Open Data Day 2016 Birmingham, UK

This blogpost was written by Pauline Roche, MD of voluntary sector infrastructure support agency, RnR Organisation, co-organiser Open Mercia, co-Chair West Midlands Open Data Forum, steering group member Open Data Institute (ODI) Birmingham node, founder Data in Brum

20 open data aficionados from across sectors as diverse as big business, small and medium enterprises, and higher education, including volunteers and freelancers gathered in Birmingham, UK on Friday, March 4th to share our enthusiasm for and knowledge of open data in our particular fields, to meet and network with each other and to plan for future activities around open data in the West Midlands. We met on the day before Open Data Day 2016 to accommodate most people’s schedules.

Organised by Open Mercia colleagues, Pauline Roche and Andrew Mackenzie, and hosted at ODI Birmingham by Hugo Russell, Project Manager, Innovation Birmingham. The half day event formally started with introductions, a brief introduction to the new ODI Birmingham node, and watching a livestream of the weekly ODI Friday lecture: ‘Being a Data Magpie’. In the lecture, ODI Senior Consultant Leigh Dodds explained how to find small pieces of data that are shared – whether deliberately or accidentally – in our cities. Delegates were enthralled with Leigh’s stories about data on bins, bridges, lamp posts and trains.

We then moved on to lightning talks about open data with reference to various subjects: highways (Teresa Jolley), transport (Stuart Harrison), small charities (Pauline Roche), mapping (Tom Forth), CartoDB (Stuart Lester), SharpCloud (Hugo Russell) and air quality (Andrew Mackenzie). These talks were interspersed with food and comfort breaks to encourage the informality which tends to generate the sharing and collaboration which we were aiming to achieve.

During the talks, more formal discussion focused on Birmingham’s planned Big Data Corridor, incorporating real-time bus information from the regional transport authority Centro, including community engagement through the East of Birmingham to validate pre/post contract completion, for example, in: road works and traffic management changes. Other discussion focussed on asset condition data, Open Contracting, and visualisation for better decisions

Teresa Jolley’s talk (delivered via Skype from London), showed that 120 local authorities (LA) in England alone are responsible for 98% of the road network but have only 20% of the budget; also each LA gets £30m but actually needs £93m to bring the network back to full maintenance.The talk highlighted that there is a need for more collaboration, improved procurement, new sources of income and data on asset condition which is available in a variety of places, including in people’s heads! The available research data is not open, which is a barrier to collaboration. Delegates concluded from Teresa’s talk that o
pening the contracts between private and public companies is the main challenge.

Stuart Harrison, ODI Software Superhero, talked about integrated data visualisation and decision making, showing us the London Underground: Train Data Demonstrator. He talked about visualisation for better decisions on train capacity and using station heat maps to identify density of use.

Pauline Roche, MD of the voluntary sector infrastructure support agency, RnR Organisation, shared the Small Charities Coalition definition of their unique feature (annual income less than £1m) and explained that under this definition, 97% of the UK’s 164,000 charities are small. In the West Midlands region alone, the latest figures evidence 20,000 local groups (not all are charities), 34,000 FTE paid staff, 480,000 volunteers and an annual £1.4bn turnover.

Small charities could leverage their impact through the use of Open Data to demonstrate transparency, better target their resources, carry out gap analysis (for example, Nepal NGOs found that opening and sharing their data reduced duplication amongst other NGOs in the country) and measure impact. One small charity which Pauline worked with on a project to open housing data produced a comprehensive Open Data “Wishlist” including data on health, crime and education. Small charities need active support from the council and other data holders to get the data out.  
Tom Forth from the ODI Leeds node, showed delegates how he uses open data for mapping with lots of fun demonstrations. Pauline shared some of Tom’s specific mapped data on ethnicity with 2 relevant charities and we look forward to examining that data more closely in the future. It was great to have a lighter, though no less important, view of what can often be seen as a very serious subject. Tom invited delegates to the upcoming Floodhack at ODI Leeds on the following weekend. He also offered to run another mapping event the following week for some students present, with more assistance being proffered by another delegate, Mike Cummins.

Stuart Lester of Digital Birmingham, gave an introduction to CartoDB and reminded delegates of the Birmingham Data Factory where various datasets were available under an open license.

The second last talk of the day was a demonstration of SharpCloud from Hugo Russell, who described using this and other visualisation tools such as Kumu to tell a story and spot issues / relationships

Finally, Andrew Mackenzie presented on air quality and gave some pollution headlines, relating his presentation topically to the LEP, Centro and HS2. He said that some information, while public, is not yet published as data yet, but it can be converted. There were some questions about the position of the monitoring stations and a possible project “What is the quality of the air near me/a location?”. Andrew says it’s currently £72,000 to build an air quality monitoring station and gave some examples of work in the field e.g. , and Smart Citizen . He also mentioned the local organisation Birmingham Friends of the Earth and a friendly data scientist Dr Andy Pryke. One of the delegates tweeted a fascinating visualisation of air pollution data


Our diverse audience represented many networks and organisations: two of the Open Data Institute nodes, Birmingham  and Leeds , West Midlands Open Data Forum , Open Mercia , Open Data Camp, Birmingham Insight, Hacks and Hackers (Birmingham) , Brum by Numbers and Data in Brum. Our primary themes were transport and social benefit, and we learned about useful visualisation tools like CartoDB, SharpCloud and Kumu. The potential markets we explored included: an Open commercialisation model linked to the Job Centre, collaboration where a business could work with a transport authority and an ODI Node to access Job Centres of applicable government departments on a Revenue Share and an Air Quality Project.

Future Events information shared included the Unconference Open Data Camp 3 in Bristol, 14-15 May (Next ticket release 19 March), an Open Government Partnership meeting on 7 April at Impact Hub Birmingham, a Mapping workshop with Tom Forth (date TBC), and offers of future events: CartoDB with Stuart Lester (½ day), OpenStreetMap with Andy Mabbett (½ day) and WikiData with Andy Mabbett (½ day)
Pauline also compiled a Post-event Storify: