Unfolding plan 159 – the data trail

Somehow I’ve let data slip off my agenda.  It has slipped off the map.  I realised this when I was at the Open Data Event put on by Dynamo North East and the Federation of Small Businesses.  I should mention Sunderland Software City as well.  I realised that while we were full of intent we were low on delivery.  The road to hell is paved with good intention yet the road to open data requires a few deliverables.

I realised it again today when I agreed to meet up with one of the people who had been at the event.  Gregory had been in the audience and so we got together at The Library in the centre of Durham (not the one with the books).  I wanted to get a better understating of why we have not got the idea over the line as we say in local government and what we could do better to get some traction, as they say in consultant land.

Ever since the Lean Start-up training I’ve been thinking about the product I am trying to sell, my target audience and the assumptions I have made.  I’m left wondering if the efforts to get big data (or any data) projects up and running have floundered on the rocks of wrong assumptions.

I have assumed that there is a product out there called ‘Hunger for Data’ and that there was a data community just dying for us to release what we have.  Of course I had never tested these assumptions and now I realise the folly of my ways.

I have asked myself now is open data a supply side problem or a demand side one.  Do we release our resources into the wild in the hope that data scientists will gather around the waterhole of opportunity or do we wait until someone asks us for what we have?  Yet how do we know if there is a demand if we don’t ask and how do people know what they can have if they do not know what is available?

So Gregory and I had a chat.  I have a better picture.  Admittedly he is only one data enthusiast but that is an infinite improvement on the number I had asked before.

You see I think we have a number of problems:  I need to convince my colleagues that there is value in our data that would be of use to the people of Durham; I need to be able to anonymise the data so as not to give away anything sensitive and; I need to work out how to get it into a place where it is accessible.

I suppose that the obvious place to look for anonymised data is in data that doesn’t carry information about people and so that is where I’m going to start on my renewed quest.  Customer interaction data and why people ask us questions under Freedom of Information would also be good.

Meeting with Gregory was very useful.  We’ve agreed a few things that we can do to kick start a possible project and, as I walked back up the hill to County Hall I felt a new sense of urgency.

I’m back on the data trail.

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