Where should I live in Leeds?

Written by: Stephen Blackburn, Data Mill North, 20/06/2014

I was involved in a workshop last week with colleagues who are involved in responding to Freedom of Information (FoI) requests.  Changes to the FoI Act now state that if a dataset is requested, we must provide the information in an open and machine readable format to allow re-use.  Not only that, we should also publish it on our website as the chances are that if one person has shown interest in it, others may be interested too.

The challenge when planning this workshop was how to win over a potentially sceptical audience.  They can almost certainly see the benefits of publishing data if it means a reduction in FoI requests, but what about just publishing it because it’s a good thing to do?  I needed something tangible, an example which people could relate to.

Now I’m no techie and therefore my example was always going to be crude to say the least!  I sourced some primary school location data from the Education Leeds website.  I then found some average house price information from Zoopla and created a heat map using Google Fusion tables.  What did this show us?  Well, it pin-pointed the location of primary schools and where the most expensive areas to live were in relation to those schools.  This I might add was the extent of my very crude example!

However, what if then someone with much more technical knowledge than me, could also source data such as parks, transport information, events, culture, crime statistics, places to eat and drink? – I could go on.  So, I expanded on my example.  Imagine a ‘Where should I live in Leeds?’ app.  Type in your budget, what your hobbies are, what you like to eat, your family circumstances, where you work etc, and an app like this could provide you with the best location in Leeds for you to live in respect of what you want out of life and getting the best work-life balance.  An app to improve your quality of life!  In the council, we hold much of the data which would enable this type of app to become a reality.

My second example was a ‘real-life’ one, where a member of the public had mapped child poverty data onto a map of Leeds across a number of years.  It is this kind of analysis which the council itself could find really useful and indeed could help inform decision making in the future.  If only more of this data were to be made available for people to analyse.

What we need to do now in the council is to see the bigger picture.  Opening up our data is great in being open and transparent and reducing officer time in responding to FoI requests.  It’s even better however, when it’s published in an open and machine-readable format to allow people to re-use it, analyse it, and create really innovative solutions to everyday problems we all encounter in life. I need help in encouraging others across the council realise the value of opening up our data and being transparent, so if there are any ‘real-life’ examples out there of what has been done with publicly sourced data that can assist me being more persuasive, that’d be great.