Government data is fun (no, really)
Our financial controller Nic Mendoza looks at the usefulness of UK government site data.gov.uk…
Data.gov.uk just celebrated its third anniversary. Over this period it has demonstrated that its content is useful to a vast cohort of developers keen to experiment. I decided to take a look at what the website has to offer in a follow-on from my piece A new phase for .gov, published on this site in October.
As part of its work on transparency, the government uses the site to supply a vast range of data, ranging from expenditure by individual NHS trusts to the number of Gypsy and traveller caravans. The site is as clean and clutter-free as possible, with search fields both for datasets and for their blogs, and steers away from a ‘number-heavy’ feel by producing more engaging content.
Local data for local people
At an individual level, the website tries to connect by providing a postcode search for local data. This is a great way to engage people with data that could be useful and relevant to them. However, the first set of information I retrieved on my local village was about parasitic ants, so I’m not sure if I should be worried about an imminent infestation...
My next step was to try to refine my search to something I might find more relevant: eg crime rates in the past year or flood occurrences in 2012. This was not such an easy task, as I didn't understand most of the filters and when it came the tags I did, they removed my local search criteria. All in all, I feel there is potential with the site, but find it too easy to get a little lost when engaging with its content as the user interface isn’t straightforward.
Don't worry, be 'appy
On the plus side, the team at data.gov.uk has helped build quite a few apps with the kind of information I can and want to use. One example is Numberhood (developed by OCSI), an app in which I can find local data such as crime rates or population age in a specified area.
This is the kind of information that will get the government interacting with its citizens. For example, I can see if, over time, my local area has improved its economy (unemployment, GDP etc), or if my street has had fewer road traffic injuries than in previous years. I’d imagine it’d be very useful if I was thinking of moving.
The app is a great example of how to make what may initially seem impenetrable information relevant and interesting to the individual. Most of all, it is presented in a clean and approachable format where I can easily find and browse the datasets I find interesting. The work done by data.gov.uk – especially the apps – is a showcase in how to provide useful, up-to-date information in a highly accessible manner.