Devon Data Loom

Putting Devon's open data to work

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The national picture

Several of us were lucky enough to attend the Local Government Association ‘Making Transparency Work For You’ roadshows over the last couple of weeks;  there’s a strong drive from central Government to motivate and support councils to get on with it, and these events were aimed at setting out what work is already being done.

Rather than a write up, we’d like to share the sketchnotes for each speaker; there wasn’t a lot of particularly technical content but what’s interesting is the way councils are being encouraged to develop a wider view of the problem of transparency and to use open data as one way to achieve it. As a sector we’re a bit clueless about what we should be doing (with some notable shining exceptions) and this is why the Cabinet Office and bodies like the LGA are putting funding into programmes to get us moving. For those of you in the commercial and not-for-profit sectors, I hope this post gives you an idea of where we are and where we’re trying to get to with open data; if you have comments or feedback for us, and especially if you have suggestions for what we should be concentrating on, please let us know!

Click on each thumbnail for a larger view.











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Open Data Forum update

A big thank you to everyone who came along to the Open Data Forum this week; although we were only a small group, what with half term and other things popping up at the last minute, we had good representation of the different viewpoints we’re trying to bring together. Special mention and thanks to Exeter University for hosting, and to Hannah Ellis-Murdock for organising that.

We got an advance viewing of the new data canvas tool that will be used at next week’s XJamGov – and if you haven’t signed up for that yet, why not? I promise you it’ll be worth it if you can make it.

The data canvas is a service design tool created by Simon Gough of Redfront to help people who are trying to establish the value of data and its uses around a particular need; whether that’s a business requirement, a way to deliver a service or a way to reach and support an individual with information. We think it looks very promising, though it’s still a beta version at the moment, and next week’s activities should help to refine it even further. 

After that we talked about ways we can make the Open Data Forum even more useful; whether we should have more frequent informal events or bigger formal meetings or a mixture of both, and what sort of questions we should be trying to answer. One point that came up was the need to hold meetings at places other than County Hall, particularly if we want more developers to come along (which we do …). With that in mind we’ll be trying to do more in the city centre and at the university. We also heard that it’s not always straightforward for members from the private sector to make space for daytime events like XJamGov and the follow up meeting we’re planning, and we need to look at different ways of getting people together based on what works for them.

With that in mind there are two things we will do starting now; future Open Data Forum events will be held at the University or other equally convenient central venues, and the post-Jam breakfast meeting on Friday 6th June will be at the new Exeter Library so people can pop in before starting work if it suits them.

For more information on any of this, drop us a line at or leave us a comment and we’ll get back to you. Once we’ve settled details for the next one we’ll post it on the Events page here.


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This week’s links

Flood data 2014

The Shoothill API provides data including a list of flood alerts and warnings, and where they are in force, in a form which is convenient for web developers.

River-level data which is updated up to every 15 minutes is available from The content of these files is defined in the Hydrometric data feed user manual. This is a demonstration feed that will be replaced by the Shoothill API soon.

The API and river-flow data is published under the Open Government Licence v2 and will be available in this form until May 2014.

Delivering alpha performance reporting dashboards

Department of Health’s (DH) Digital Strategy published a year ago, describes a digital first approach to all communications activity and evaluation and the need for regular, reliable and non-labour intensive performance reporting. there’s a good description of their project  to build a performance reporting dashboard, the process of commissioning and building the alpha version of the tool and what they learnt along the way.

Open data and government innovation

Open data will help reform public services, as well as improve accountability and generate economic growth. The Civil Service can reap the benefits if it learns quickly, says Paul Maltby, Director of Open Data and Government Innovation at the Cabinet Office.

Fear of failure

The Government’s “midata” scheme – designed to give consumers greater access to personal data held on them by businesses – has stalled because firms are wary of revealing they hold inaccurate or incomplete customer data, according to one expert.

And finally, this … (via

Data sharing in organisations - infographic


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Make data make sense

It was pointed out to us last week that for people who want to make data make sense, we’re not making nearly enough noise about the problem and what we want to do about it. In fact we were told we should start a campaign for greater clarity in data.

Ok then. You may consider the campaign begun. But I’m not really a campaigner, I’m more of a nip-round-the-back-and-give-it-a-kicker. I’m not wholly certain how it’s supposed to go when you want a lot of serious and intelligent people to listen and build on your proposals.

On the Hub Launchpad Accelerator we’ve been encouraged to write a charter of sorts to say what our vision is and how we will act. My reaction to the words “mission statement” is roughly the same as when I hear “group hug”, but I’ll overcome that impulse for the moment to lay out what we’re thinking.

I posted last week about the tragic waste of effort in data analysis and presentation in local government. This is a very real problem, in that real people are facing unreal levels of stress. We say this can be resolved if we agree that there is a better way of presenting complex information, and a better way of managing that process. The technology exists, the design framework exists and the customers exist. There is a market for good, clear, simple data presentation for a particular layer of decision making in local government.

Here’s the charter:

  • We will make the data make sense.
  • We will place it where you need it to be.
  • We will be truthful about what the data says.
  • We will answer the question being asked.

That’s it. Who’s with us?

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This week’s links

A few recent articles and links we liked, to go with your morning coffee:

Innovation in Government – Open Data blog from

Living Data – Peterborough DNA project

Any Town toolkit – from NHS England

Increasing the evidence base – Alliance for Useful Evidence

Data bloggers (a call to arms) – by Karen Lopez @datachick

and finally, this …


2014 London Coffee Stops Map by Chris Ward

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You all need to get out more

You might say, with the train lines getting washed away in recent storms, that this isn’t the time to be encouraging people to come to Devon. But we’re tough in these parts, and we think you are too, and we say it’ll be worth it. *

So cast your eye over our events page and check out the upcoming Open Data Forum being hosted by Devon County Council later this month, and the Rewired State Hack the Government hack camp in March.

If neither of those appeal, we reckon it’s only a matter of time before we invite you all to the pub for a chat. Suggestions for venues, formats and guest beers all welcome.

* Bring a cagoule, though.