Dan JellinekEditorMonday 20 February 2012

Media entrepreneur leads open data city audit

An audit of open data activity by local authorities in England's largest 40 cities is being carried out by the organiser of the UK's first open data cities conference, with initial findings to be revealed in April.

The event's organiser, journalist and internet entrepreneur Greg Hadfield, told UKAuthority.com that he is approaching council chief executives and senior officers in English cities with populations of more than a quarter of a million people to examine their open data strategies and find out who is driving them.

His ambition is to forge a network or "standing conference" of cities that will help them to draw together data from public bodies, transport companies, housing providers, local businesses and others for the benefit of all social sectors. The vision sits between the wider open data movement and the "smart cities" movement being driven by the development of ubiquitous high speed wireless internet access and the interconnection of a vast range of everyday objects, from bus stops to buildings, in the "internet of things".

Initial findings will be unveiled at the Open-data Cities Conference Hadfield is organising on 20 April in Brighton and Hove.

A former news editor of The Sunday Times, Hadfield left in 1995 to create Soccernet, which became the world's most popular football website. After its sale he built Schoolsnet, a website profiling every UK school (at the Sunday Times he created the first state school exam league tables), returning briefly to Fleet Street as head of digital development at Telegraph Media Group.

Hadfield said the value of releasing data has been clearly shown by US cities such as Portland, where the release of transport data has led to the creation of 35 useful mobile "apps" for travellers without a penny of development money being spent by the local authority. "It is about creating and curating data, and sharing it to produce better outcomes", Hadfield said. "It mustn't be a big IT project by a bureaucracy, but the public sector does have a key leadership role. It's only when the people at the top get it, and know what the challenge is, that it will work. It's a wholesale renegotiation of their relationship with citizens."

One way of promoting this agenda would be to require any organisation in receipt of public money to release at least some data, he said. This would not just apply to public facilities such as museums but even private companies like supermarkets as part of planning gain agreements when they are granted planning permission for new sites.

Hadfield accepts there are many details to work through to create open data city plans, which could work differently in different places and face major problems to overcomes in areas like data privacy and anonymisation. Concepts like "the city as a platform" and "city data stores" can mean different things to different people, and there will be areas of data that do need to remain closed from public view.

But there is also a more hard-headed rationale for the approach, Hadfield says, based on economic competitiveness for the areas that find the right formula. "The city that gets there will have an advantage. If Brighton and Hove becomes the most advanced open data city in the world, it will become a hub. It will be more competitive, more successful."

Open-data Cities Conference 2012 http://opendatacities.wordpress.com