Stephen Timms reports progress on Making Public Data Public

by James T 27. October 2009 10:05

Yesterday the Minister for Digital Britain, Stephen Timms, gave the keynote speech for the RSA/Intellect “Technology in a Cold Climate” symposium in which he outlined progress to date on the HMG data site.

“Information is the essential “raw material” of a new digital society, opening up solutions to these kind of challenges.  And Government must play its part by setting a framework for new approaches to using data – and, as they say, “mashing” data from different sources to provide new services which enhance our lives.  In particular, we want Government information to be accessible and useful for the widest possible spectrum of people. 

That is why the Prime Minister asked Sir Tim Berners-Lee to advise on how Government can best use the internet to make non-personal public data as widely available as possible.  We are supporting Sir Tim in a major new project, aiming for a single online point of contact for government data, and to extend access to data from the wider public sector.  We want this project for “Making Public Data Public” to put UK businesses and other organisations at the forefront of the new semantic web, and to be a platform for developing new technologies and new services.”

So far our request for developers to “get excited and make things” has so far exceeded our initial expectations. Not only is the number of people signing up to the developer forum higher (currently more than 1,300), but also the discussion board is very active with a healthy list of ideas for the site and, perhaps most excitingly, a few applications are beginning to see the light of day.

Working in partnership with Guardian Professional, we held 3 developer days hosted at The Guardian's Kings Place offices in central London on the 14th-16th September. As an organisation they were best placed to help us undertake this task, having built a community of talented developers and opened up their API. You can have a look here at the excellent postcode paper concept and the rather wonderful traffic data visualisations here, which were just two of the many ideas for applications that emerged over the course of the camp. Ideas about their priorities for further data releases (to add to the 1,100 datasets currently on the site) were shared and important foundations for further iterations of the HMG Data site were laid.

International links

by James T 23. October 2009 17:29

The Digital Engagement team is looking to improve our links with international colleagues to gather ideas and share experiences. We are hoping you might be able to point us towards interesting open Public Sector Information data initiatives worldwide. Or, perhaps you know examples of the use of social media for improved cross-Government communications? Maybe you have a story to tell about other governments' uses of social media to interact with citizens? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Recently, the team met (virtually) with colleagues in the Government of Ontario to see their very impressive Opspedia social media suite for government. Opspedia is an enterprise pilot providing wikis, blogs and a professional network to enable staff to create professional profiles, connect with current and past colleagues, collaborate on subjects of professional interest and share recent work. We look forward to staying in touch.

On 19 October, the Digital Engagement team, with COI's Interactive Services, had a video conference with the US General Services Administration, the US counterpart of our Cabinet Office. This was the first held directly with the GSA and we have now agreed a monthly video conference to share best practice. They kindly provided us with details of their Search strategy with us and were keen to hear more about our experiences of using Linked Data and our approach to a cross-Government Digital Engagement strategy. Finally Andrew Stott contributed an article discussing the UK approach to Citizen Engagement to the General Services Administration’s Intergovernmental Solutions Newsletter.

Help shape URI standards for the UK Public Sector

by James T 12. October 2009 14:21

As part of the government’s work on open standards and especially Linked Data for publishing, we have been working on  Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs)  and how we should use them.

URIs will be a crucial part of the UK public sector’s technical information architecture, helping information sharing across government, providing better public services, and where possible, making re-use of published data much easier. URIs allow different organisations’ systems to share common meaning and common identifiers. Used across the public sector this will help join-up otherwise disparate data sets into a  web of data  that can be linked, queried and aggregated.

The Chief Technology Officer Council’s Information Domain have written some guidance on design considerations for how UK public sector URIs should be developed and maintained. It has been published as an interim standard , and we would greatly appreciate your feedback, so the people at Write to Reply have kindly hosted a version open for your input on which you can comment, commend or criticise.

Your comments are important as they will help us make the best choices so that Government data is as open and easy to re-use as possible.


Calling Open Data Developers: We need your help

by James T 30. September 2009 10:51

From today we are inviting developers to show government how to get the future public data site right - how to find and use public sector information.

The developer community through initiatives such as Show Us a Better Way, the Power of Information Taskforce, MySociety and Rewired State have consistently demonstrated their eagerness and abilities to "Code a Better Country".  You have given us evidence and examples to help drive this forward within government.

We have an early preview of what the site could look like; we are now inviting interaction and comment from the developer community. With over 1000 existing data sets, from 7 departments (brought together in re-useable form for the first time) and community resources, we want developers to work with us to use the data to create great applications; give us feedback on the early operational community; and tell us how to develop what we have into a single point of access for government-held public data.

We know it is still work in progress, and there’s still a lot to do. That’s why we need you to help us get this right. Let us know what features or changes would make the site better for your and what other data sources you would like to see here.

To join in please sign up to the Google Group and we will get in touch.

Let your developer colleagues know and use #opendata on Twitter.

Get Excited and Make Things

Reproduced with kind permission from Matt Jones

Opening up data in the Home Office

by Richard 24. July 2009 11:10

Slightly late in highlighting this, but the Home Office have taken their first steps in opening up their data. They have published a page that collates all their non-personal information on This is a very positive first step in the Home Office's journey towards opening up their data in line with Recommendation 14 of the Power of Information Taskforce Report. Over the coming weeks we will be working with the Home Office as they add more data, improve how it is exposed, etc.

