Integrated Travel and Weather Information Pilot, Sunderland Software City

This week has been all about open data. Last Saturday was the international(?) Open Data Day, which included a sneak peek of some of the Tyne and Wear Transport Authority’s data, earlier this week saw members of the Government Digital Services team here in the Toon interviewing for people for their new HMRC digital centre in Longbenton, and today was the Integrated Travel and Weather Information Pilot at Sunderland Software Centre.

As part of the day, a number of datasets were released that hadn’t even really been visible or available for the previous events. However, a big part of the day was just about finding out what was already out there. Who knew that the Met Office generated more big data than the entire banking industry and even did data for the US and space?

That there were integrated transport sources such as Transport API?

There were also interesting initiatives. Nexus is looking to have live data for all their buses in the next year or two, Connected Digital Economy Catapault (London-based) are investigating the ‘data value chain’ and means of creating change, and Sunderland Council are looking to find ways to make communities be able to create, maintain, and publish their own datasets (somewhere between gov.uk, Ushahidi, and the Mozilla Digital Literacy initiative?).

It’s worth mentioning that the attendees were comprised of (mainly) software companies, end (business) users, representatives of the data sets, and academics. When it comes to the latter, someone from the Newcastle Business school pointedly (though perhaps a little, er, verbosely) raised concerns that no one was talking about data governance, particularly when it came to privacy and licencing. While some of the data providers assured the audience that they had taken these thoughts into concern, it is a question that is probably right to be asked, particularly in a business setting. The Met Office are clear that in order to fund their services, only some of their APIs are free, while others are paid, and certainly these nuances need to be navigated in the future.

As someone who goes to lots of hack days for enthusiasts, it was interesting for me to go along to an event with a similar foundation but a different focus (business) and format (more of a workshop). What I came to realise from this was how the outputs necessarily differ: a hack day is generally about getting something out the gate as a proof of concept, whereas an innovation day like this which involves businesses collaborating is more of a starting point for further conversations. While a workshop day doesn’t quite have the ‘ta-da!’ moment at the end that a hack-day does, in the grand scheme of things it may help with a more sustainable and viable product since many a hackday idea never has anything done to it after that final presentation.

What the day did address well was the real issues that the various data providers/end users were dealing with. This is a common issue with a lot of hackathons, as Jon Mumm vividly described based on his involvement in a fashion hackathon in early 2013.

This gets to the crux of the problem with hackathons—there is a disconnect between the people with real-world problems and the people who can build solutions. The industry experts don’t know how to identify and articulate their problems and the hackers don’t bother or don’t know how to extract them. Collectively, we must improve on this if we A) want hackathons to continue to thrive and B) want them to actually be useful

Certainly, what came out of the event is that the North East is most definitely making a push towards open data, which means we may have some interesting opportunities ahead in the upcoming months. Certainly, upcoming hackdays should be interesting (the two hackdays I’ve been to in Newcastle last year used the same travel data sets, and as someone who doesn’t drive, I wasn’t enamoured with the thought of being involved in yet another parking or car related app!)

More information on the data and the datasets (which include Nexus, Met Office, and Transport API) are at the ITWIP site, and look at the #itwip twitterstream for a feel from the day.

Oh, and a very nice callback from ITWIP attendee and Open Data Day Newcastle hacker Gregory Marler:

Coding, Event Notes

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