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BarCamp UKGovWeb 2009

BarCamp UKGovWeb

Last Saturday was BarCamp UKGovWeb at the Ministry of Justice. There were plenty of new faces in addition to the usual suspects!

Three sessions that we found particularly interesting:

  1. Directgov and Innovation: Directgov have launched a new innovate part of their site, and are keen on supporting innovation around government data (mashups, services, etc.) from outside government. In particular they are keen on the idea of a ‘data wiki’ for government datasets – which is basically what CKAN is for, as we discussed at the Workshop on Finding and Re-using Public Information in November. We hope we will be able to work with the Directgov team on this!

  2. Show Me The Money: Uncannily ‘Show Me The Money’ was the original working title for the project that is now Where Does My Money Go?. The idea for the session was also very similar. We had an interesting discussion about the background of similar projects in the US, relevant legislation, problems getting hold of public finance data, and had a look at where we were up to with WDMMG. A handful of new people were interested in getting involved in the project.

  3. Open government data: There were quite a few people interested in having a session on re-using government data (as you can see in this picture). Again, discussion was focused on what those inside and outside of government could do to make it easier to find and re-use public information – and there was allusion to CKAN and the November workshop. There was some interesting input from the Office of National Statistics, Tom Steinberg, John Sheridan, Harry Metcalfe, the Directgov team and a new open government data project in the Netherlands commissioned by the Dutch government.

You can see our photos on Flickr and below are a set of rough notes.

Session 1 – Directgov and innovation

  • Cross departmental innovation
  • External re-users
  • Find data
  • APIs for mashups
  • Is this Directgov’s remit?
  • GovTalk – is a bit like this
  • Live data for test purposes
  • How does this fit in with OPSI‘s remit?
  • Brilliant opportunity
  • Don’t know what this will be or how it will turn out (if we did it wouldn’t be innnovation)
    • Phase 1: WordPress blog – with ideas about discussion/space
    • Phase 2: Linking to things, relationship with Show Us A Better Way
    • Then possibly hosting something – rewired state..
  • Year long vision: data, applications spontaneously created linked to, debate about what this all means for different service owners
  • Q: What is your objective? (Re-write the orange site? Why innovate?)
  • A: Talent tapping.. If something interesting is happening, why aren’t we able to tap into it? Harnessing stuff that is good, that takes thing onto another level..
  • R&D team within Directgov: semantic web, new ways of organising content, data…
  • Imperfect/experimental applications
  • Exposing data – makes it easier to innovate
  • By exposing stuff you get innovation
  • Important social point: APIs is where we should be focusing creative effort, building communities shouldn’t be directly focused on building communities – but on making data available for community to use
  • Data, aggregating, cleaning
  • Cleaning, exposing data – monumental task
  • Bands of data hunters
  • Whole dataset rather than bit that you want
  • NHS: likes to think it can do everything for everybody
    • Policy people relieved about innovative thing..
    • Social Innovation Camp people – interesting approach, gets ideas out, engaging people..
  • Can we borrow innovative approaches?
  • First point about APIs: deep security issue here.. (‘blag that gaff’)
  • GovTalk – open space (also closed space to discuss what they are holding)
  • People often don’t know what they are holding (hence reluctance to give out…)
  • innovate.direct.gov.uk
  • Branding question
  • Directgov or cabinet office?
  • Is this heart and soul part of what Directgov is doing?
  • Worked at statistics: banging head against the wall trying to get post-clean up data from colleagues – ‘left in disgust, frustration and anger’
  • Promise it will not be centralised innovation unit?
  • Doing it because you want direct gov to make it better?
  • Discovering uncovering latent need
  • Data rather than services?
  • Letting others innovate
  • How ecosystem works: get people interested in api/data stuff, new data/services
  • ‘Directgov app store’
  • Open source model – interesting things will be done by other people
  • Effective development
  • Why would people do things for free?
  • Because they want a better service
  • Look at FOSS, look at Wikipedia
  • Couldn’t they break something?
  • Taking data and developing new services
  • Mentality of million pound projects versus 10-30k project off the ground
  • COI small developers framework
  • Break the rules, get some excellence and work out which rules you need to reinstate
  • Process is organisational scar tissue
  • Directgov innovate site
  • Rewired state
  • Focus on innovation, services, etc.
  • Like twitter feed
  • Aimed at developer/innovator community
  • Press release went out yesterday
  • All the right sponsoring behaviours, hearts and minds will follow
  • Comment: ‘am I allowed to comment?’
  • Innovation space received special place in report
  • Warmly received by minister
  • Not innovating if everything you do goes perfectly
  • Need a concept of noble failure – otherwise we’re not going to get anywhere
  • If this doesn’t work, next thing will work better
  • Where is data going to come from?
  • Hope people will expect to find data
  • Good clean data
  • Only way it could fail is if nothing happens
  • New links to awesome datasets
  • Data dumps + licensing + terms and conditions for APIs
  • Good intentions at start
  • Talking to John Sheridan about licensing etc.
  • Talking about things/stuff + communities
  • Want to find what people want – rather than saying its about X, Y + Z… its all sorted out funded, big contract, etc…

