Tim Davies has been exploring the intersection of youth engagement, social justice and social technologies for the last 10 years. Between 2003 and 2006 Tim was a part time trainer and consultant with The NYA, and in 2005 established Practical Participation as an independent limited company supporting youth participation through the effective use of technology. Tim graduated from Oxford University in 2006 with a BA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, and, after a short time in which he was juggling work with The NYA, Practical Participation and as the marketing manager of a Fairtrade shop, Tim developed Practical Participation into a full time enterprise. Since then, Tim has been the lead researcher on the Youth Work & Social Networking Project, leading to the development of internationally recognised work on youth engagement and social media; and has been actively exploring a wide range of innovative participation and technology projects.
Tim is currently studying full time at the Oxford Internet Institute
for an MSC in the Social Science of the Internet.
Open Data Impacts is a research project looking into the different ways people are using open government data, particularly datasets from data.gov.uk. Lots of people have seen the cycle accident maps, and the postcode newspaper examples of open data use, but I wanted to look beyond the familiar examples and explore in more depth at all the different ways people have been using open government data, and to see if there are any patterns emerging in different ways data is used. What data are people interested in? What tools and technologies are they using? How are people using data to support democratic engagement, or to contribute to public sector reform? What else is going on when people use open government data?
I've been exploring these questions from lots of different angles, from participating in open data events, interviewing people who have made use of datasets, and running an online survey to gather insights from a wide variety of people (http://bit.ly/odisurvey). This first part of the research will feed into my MSc Dissertation at the Oxford Internet Institute (http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk), but I hope to keep developing the project after that's completed in July.
What inspired you to create this study?
We've had studies into the economic potential of open government data
and studies looking at the process of getting data online (e.g.
http://www.soros.org/initiatives/information/focus/communication/articles_publications/publications/open-data-study-20100519), but there was a gap when it came to understanding the different ways people are using the data, particularly in projects around democratic
engagement and supporting changes and improvements in public services.
So I've been really interested in how data is being used for a while. But in part, the fact I made this my MSc dissertation topic was a bit down to serendipitous timing. I was doing to focus on young people's use of social networking sites for my dissertation (something I've
worked on a lot in the past), but the day I had to submit a draft research proposal to my department was the day that the beta of Data.gov.uk was launched last September - and I got an invite to the bloggers briefing. So, on the train down to the bloggers briefing I quickly rewrote my research proposal to focus on government data and e-mailed it in minutes before the deadline... and, well... nine months later I'm here spending just about every waking moment looking into all things open government data related and finding it absolutely fascinating. Understanding how different people use data is also really important to working out how to provide data in ways that maximise it's impact.
What has been your most interesting finding so far?
I'm still at the early stages of analysing the interviews and survey data I've collected so far (and the survey is still open until 14th June...) so I've not got any solid findings yet, but there are some interesting patterns emerging about the reasons people are using open
data. One cluster of open data users are focussed on understanding government better, and promoting more efficient and accountable government; one cluster are interested in the innovation potential of open government data, and on building new tools and platforms,
particularly with the semantic web; and one cluster of people have specific issues that they need data for. There's no neat division between these groups though: people using data to make a difference on an issue they care about are often using, or interested in using, data
in commercial contexts in their work as well for example.
One of the next things I want to explore is the relationship between reasons for using data, and the sorts of tools and technologies people are turning to or might want to use - but for that analysis to really work well I need to get more responses to the survey. Particularly
from people who might not think of themselves as data-geeks, but people who are just taking a look at data.gov.uk and perhaps at the stage of thinking about how they might use data in future.
What are your highlights on the impact of open data, in just one paragraph?
In two words I think the highlights in seeing how people are using open data comes down to: diversity; and curiosity. Diversity because of the wide range of ways people are using data - from building large-scale platforms for lots of people to use like
Schooloscope, to carrying out personal research into elements of education policy. I've been documenting some of the diverse ways people have used education data in particular over here
(http://data.gov.uk/wiki/Education_data). Curiosity because many times when people are using open data it is because they are curious about what it will show. I've heard a lot of people say "I wondered if the data was out there, so I looked, and it was..." - and they've then gone on to dig into the data and get a better understanding of some issue or some aspect of government. People's curiosity about the data can be a spark to them learning new skills - and that's great to see.
If you could see one app created from any data ever, what would it be?
I'm not sure that it's all about apps. It's easy to fall into the trap of designing applications, because they're easy to see as examples of open data use. But it may well turn out to be the people who download a dataset, look at it in Excel, and use it to campaign on a local
issue who create the most change.
That said, if we're talking 'any data ever' ideal world, an application I would find really useful, and I that I'm sure others using open data whether for app building or not would find handy too, is something that can help people find related data in a really user
friendly way. Not just from the linked data efforts, but from social data too. Something that will tell me "People who found this education dataset interesting also found this one really handy".
How can people help with the research?
If you've explored any data.gov.uk data, or data from another datastore (like the London, Lichfield, Warwick or Kent datastores) then I really need your responses to the Open Data Impacts survey available at http://limesurvey.oii.ox.ac.uk/ until 14th June (and if that doesn't persuade you, there are some Amazon vouchers on offer in a draw for respondents).
The list of uses of education data I've been putting together
(http://data.gov.uk/wiki/Education_data) is also playing a big part in this phase of the project. So if you know of any places you've seen open education data being used add it to the list, or just add a comment here.
I'm blogging the research project over at http://www.practicalparticipation.co.uk/odi/ and I hope to have the first report from it out later this year.