Tag Archives: open government

Blogger arrested for filming council meeting

As if it wasn’t bad enough that the Police arrest hobbyists for taking photos of public events they’re now arresting bloggers for filming council meetings.

While my request to film council meetings in Lichfield was met with no resistance it seems some councillors seem to be living in an entirely different reality.

I’ll be writing to my MP to ask him for a statement from Eric Pickles about the incident following Pickles’ advice to local government to allow local bloggers to film council meetings.

Update: it turns out that the guidance given to councils by Erick Pickles means absolutely jack shit in Wales, which I find hilarious and infuriating at the same time.

Five ways to make a difference with data – a round up of #madwdwm

As part of the Making a difference with data project I was asked to run an ‘unworkshop’ for the West Midlands which pulled together hyperlocal site owners, local government folk and data geeks.

Thanks to Nick Booth‘s generosity we had a suitable venue where we could gather. We had 16 people altogether and a good mix of backgrounds. It was also encouraging to see so many journalism students running hyperlocal sites in attendance.

Objectives for the evening were fairly simple: to find out the most important issues to communities, what information pertains to those issues, who holds that information and if it’s available, then how do we use it and if not what exactly do we want.

We started by brainstorming the most important issues to the community and ended up with the four big ones being;

  • Jobs & benefits
  • Anti-social behaviour
  • Budget cuts
  • Built environment

We split into four teams with each team looking at one of these issues and went away to discuss them and our objectives for the night.

Jobs & benefits

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LN4_G0-lS4Q]

The group looking at this decided on a few key starting points;

  • Information about available jobs is live and rarely out of date.
  • There is a difference in quality of information between jobs put out by the private sector (e.g. recruitment agencies) and the public sector (i.e. Job Centre) where agencies typically mask employer details. It’s unlikely that change will be affected here.
  • Public and private sectors have different agendas – i.e. Government need to encourage employment.
  • Job centres are policing rather than constructively seeking jobs for people whilst confusing people with a three-layered IT-based system.

With this, these points about necessary change came out of the discussion;

  • DirectGov database needs to be more open, instead of hidden behind the current 3-layered, difficult to use interface.
  • Provided as open data, the database could be formatted into more usable applications.
  • The incentive for this change is the need to increase employment levels and do that better than the private sector.

Anti-social behaviour

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vc5IDh924K4]

This group identified a few issues with information;

  • Often collected for the purposes of measuring against targets, as opposed to providing useful information.
  • Contact centre data doesn’t necessarily contain everything.
  • Some information comes out of more informal channels, such as a social worker going round for a cuppa and a chat.
  • Data is often buried in silos and a lack of information sharing within authorities leads to incomplete datasets.

So what can be done?

  • Have more data collected just because it’s good to have raw data to work from, rather than for measurement.
  • Use linked data that can easily be linked to other sources.
  • Share information across data sources.

Budget cuts

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlVkAW3SDKQ]

Obviously a big issue at the moment this group had a wide-ranging discussion. Some key points to come from it were;

  • Data could be collected in different ways which has an effect on the consequences of that data.
  • Data is not ideologically or politically neutral
  • Complications arise with linked data – i.e. as soon as you have one set of data it’s likely you’ll want to explore that data but will need another set of data to do so. This process repeats itself making a single issue more complex just because of the effort involved in analysing the relevant data.
  • Data rarely comes with explanation of what it is, why it’s been collected and using which methods.
  • Information is data with added opinion.
  • People approach budget cuts with their own opinion and seek the data to confirm that.

Food for thought from this group then;

  • How can we make linking data easier, and communicate that without overcomplicating it?
  • The 5-step process encouraging ‘just get it out there’ is great but the data now needs explaining.

Built environment

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WglLnzmDvB8]

An interesting topic given recent (ongoing?) investigations on Digbeth is Good on this very issue.

  • It costs money to find out about empty properties – why is this, what is the cost for?
  • Where’s the cause and effect with empty buildings?
  • Is a property empty because of planning permission?

Some thoughts on possible solutions/advances;

  • Planning notices are placed on lamposts – these should be available as open data (i.e. we shouldn’t need scrapers like Planning Alerts).
  • Mapping planning applications could play a big role in providing information on properties.
  • Re-purposing should be a consideration. Birmingham City Council is doing this.
  • Housing exchanges should be looked at where two council tenants wish to move to another local authority area.

Conclusion

All in all a good bunch of thoughts and for me we can boil a lot of this down to five points that need acting on;

  1. We need more open data – we have been given a lot but there is more out there and open data should be the default.
  2. But we need context – data can often carry an agenda with it so we need context such as why the data was collected, who by/for otherwise how can we trust the data?
  3. Linking data should be easier – the concept of linked data is all very well but there are very few people with the know-how to actually do it.
  4. Data empowers community solutions – issues such as empty buildings and the lack of a home for community groups can be solved if the relevant information was freely available in an open format that could be interrogated.
  5. Training is a must – we have a lot of data, we need more and we need explanations with it to provide community solutions to community problems but we need the knowledge to retrieve, link and interrogate data effectively.

A big thank you to everyone who came and gave up their evening. Especially to Nick for providing his office as a venue, to Nicky for shooting the videos andMichael Grimes for his notes.

Coverage from elsewhere

Remember – if you do contribute anything more to the discussion please tag it with ‘madwdwm’ and add it to the Making a Difference with Data site too!

Making A Difference With Data West Midlands from Nicky Getgood on Vimeo.

Filming council meetings – my progress in Lichfield

So, after Chris Taggart was asked to leave a meeting of Windsor & Maidenhead for trying to video it, while SE1 managed to get permission to record Southwark Council meetings I decided to see what I could do in Lichfield. Here’s what I did.

  1. I sent an e-mail through Lichfield District Council’s generic contact form.
  2. I was then called by Richard King, Strategic Director of Democratic, Development and Legal Services who asked me a number of questions such as why I wanted to film and where the resulting video would end up. I explained that I work on The Lichfield Blog and it would probably end up there but would likely be embeddable (sic?) to other sites. Richard promised to talk internally and get back to me.
  3. A few days later I received a call from Richard in which he said that in principle it would be acceptable and we agreed that I would meet him and Elizabeth Thatcher, Communications Manager, before a Cabinet meeting to discuss the specifics.
  4. Before the Cabinet meeting Richard and Lizzie showed me the meeting rooms and we discussed where I could position myself to get a good shot of the proceedings (outside the public/press ‘pen’) and we chatted about making sure I could be discreet so as not to impact the meeting itself. We agreed that in order to get councillors and any visitors used to the idea I would begin filming as soon as I had the equipment to do so but without publishing the video. The idea is that this will ensure any concerns are ironed out before the film is made available to the world.
  5. I will now attend Cabinet, Full Council and Planning Committee meetings (maybe Overview & Scrutiny, too) just to see them in action so I get used to the format. Once I have a way to record video I will begin to record them and we’ll work out the specifics through learning by doing. Although, I’ve sent Richard and Lizzie a link to Paul’s recent post talking through Southwark’s guidance which should help & offered my own take.

I’ll blog again with further significant updates, as they come along. For now, I encourage everyone running a local blog to do the same in their area and contribute to the investigation.