On Saturday I attended a ‘BarCamp’ on the Power of Information Review Recommendation 8 – which suggests there should be a re-use request service for UK Public Sector Information (we blogged about this in October).

The event was organised by John Sheridan of the Office of Public Sector Information and was attended by representatives from government, the private sector, the media, and nonprofits – including mySociety’s Tom Steinberg, who co-wrote the review in June 2007.

The meeting went well – and quite a bit of time was spent planning what the service will look like and what it will do. Below are some jottings for those that are interested. (These are rough and uncomprehensive, please don’t hesitate to get in touch if there’s anything missing or incorrect!)


John Sheridan: Government have limited expertise in developing certain kinds of web services. What are barriers to being able to re-use UK PSI?

Brainstorming session: all participants were invited to suggest the kinds of things they’d like to see and discuss throughout the BarCamp.

Rob McKinnon, mySociety NZ

  • suggested a kind of e-democracy existed in the 19th c. with suffragists?
  • parliament = paper?
  • insert vote output legislation
  • more paper inside parliament
  • parliament is about data
  • creating data rather than paper
  • he was inspired by Public Whip and They Work For You
  • screenscraping HTML from government website
  • NZ theyworkforyou site
  • (aside, Francis Irving: we used data, then the click use license came along)
  • (aside, John Sheridan: several hundred thousand pounds of potential revenue lost through switch to click license)
  • no copyright exists on NZ parliamentary debates
  • (aside, Richard Quarrell: distinction between local government and central government?)
  • screenscraping parliament.nz
  • getting metadata from HTML SPAN tags
  • trying on a small sample, testing on a larger sample
  • doesn’t have to be structured/semantic data, rdf
  • making ”’source”’ information available – people will make use of it
  • politics about politicians or people?
  • networked democracy
  • making information transparent, facilitate social collabortation, participation
  • make data discoverable
    • 80% of TheyWorkForYou NZ’s visitors come via Google’s search
    • use canonical, reliable and readable URLs
  • make data linkable
  • let people mark content
    • dopplr, upcoming
  • more participation through transparency of requests
  • (aside, Michael Cross: legal basis for requesting information remained available? National Archives. famous case of documents from East India Company smelling of a certain oil – which turned out to be source of information about health)
  • (aside, Richard Quarrel: its an interesting question whether metadata/html tags count as ‘information’ under, e.g. FOI requests…)


  • John Sheridan: NZ gov effectively developed own microformats. One thing he [John] does is convince government metadata working group to develop microformat. Microformats for licensing like Creative Commons. Adding licensing information to URI.
  • John Sheridan: Heaps of work on microformats already exist.
  • Tom Steinberg: Respond in a flexible manner to demand for formats rather than blanket mandate for all material to be in format X.
  • Richard Quarrell: government sharing – egovernment standards?
  • Tom Steinberg: different tags for different government departments

Francis Irving, mySociety

  • Freedom of Information requests
  • discussed mySociety’s Freedom of Information Filer and Archive service which is under development
  • database dumps
  • (aside, Glyn Wintle: sometimes government find it easier to give whole database rather than answer a particular query)
  • encouraging real names on requests rather than pseudonyms
  • (aside, John Sheridan: snag that not all data gov has it owns. can’t re-publish third party information without investigation… local authority can serve requests, but cannot give permission to republish.)
  • (aside: rights in, e.g. address data. 3 different bodies own rights: Post Office, …)
  • make copyright clear on data
  • (aside, John Sheridan: suggest we move naturally on to licensing psi, rights, etc.)

Michael Cross, Free Our Data

  • APSI looking at bigger economic picture
  • raw data should be made available for free
  • (aside, John Sheridan: government encrypting all in sight, if think no-one wants it. whilst policy framework encourages re-use…)
  • (aside, Stephan Carlyle: Deal with 40,000 FOI requests. 900,000 environmental information regulation requests. Value added requests. Point to info already published. Publishing often costs less than production. Balanced approach to access. Most requests are members of public wanting to out certain things in their locality. Danger of having too much of a focus on boundaries and exceptions. 97% of requests easy to respond to within 20 days.)
  • (Tom Steinberg demonstrated Department of Health Information Asset Register)
  • (aside, Richard Quarrell: plan to publish comprehensive list of IARNs – information asset register numbers)
  • (aside, Tom Steinberg: do we design a request service to put pressure on government FOI policy, or one that works within the bounds of existing legislation?)
  • (aside, Rob McKinnon: refinement with proprietry content?)
  • (aside, John Sheridan: Cross Cutting Review [of Knowledge] says material is available for re-use by default)
  • Discussion of point 9.7 of click use license, about using PSI in misleading context.


  • Demoing maptasm

Brainstorming for request service

  • What are the goals?
  • Who are the users?
  • What sort of things are people going to request?
  • How will people find out that they can request info?
  • How will the service help PSIH’s (Public Sector Information Holders) to be more responsive?
  • How do we make sure the data is released in internet time?
  • Relation to FOI + distinction?
  • The process – how should it work?


  1. Government information provision is driven by what people want. Provision should become driven by demand.
  2. Not enough to make culture change documents. Need sticks. Quite strong incentives. Shame and money. Pressure through revealing failure to serve. Threat of budget cuts if information isn’t served.
  3. Increase knowledge of what is available and what has value (if not published).
  4. What ‘raw’ info is available and consistent way of gaining access. Expressing this.
  5. Complement other initiatives
  6. To be safety net for all other information provision.

Types of request

  1. Too expensive to get under other rights of access or re-use
  2. Clarification of licenses
  3. Change of licensing terms
  4. Can’t find
  5. Change of law relating to info publication
  6. data that doesn’t exist but should
  7. Change cost of information
  8. Different formats of information
  9. Change purchasing or obtaining

Who are the users

  1. Civic society
  2. Academics
  3. Private sector (data products, open models)
  4. Public servants/departments
  5. Individuals

How will people find out

  1. In every copyright statement
  2. Within click use license pages
  3. OPSI front page
  4. Google
  5. IFTS site
  6. Anywhere you can buy information from government
  7. PSIH how to get info pages
  8. FOI officer training
  9. Information Commissioner’s office (ico)
  10. Success stories?
  11. Business office
  12. Its own blog
  • Distinction between procedural and policy complaints?

How does it work

  • Category of change requested
  • Details of user
  • PSIH(s) concerned (and ‘don’t know’)
  • Dataset requested
  • Problem is wrong policy
  • Problem is execution
  • Nature of problem
  • What I could do if I had it
  • How it should work in future
  • Story/history

The process – what happens?

  1. Published on a page
  2. Published on a new items page
  3. Problems email alterts + rss feeds
  4. Mail named contact?
  5. Provides tips and tricks + explanation for obtaining what they want
  6. Endorse function inc. status of endorses + use cases
  7. Discussion thread inc. authentication for PSIH responses
  8. Write to creator of report
  • Canonical list of bodies which pulbish PSI? See civil service handbook for lists.

Endorsing page

  • Name
  • Email
  • Allow me to be emailed by (opsi/poster/anyone)
Website | + posts

Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at jonathangray.org and he tweets at @jwyg.

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