How might the Wales Audit Office take Open Data forward?

The Wales Audit Office is looking at how we share Open Data, before leaving the Good Practice Exchange, Dyfrig Williams looked at how the organisation might take this forward.

I’m leaving the Wales Audit Office having led on the Cutting Edge Audit Office work on acquiring data. Part of my work looked at how we made better use of Open Data as an organisation, both in terms of making use of data that’s released by other organisations, and how we release our own Open Data.

Where to start with Open Data?

The Good Practice Exchange held an introductory webinar on Open Data, as it had been raised to us as a topic that lots of people were interested in, but had little idea of how and where to start. This is a good starting point for anyone who is interested in why this is important.

Key things for us to do in future

When we published our first Open Dataset, we published it to as high a standard as our resources and expertise allowed. The 5 Stars of Open Data give us a guide for how we can improve our datasets, and the website also has a costs and benefits section that outlines what we would need to do.

Our visit to the Netherlands Court of Audit was really useful as it gave us an opportunity to look at how another audit body is making use of data. Some of the most useful feedback was from Roline Kamphuis around how they purposely remove personal details from data to make it easier to share between departments. We need to look at the data that we gather and interrogate what types of data we need and what’s stopping us from sharing it. If it’s the fact that it’s personal data, do we need those personal details? The data spectrum from the Open Data Institute may be really helpful in helping us to better understand when it’s appropriate to share data.

the data spectrum

Internal Networks

It was also really interesting to learn about how the Netherlands Court of Audit have set up communities of practice. Staff working with data in the Wales Audit Office have so much knowledge that can be tapped into, but we also need to ensure that they can make the most of their expertise so that they can get to grips with really meaty projects. Once we have an initial team in place, we should consider how we can build expertise and capacity so that knowledge isn’t held within a silo of the Wales Audit Office. There will be some learning from the group’s set up as part of the Cutting Edge Audit prototype to share good practice around use of Excel.

It’s also important for us to think about how we store that data and whether it has any implications for how easy or difficult it is for us to pool our data internally at the Wales Audit Office. Do we need to look again at our data gathering process to see how we can make maximum use of the data to benefit other parts of the organisation? This gives us an opportunity to make better use of our resources and to extract more value from the data. How this data is held and shared is important – it needs to be easily accessible so that it can add value across the Wales Audit Office.

We also need to think about how we add value internally by making data open. Are there reports that we have to generate time and time again that we could automate that would benefit staff and the public? Is there potential for us to release performance reports in a different way? Could the data for our annual report for instance be gathered as a dashboard and released as Open Data? Could the automation of this data help to streamline reporting and save staff time? Lucy Knight from Devon Council shares some great ideas in her Open Data Institute Lecture.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlJkoaCZSlM

External networks

Being an active part of external networks has been key to our success, both in terms of socialising our ideas and in releasing data that people find useful.

The Open Data Institute Node in Cardiff have created a dynamic map to show levels of Council Tax per head of population in Wales and also a hex map of the Total Gross Expenditure. This has come from actively sharing our datasets with interested parties through networks that the Good Practice Exchange have developed from the Open Data webinar and more established networks like the Open Data Wales Slack channels. Our attendance of unconferences and support for events like GovCamp Cymru have also helped to develop these relationships. We need to cultivate these relationships and continue to work openly so that people can build on our datasets and add value to them. In turn, this will also help us to develop our own expertise and discover useful datasets. Events like Open Data Camp are run annually, and are full of people who are making practical use of Open Data that we can learn from. Blogging and sharing our journey has been very helpful in making these connections.

One way of fleshing out these networks are through Hack events. The Good Practice Exchange have previously supported the NHS Hack Day in Cardiff, and potential models to look at include Accountability Hack (a two day event for the UK Civic Tech community to connect, learn from each other and impact the UK’s democratic process using technology and open government data) and also the Netherlands Court of Audit’s own Accountability Hack. By liaising closely with partners such as ODI Cardiff, we could look at how our data could be better used and fits with the Wales Audit Office mission to help public services to improve.

Useful resources for our Open Data journey

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