Monthly Archives: June 2008

Government Jobs

Tom Watson MP has identified the listing of Government job vacancies as an interesting area which might benefit from a Power of Information approach.

He has written an article on his blog identifying a range of government job vacancies web pages and seeks comments on this subject.

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Australian Licensing Examples

There are some interesting examples of public data licensing practice from Australia.

The first is for spatial data where a comprehensive policy for access and pricing was adopted in 2001. This has a very clear statement of objectives:

The Policy on Spatial Data Access and Pricing (‘Policy’)… sought to maximise benefits to the community from increased access to and use of spatial data; and that the supply of digital spatial data to the community be readily available, ideally over the Internet.

And it is a policy for free access for the basic datasets:

Spatial data available under the terms of the Policy are provided free of charge when delivered over the Internet, at no more than the marginal cost of transfer for packaged products (nominally $99), or at the full cost of transfer for customised services.

I have registered for a license to use one of the datasets and the process was as simple as a UK Click-Use license.

There is other interesting activity taking place in the state of Queensland with the Government Information Licensing Framework. This is an ambitious project with the following aims:

The GILF project is about creating and implementing a new standardised information licensing arrangement for all Queensland government information, not just spatial information. This will provide enhanced, on demand access to accurate, consistent and authoritative information and support a range of the government’s initiatives dependent on strategic information.

What is especially interesting about the Queensland initiative is that they are working with a local university, Queensland University of Technology (QUT), to see how Creative Commons licensing can be incorporated into their framework. This work is being carried out as part of the OAK (Open Access to Knowledge) Law Project at QUT which is also producing some very interesting material.

Richard Allan, Task Force Chair

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Trading funds

The Shareholder Executive and HM Treasury are undertaking a review of the trading fund model. The terms of reference have been published today. As the review will be including the areas that Tom and Ed suggested, the Taskforce will be assisting with this review, particularly looking at the value of the data held by the funds and whether the current business models and licencing arrangements are sustainable. 

There is a wealth of literature in this area, not only the recent study by three Cambridge academics but also various reports on the Ordnance Survey and books by academics such as Yochai Benkler.

If you had to set our priorities what areas would you have us look at? Is there any research we should be looking at? Please kick off the discussion in the comments.

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Opening Up Legislative Bodies

There are a number of projects around the world aimed at opening up the legislative process through creative re-use of the records produced by parliaments, congresses etc. It is worth looking at some of these power of information exemplars.

UK – TheyWorkForYou.com

US – OpenCongress.org

EU – IPPR-MEP.eu (How MEPs Work)

Australia – OpenAustralia.org

There are some interesting lessons to take away from the approaches taken by each project to sourcing, mixing and presenting data.

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Open Tech 2008 – Saturday July 5th

UKUUG and friends are organising what should be a very interesting event called Open Tech 2008 on Saturday July 5th. This event is described as

…an informal, low cost one-day conference on technology, society and low-carbon living, featuring Open Source ways of working and technologies that anyone can have a go at.

Previous events by the same team have been excellent.  And this one will feature a session on the Power of Information agenda during the afternoon.

You can register online.

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BBC Debate on Common Platform

The ongoing debate about public service media in the UK is also stimulating thought and discussion around how best to present public data.

Steve Bowbrick has written about an idea he calls a Common Platform. And this will be discussed in a BBC debate next week.

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More Architecture

Some diagrams to stimulate further thought and discussion on what needs to be done architecturally to realise the power of public information.

Diagram 1 – the ‘traditional approach’

The \'traditional\' architecture

The emphasis of much web development to date has been on the presentation of the data to the public.

The assumption was that a particular website would be the unique interface to a particular set of data.

This meant that little or no thought might have been given to how anyone else would use the data set in question.

Sometimes the data and any analysis of it could be unpicked from such a site but in many instances this would be extremely difficult.

Diagram 2 – a Power of Information architecture

A Power of Information Architecture

If we want to realise the power of much public information then we need to start thinking differently about the way we treat data sets.

There is a need for an Access Layer to the data.

This must address all the issues that are necessary to enable use of the data. These typically include technical issues such as file formats, intellectual property issues such as copyright, and commercial issues such as pricing where applicable.

With access to the data enabled then multiple players may create their own analyses of it.

There is a need for a further Access Layer to the output of the analysis activity. This must again address any technical, intellectual property and commercial issues.

With the Access Layers in place there is scope for multiple web presentations of the data. Additional value can be generated through the ability to interact with a community around the data.

The full realisation of the power of the information is therefore realised when all layers are in place with the architecture designed to offer opportunities for interaction.

Diagram 3 – Example – Hansard in the old world

Hansard Old Model

It is helpful to illustrate this transition with the example of Hansard, the record of the UK Parliament’s proceedings.

www.parliament.uk has offered an integrated approach to presenting Hansard for a number of years. The Hansard data is wrapped up with Parliament’s own analysis output and presented to the public in an official website.

The Parliamentary site receives a lot of traffic and has evolved over the years to become more accessible.

But it did not offer all the functionality wanted by civic activists who have been working on alternative solutions to do more with Hansard and other Parliamentary content.

These alternative solutions have produced a more open architecture for this data.

Diagram 4 – Example – Hansard in the new world

Hansard in the new world

An access layer has been created for Hansard with a screen scraper and Click-Use license to address both technical and copyright issues.

The scraped data goes through an analysis process at publicwhip.org.uk.

Access to the output of this analysis process is offered by means of XML data under a Creative Commons license. An API has been produced to make it very easy to get this data.

TheyWorkForYou.com provides a very good and popular presentation layer for this content.

The data as reworked by TheyWorkForYou is also commonly presented in many other places on the web such as MPs’ personal sites.

There is a comment facility built into TheyWorkForYou to provide a layer of interaction around the content.

It is also cited in many blogs that generate their own interaction as well as featuring in mainstream media stimulating further discussion.

The new architecture now provides a platform for more innovation around the Hansard data set with very low barriers to doing this.

Richard Allan, Task Force Chair

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