Data Brew: Open Data For Everybody Workshop / Wolverhampton Council Report

Friday 18th January we facilitated the third session of our workshop Open Data for Everybody: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Open Data, part of a series looking at Open Data, and hosted this time by City of Wolverhampton Council. Thankyou all involved for organising.

I’d also like to thank everyone for their participation, we had a great mix of voluntary and community based third sector and council staff in the room, and a really insightful session. I think we all came away having learned something new, ourselves included. Within the workshop we covered what Open Data is, why it is important and what you can do with it. We also looked at great examples of where it is being used effectively in the UK and further afield, examples of where best to find it across the UK, and the type of people and organisations that use it, as well as the aim of Data Brew itself. We also had some activities throughout, which sparked some healthy debate and interesting discussions.

Our first activity looked at finding data in the region…

What resources do you have at hand for finding data in your region, and are there any gaps or areas that could be improved?

As with previous sessions we split the room into two groups to document their thought process and see what they mapped out. It was once again really interesting to see how the two groups compared and contrasted ideas. Collectively we had a good and varied mix of participants, majority third sector with some council based. Both groups remarked on the importance of the recently unveiled Council run WV Insight portal, and primary sources such as the Office for National Statistics, Police.UK crime data, Gov.UK, NHS and Census reports, and we also discussed further local sources such as the West Midlands Combined Authority, Black Country Consortium, local authorities and open source local government data.

It was really assuring to see both groups provide a breadth and depth of knowledge on where to find data both regionally and on a nationwide scale. Both groups also noted even the simplest of searches via search engines (Google, Bing, etc) are invaluable and easy to use, especially for finding various online journalistic articles, and utilising social media such as Twitter and groups/forums.

Both groups agreed that more needs to be done in terms of connecting sources and various portals, as well as improving data quality. One group in particular made a strong point regarding a lack of geographically comparable data; a huge issue with measuring data in a uniform way across the Midlands, and potentially nationwide, where data can be skewed by postcode thus giving an inaccurate picture of the area. Keeping data up to date also seems to be a major issue, and something that needs to be improved in future, as well as developing simple to use tools to help analyse data going forward.

Both groups agreed that more needed to be done in terms of communication so that datasets are accessible but that people understand where to find it. Funding is also a major issue and needs to be looked at to ensure availability is not affected.

At Data Brew we feel we have a duty to ensure that not only is open data accessible to people but that they also understand it can be used to create change for social good. We aim to make sure that people have more awareness of the various places you can obtain data and what you can do with it.

We also gained feedback following the session and asked about improving awareness in the area…

With over 87% of the room rating a 4 or 5 in importance we can see that there is a need for greater awareness of Open Data in the Wolverhampton area on a whole, and we hope that we can help improve this situation for the future.

Our second activity looked at the confidence in using open data in the region…

Do you feel that community groups and third sector have the confidence to use open data in the region, and if not what can we do as a collective to change this?

Continuing the theme with previous sessions neither group believe that there is an overwhelming amount of confidence in community and third sector groups using open data, with one group who specified reasons for this lack of confidence and a number of ideas for changing this going forward.

Some major factors as to why some people will struggle with confidence include time and money as resource, as well as lack of exposure, and issues with authority, data standards, capacity, and sharing best practice in using open data, as well as avoiding some of the ‘jargon’ that we at Data Brew attempt to dissect and simplify.

Interestingly, as discussed with previous participants, we also discussed the idea of training awareness, the need for guidelines, support and tools, and therefore having a third party facilitator to help with confidence by way of data workshops or online help.

We also discussed the importance of “layman” language, to help translate some of the jargon used, and the importance of workshops such as this that help with making the language used easier to understand.

The key point here is ensuring open data is accessible for everyone, understanding the importance of it and what you can do with it for social good.

We asked a couple questions following the session in relation to our participants/organisations and the sort of Open Data they are interested in, and how they would use it. The key point, as with previous sessions, seems to be accessing data to help make a real difference to communities and create social change. It’s particularly good to see a varied array of points made on how to create social action, with emphasis on improving services, and developing projects, with a view to creating solutions.

One group made a very valid point within the workshop about a community agenda, giving examples and stories about real world issues on a smaller, local, and more relatable level that can get communities on board with open data, and helping them understand the real importance of it all.

Knowing exactly what data is readily available out there is important, as we have shown over these workshop sessions, and we aim to ensure that people have more awareness of the various places you can obtain data and what you can do with it by way of these workshops and proposed follow-ups as we move forward.

If you are a third sector organisation, or local activist and would like access to the information slides from this workshop please email and we will provide you a download link

Interested in further reading? Check out our blogs covering our previous workshops with Lichfield and Sandwell, and of course keep an eye on our twitter for more updates!