Data Mill North

Today, a bunch of us went down to visit Leeds Data Mill.  By the time we got there it had been rebranded to Data Mill North.  The name offered a wider catchment area and allowed for a broader political scope yet this is not germane to the story.

Data, both open and big has been one of those things that has occupied a lot of my thinking time (and blogging time) over the last few years.  We have finally managed to get some traction in Durham and have agreement to get a group together to look at possible policies and pilot projects.  It has been a long slog.

Through my travels, the Data Mill North has been one of those beacons that has shone brightly.  They certainly seemed to have got their act together and so was a great place to understand how to take our dreams from a twinkle to reality.

I’m pleased to say that we were a mixed bunch from various walks of life who went down, from four of our service groupings, and Stephen had laid on a similar reception party for when we arrived.  He and Ian showed us about the work they had been doing and how they had built an open data and open source platform.  We were then joined by the Information Asset Owners form the City Council’s various teams who were able to describe the benefits of the approach that they have taken.

After lunch we visited Hebe Works who are taking the output from the Data Mil to create applications and drive value from the data.  Finally, we went to the Open Data Institute’s offices in the city to learn about some of their developments, hackathons or Sustainable Information Lab events where they ask interested parties what is the problem that you are trying to solve?

So what did we learn?  Firstly, that open data is possible but with a lot of hard work yet I suppose we knew that anyway.  Secondly, most of the developments are open and so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  Thirdly, open data brings people and projects together, which has to be good for the city.  Fourthly, some people get it and some don’t.  Fifthly, there are lots of bright people out there ready and able to do stuff with the data.

I asked what they would have done differently if they could start again: Be a bit tougher with services; Get a strong mandate as soon as you can; Make the communications more personable (let people know that you have made use of their data sets); Be generally better at telling people about what they are doing.

It was a great day and well worth the visit.  Stephen and the team are an asset, both to the causes of Leeds and open data, as well as great ambassadors for the movement.  We have an awful lot to think about.

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