Beyond open data
Knowing the problem you are trying to solve inside out, and enabling expertise to connect in new ways, are as vital as ingredients for success as the data itself when it comes to generating new value and impact from open data.
Nesta’s interests in the open data agenda tend to focus on the development of applications to tackle social issues.
Geoff Mulgan set out a challenge in a blog earlier this year for more evidence of transformational ways in which open data can affect public services. We’re talking largely about open data from public sources, so where’s the benefit back to the public from the new release of this data?
Make It Local
We’ve supported projects which aim to stimulate new thinking and prototypes from open data in the field of public services. Four years ago we launched Make it Local which paired digital agencies with local authorities in England and Scotland to build new really useful citizen-focused services with open data. We’ve since taken this approach to Europe, partnering with 7 cities eager to make a local case for the value of open data on Code for Europe which takes technologists in house who build digital apps and services to meet challenges set by the local team. We have worked with teams producing apps which easy city life, such as Civic Dashboard which visualises the nature of public enquiries to a city council, Book Share which prompts neighbours and local libraries to share books or Take a Hike a game to prompt tourists to visit less travelled city routes.
More recently Nesta has been partnering with the Open Data Institute to run the Open Data Challenge Series, applying our understanding of challenge prizes to channel release and exploitation of open data at well defined problems, and incentivizing engagement through a final cash award. This project sets out an ambition to tackle head on more challenging public service needs such as crime and justice, education and local area energy use. Already we are meeting with teams representing a very wide mix of angles on the problem, and are talking to public service and commercial providers about how ideas generated in the competitions might scale.
What I have observed is that while the open data is the base ingredient for all of these projects, the ideas which capture people’s imaginations and which demonstrate more obvious potential to scale and change the world are those which connect a broad range of experts and in which there are key moments for these experts to iterate the idea’s development. The best projects engage with ‘experts’ who deal day-to-day with the problem being tackled, vitally including users, data experts, those who may be end buyers or commissioners.
Opening up open data
No rocket science here – we know that the best innovations are accelerated by the exchange of ideas and experience and the critical response of experts. Yet all too often hack events and idea ‘brainstorms’ happen in closed networks. The Open Data Challenge Series places significant emphasis on defining the challenge well – and to do so requires a conversation with those close to the problem being discussed.
I’m interested to explore how we do this best, balancing the elements we need to make wise decisions about what is useful, novel and feasible in use of open data. Necessarily this will combine virtual, face-to-face, personal and standardized approaches, but how can we start to systematize this learning alongside open data programmes? Please share your experiences with us.