what makes news, and how it can be personalised and localised using digital media
3) We're at the start of something big in terms of how people related to local information. The rapid take-up of mobile will speed up that process no end
4) I want to start mucking round with mapping APIs. And pay more attention to what people like ononemap.com are doing.
Anyway, all in all a really useful, thought-provoking session.