https://pds.blog.parliament.uk/2017/11/15/open-data-camp-in-belfast/

Open Data Camp in Belfast

Open Data Camp is a regular event that brings together consumers and producers of open data services. It’s been running since 2015 and this, the fifth one, was the first one outside England and Wales.

RISE sculpture in Belfast
RISE sculpture in Belfast. Credit: Chris Alcock

Four of us from the data and search team and Anya from the Indexing and Data Management Section went to Open Data Camp in Belfast last month.

An unconference

None of us had been to an unconference before. An unconference is a gathering of people interested in a subject where, rather than booking speakers and putting together an agenda, everyone meets up each day and pitches ideas for sessions they'd like to be involved in. Their peers then vote to express their interest. Each session ends up in an appropriately sized room or is potentially combined with a related one.

We certainly felt this democratizes the situation and involves everyone from the start.

A list of topics to be discussed at the conference
A virtual session grid can be found at bit.ly/odcamp5. Credit: Raphael Leung

The unconference format meant sessions were conversational and we were encouraged to move to different sessions if we weren’t getting the most out of the ones we were in.

It's a format that's particularly appropriate for an open data event, as many people said over the course of the weekend, open data should be a dialogue, not a broadcast. We appreciated the format and particularly the volunteers and facilitators who made it work.

Informing our work

We left with a much better idea of our place in the open data community. Especially the way in which our new data platform deals with a lot of common issues.

Many public institutions struggle to decide what they make public and what people will actually have a use for. In our data platform everything gets used as it powers beta.parliament.uk. The website's needs, taken from end user needs, drive our work. Our open data priority is therefore making sure that our data solutions are as reusable and accessible as possible.

The sessions also showcased the many ways in which open data creates value. Easier access to data about our government allows people to build cool things that help the public engage and make government more accountable.

Consistent and linkable data is more efficient for internal and external data consumers as open data creates economic value estimated at £16 billion a year. The weekend was a good reminder of why we publish open data and its broader impact, some of which we may not see daily at work.

As open data is not a broadcast, community building has been a big part of our team's work. Hearing about how others working with data deal with ethical considerations, best practice, and challenges is very beneficial. Attendance at events like this and hosting our own events such as those at Newspeak House and further afield allow us to have a better understanding of external users of our data, learn from other people’s experiences, and identify areas for improvement.

Exploring Belfast

As neither of us had been to Belfast before, we took the opportunity to explore the city. Chris got taken on a fantastic tour of Stormont by Michael Cochrane, the Northern Ireland Assembly's Application Development Manager. He talked about their IT infrastructure as well as the Assembly’s history.

Chris also managed to eat 55% of the items listed on the Wikipedia page for Northern Irish cuisine. Raphael's highlight was seeing the Game of Thrones tapestry at the Ulster Museum.

Thanks Open Data Camp

We'd like to thank the organisers for putting on such a useful and fun event. Their website has fantastic in-depth information about the sessions that took place if you'd like to know more specifics.

Read more about our work in our weeknotes.

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