Session 3: Show Me The Money

  • Richard Fahey
  • Why transparency important
  • Fedspending
  • Whats happening in UK?
  • Why transparency?
    • Accountability for gov officials + elected officials
    • Positive incentives (people know where money is going – creates positive incentive to do the right thing, create more efficiency, etc.)
    • Enables collaboration (Apps For Democracy, Congressopedia, …) insight into data
    • US organisations doing this – Sunlight Foundation, etc.
  • Fedspending OMB Watch
    • Information on contracts
    • Top contracts, individual contracts
    • Data from several agencies (federal procurement agency, …)
    • Goes down to transaction level detail (contract spec, start, end, price, etc.)
    • 2006 legislation + website to see all data
    • £600k – USAspending.gov, tender process, OMB bid lowest (already had tech)
    • Originally thought £15m to run for 2006-7, but ended up being cheaper
  • June 2007, government spending (website) bill
  • Did not get required number of mps to vote – only a few turned up
  • We could have had usaspending.gov
  • Try to revitalise the website spending bill?
  • Try to gather data ourselves?
  • Where Does My Money Go project:
    • Idea originally had same working title (Show Me The Money) back in mid 2006
    • Winning Show Us A Better Way competition entry
    • Support from HMT
    • Start with Red Book and take it from there
    • Predicated on notion of citizen’s relation to institutions around them
    • My money has helped to build this road, to run this school, to pay staff at this hospital, …’
    • Hence greater sense of involvement + realising investment in public life
    • Start with low hanging fruit, and go from there
    • Idea of closing loop between citizens and public bodies – citizens know where their money is spent
    • Not all data is there but interesting to start with what is already there to demonstrate what is possible. An exemplar that might encourage more to publish relevant data.
    • Demo of Where Does My Money Go collection and cleaning of data from HMT, with basic visualisation.
  • Richard: start with the bailout?
  • Start with things that are already published?
  • Should we try and bring bill to gov? Should we try and gather data ourselves? What should we do?
  • Cost of gathering data – mandate to submit info from relevant departments
  • Do we have the data in uk?
  • Yes – on procurement systems
  • Bombard with FOI requests
  • Monthly FOI requests?
  • Commercial confidentiality
  • Audit commission act
  • House address – costing
  • John Sheridan:
    • OPSI has handwritten purchase order (one part to supplier, other 4 parts to accountants, etc.)
    • Its not as though data is always there
    • Data not available in formats that make this easy to do
    • Are our systems geared up to this level of transparency? No – they are not.
  • Alasdair Mangham – they must have an account
  • Several bank accounts local council run – monthly payment settling costs with contractors, need invoices
  • Very redacted invoices
  • Julian: need to know what you’ve got for the money – not just what money is spent
  • What the contract was? + what was cost of contract? was it correct? over-spending?
  • Incentive mechanisms
  • Pork barrel political culture – people are keen to open up
  • We don’t have same sense of semi-corruption as in us
  • Nothing improves value for money as transparency
  • Transparency – reasonable steps to ensure value for money when spending public money
  • Powerful mechanism to ensure efficient spending
  • 2 pronged approach (exemplars + legislation)
  • EU tendering system
  • GCAT + SCAT – catalogue pre-tendered for services
  • Can file without european union journal
  • Commercially sensitive
  • Contracting out of freedom of information
  • Difficult to get people to disclose contracts (take away power of negotiation)
  • Start by looking at bailout money
  • SEC
  • Something that indicated where gaps are – mapping public finance data
  • Start with what we have – visualising that
  • Why website bill rather than data
  • Regional development fund
  • Accounting + obfuscation
  • Bottom up, top down
  • Obligation to publish annual account
  • Guardian graphic representing public finance (PDF)
  • Moving forward with WDMMG:
    • Carbon copy an email to all interested
    • Continue to collect existing relevant data, low hanging fruit
    • Built something to give an indication of what is possible, an exemplar, that could be scaled with more data..

Session 4: Open data

  • We pay for it – we want to use it
  • Lets make it easy
  • APIs
  • Difficulty of getting data
  • Imperfect data
  • Could people inside/outside government help this process along
  • Give us what you have and we’ll fix it
  • Should every gov dep have their own API
  • Standard API?
  • Clearing house for data?
  • National statistics
  • Quite common for census data
  • US – thinking can be applied in other countries
  • More data, more apis, whip up cool services very quickly
  • Available + re-usable (click use license)
  • Not necessarily in format you want
  • ONS publishes data
  • Steps for people publishing data (dutch gov)
  • OKF working on service to find/register government datasets: CKAN (see uk tag)
  • Critical data that isn’t available
  • Core business of gov
  • Underlying regime is very permissive
  • Cultural issues
  • Next bit of POI taskforce will come out
  • Done research and see there is something wrong
  • Ministers will see this – senior civil servants
  • Extended click-use license
  • Where do you go?
  • GNIP
  • GeoCommons, Free the Postcode, …
  • What Do They Know
  • FOI request
  • Rewired State
  • Unique Identifiers –
  • Snap codes to identify administrative boundaries
  • Companies house – can’t go to companies house with URL
  • Funding has to follow demand
  • Proportional funding (at least one person must have asked for it)
  • Camden council
  • If there is a request £10k minimum to deal with data requests (like FOI)
  • John Sheridan: OPSI requests might add up to £400k
  • 2 ministers supportive of this: Tom Watson + Michael Wills
  • There is serious commitment – money not there
  • innovate.direct.gov.uk
  • Is this data useful?
  • Are there killer apps?
  • Tom Steinberg: what is the most interesting dataset that exists in some form that could be used to build a really compelling killer app? What is exciting?
    • Public toilet data
    • Electric car chargers
    • Jobs

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