Template Twitter strategy for Government Departments

by Neil Williams 21. July 2009 10:39

Guest post by Neil Williams, head of corporate digital channels at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Neil blogs at and is @neillyneil on Twitter.

You might think a 20-page strategy a bit over the top for a tool like Twitter.

After all, microblogging is a low-barrier to entry, low-risk and low-resource channel relative to other corporate communications overheads like a blog or printed newsletter. And the pioneers in corporate use of Twitter by central government (see No 10, CLG and FCO) all started as low-profile experiments and grew organically into what they are today.

But, having held back my JFDI inclinations long enough to sit down and write a proper plan for BIS's corporate Twitter account, I was surprised by just how much there is to say - and quite how worth saying it is, especially now the platform is more mature and less forgiving of mistakes.

So in case it's of use to others who are thinking of doing the same, I've turned BIS's Twitter strategy into a generic template Twitter strategy for Departments (PDF file)
[Scribd version ]

You're welcome to re-use this however you like, be that to adopt it wholesale or remix it to suit the needs of your organisation. Let me know any changes you'd make (I am sure there will be lots) via the comments below or get in touch directly.

For the next version of this document I’d like to set down how and when civil servants should support, encourage and manage Ministers' use of Twitter for Departmental business (and navigate the minefield of propriety this might imply), and add a light touch policy for officials who tweet about their work in a personal capacity.

Finally, some of the benefits I've found of having this document in my armoury are:

  • To get buy-in, explain Twitter's importance to non-believers and the uninitiated, and face down accusations of bandwagon-jumping
  • To set clear objectives and metrics to make sure there's a return on the investment of staff time (and if there isn’t, we’ll stop doing it)
  • To make sure the channel is used consistently and carefully, to protect corporate reputation from silly mistakes or inappropriate use
  • To plan varied and interesting content, and enthuse those who will provide it into actively wanting to do so.
  • As a briefing tool for new starters in the team who will be involved in the management of the channel

I hope you’ll find it useful too.

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Digital Engagement in DEFRA

by Andrew 17. June 2009 14:54

Thanks to everyone who sent priorities and suggestions in advance of my meeting with the DEFRA web team. The issue of rural broadband has been taken forward in the Digital Britain report.

Digital engagement work in DEFRA starting in 2006 through David Miliband’s blog and the creation of an Environmental Contract wiki.  Both of which provided considerable lessons around editorial and moderation policy as well as stakeholder engagement. Interesting work since then, particularly:

Well done to the DEFRA team for all this, together with their work to capture best practice and communicate it to policy colleagues. A number of projects in the pipeline, including the use of Commentariat/Wordpress-based commentable documents for Consultations (of which Defra has a lot). 

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New Infomation Advisor

by Richard 9. June 2009 12:40

First off a big thank you to everyone who has contributed to our earlier post on what a service might look like in the UK.

The big news for us is that Tim Berners-Lee has agreed to help the UK government make our information more open and accessible on the web  - part of a drive towards letting the data about public services be public and open.

This work will be building on the work of the Power of Information Taskforce and their report. The Digital Engagement team are delighted to be supporting Tim in his work.

A few of the things he and his panel of technical and delivery experts will doing are:

  • overseeing the creation of a single online point of access and work with departments to make this part of their routine operations.
  • helping to select and implement common standards for the release of public data
  • developing Crown Copyright and 'Crown Commons' licenses and extending these to the wider public sector
  • driving the use of the internet to improve consultation processes.
  • working with the Government to engage with the leading experts internationally working on public data and standards

This is strengthening the oversight, challenge and insight available as we drive the Digital Engagement agenda forward.

Information and how to make it useful

by Richard 22. May 2009 18:31

Well ok, maybe not the whole topic in one blog post! What I would like to to do is start a conversation recommendation 14 – a UK version of

The Power of Information Task Force flagged up that one of the main problems with UK government information is finding out what we have published, what form it is in, and how it can be used; we are looking at how we might do this.

Any solution must support open standards and would ideally be open source, but there are a couple of other questions we are pondering at the moment:

  • What characteristics would be most useful to you – feeds (ATOM or RSS) or bulk download by e.g. FTP, etc?
  • Should this be an index or a repository?
  • Should this serve particular types of data e.g. XML, JSON or RDF?
  • What examples should we be looking at (beyond e.g.
  • Does this need its own domain, or should it sit on an existing supersite (e.g.

Let us know any and all thoughts – we will pick up twitter comments with #poit or #opendata. In the meantime, you can find some of the government's published data sources on this data wiki (thanks to Rewired State).

Tower 2009

by Richard 13. May 2009 22:20

The team will be a bit thin on the ground on Thursday as most of us are off to Tower 2009 - a joint Cabinet Office/Intellect conference on Government IT.

The theme for Tower 09 is 'Putting Citizens and Businesses in Control':

  • empowering citizens in the digital age
  • frontline engagement
  • focus on the consumer/customer/user of public services to businesses
  • innovation and efficiency
  • public service reform

Opening keynote from Tom Watson, and a really good line up all day. If you would like to follow the debate tomorrow we will be using #tower09 on twitter.

As a result there may be a slight delay in comment moderation while we get back to the office. Please bear with us.


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