https://data.blog.gov.uk/2014/02/20/exploring-what-local-authorities-do-for-you/

Exploring what Local Authorities do for you

This article outlines some new open, re-usable LinkedData datasets hosted from OpenDataCommunities and a basic application for you to explore services provided by Local Authorities.

I’ll start with a caveat and a “thank you”.   The caveat: the datasets are our first attempt at developing LinkedData under our own steam.  We have no doubt made mistakes, but thought it is best to release outputs now, seeking your feedback on quality and usability, and insights on how you would use them in your own applications.   Please do get in touch at @OpenDataCommunities, or odc@communities.gov.uk, or our google mailing list.

A huge “thank you” goes to the localDirectGov team and Local Authorities for developing and maintaining the source data.  I’m also indebted to Max Froumentin for the pointers on using schema.org.   Dale Ridley in my team at DCLG is a hero and the brains behind the LinkedData outputs, and deserves a big round of applause.

The LinkedData outputs

You may not have realised the full range of things that Local Authorities do for you and your local communities.    Their work extends beyond emptying bins or cleaning up graffiti, to diverse and important activities such as managing demand for housing, and licensing local businesses and activities: the latter including issuing licences to perform stage hypnotism!

Thanks to the good folk at localDirectGov,  DCLG has for some time been collecting links to information and advice about these services, as published by individual Local Authorities on their own websites.  The underlying list of almost 115,000 links is available in a CSV file here - http://local.direct.gov.uk/Data/ - alongside an additional dataset listing contact information for the council.  This got me thinking.   Wouldn’t it be great if we could link together the services and contact information, and make it available it a much more open and accessible way.

So, we’ve done just that, releasing three new experimental LinkedData (5-star) datasets via OpenDataCommunities in a new Developer Corner theme:

  • dataset  Dev – Local Authorities, comprising various types of local authorities, with contact information (e.g. address, e-mail), and links to services provided, as/where this is available in LocalDirect Gov’s datasets.
  • dataset  Dev – Local Authority Buildings:  building addresses from localDirectGov’s contact list.
  • dataset Dev – Local Authority Services:  the list of nearly 115,000 links from localDirectGov’s services dataset.

OpenDataCommunities: a new “Developer Corner” for experimental datasets

OpenDataCommunities: example entry from the Local Authorities dataset

The first, obvious step was to join-up the lists of links to services with contact information about organisations providing those services.  As we’re talking LinkedData, we’ve gone further and built-in links to two important external data sources.

The first external source is ESD standards’  Local Authority Services.    We’ve incorporated ESD’s URIs in our data, so you can follow the links to discover more about individual services.  Here’s and example for the service to deal with abandoned shopping trolleys: the URI is http://id.esd.org.uk/service/1152.

Our second external source is schema.org’s vocabularies describing Government organisations and services.

The main purpose here is to enable our data to be discovered and indexed by various search-engines, including Google, Bing, Yahoo! and Yandex.   Check out schema.org’s FAQs to find out more.

Querying and using the data

This is LinkedData published in a SPARQL end-point, so to access and use it you in your own applications you will need to be familiar with writing SPARQL queries.     I won’t pretend to be a SPARQL expert, and will instead simply direct you at our OpenDataCommunities developer docs.

That said,  I have developed a basic application which constructs and runs SPARQL under the hood to query the data, retrieve it and present results in the browser.   If you’d like to know more about building and running these queries, please get in touch.

This illustrates how data can be queried to answer questions such as:

What services do Kent County Council provide?
Which councils provide the service to clean-up abandoned shopping trolleys?
Which councils cover my postcode, and what services do they provide for me?

Over to you, to help us improve the LinkedData, and show us how it can be used alongside related 3rd party sources in new and innovative ways.

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