Nesta has just announced four projects that we will be funding through our Make it Local Scotland programme, helping councils open their data and work with a software developer in order to develop entirely new, web-based public services.
We will be working with five local authorities in Scotland, spanning Scotland’s largest cities as well as rural areas - including an island at (nearly) the most northerly tip of the UK.
These councils share an understanding of the potential to use technology to make better use of the data they hold to engage with their communities in a more interactive way.
For many this is a leap of faith. Opening up data to a developer and allowing the content to be manipulated and added to by the public can feel like 'losing control', going against the culture of many public organisations, where services have traditionally been created for, not with the public.
This is a more equal relationship - whilst the council will ultimately 'own' the web service, the content will be manipulated and created by the users themselves. In this experiment, Nesta asks that the data is made 'open' and interactive and that the code which underpins the new digital service is also 'open source' so that other councils in Scotland and beyond can also benefit. For example, the projects we are supporting in Aberdeen and Glasgow will create a web service to improve travel in winter weather. If this is a practical service for residents in Aberdeen and Glasgow, then it is likely it could also be useful to other towns, cities or regions where snow falls!
The possibilities of this type of service are endless. Imagine a scenario where you wake up to a white-out, your smart phone, tablet or PC tells you that the local grit lorry has gritted your road at 6am but your children's school is closed, the bus and train services have major delays and the Met Office tells you more snow is forecast. You could think 'ah well, no point venturing out', a decision made with information provided by the council, in order to reduce potential accidents and injuries (and the inconvenience of waiting for your train or bus that won't arrive for ages).
You could also take this a stage further - the website tells you that the local grit boxes have been replenished, volunteers log on to advise that they are going to clear the paths to the local health centre, primary school, around the sheltered housing complex and other key areas to allow services to continue for the most vulnerable in the community. I am sure these ideas aren't radical, they just become more accessible and available when the data is made open.
We are very excited about the potential of these four projects and look forward to their launch in the autumn.
So, Open Data in this programme is about improving existing local services, but it could mean global change on an incremental level.