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Three questions for data release

19/07/16

Environment Agency specialist says public authorities need to consider value to themselves and others in deciding which data to release

Public sector organisations considering making their data more widely available need to ask questions around its value to themselves and other bodies, according to one of the leading figures in the Environment Agency’s programme.

Tom_SmithTom Smith (pictured), chair of the organisation’s Data Advisory Board, told last week’s Capita Better Use of Data conference that there are three big questions to ask.

The Environment Agency has been prominent in the public sector open data movement as part of the programme of its parent ministry, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that has released more than 10,000 datasets over the past 12 months. A central part of its effort has been the release of LiDAR (light detection and ranging data) gathered since 1998.

Smith said the first question is which part of an organisation’s data has value for designing, prototyping and implementing services.

He summed it up as “Which half?” and cited the example of the Ministry of Justice making available data that has helped organisations working on reducing reoffending.

Who else?

The second question is who else could use all the information. Smith said the answer is often suprising, as the LiDAR data had quickly been used by a wide range of people for business and educational purposes.

“The Environment Agency uses it for mapping activities such as modelling flood risks. We published it and the next day it was loaded into Minecraft, and people could move around the countryside with a full three dimensional map.

“People then used it discover Roman roads, and it’s been introduced into artwork.”

“The final question is ‘What’s in it for us?’ “he added. “It has to give something back to the organisation. The business case has to be very clear.”

Again, he referred to the release of LiDAR data: the Environment Agency has been able to make use of some of the data generated by the flood risk models developed by other bodies using the datasets it had released.

Freeing up

“That’s freeing up use of data by other organisations, by insurers and people looking at flood risk models who now build it into their systems for free,” he said. “They no longer think it’s a charge they can’t afford, and build it into their models, which in turn improves Environment Agency evidence.

“What we looked was the different uses we could see coming out and put that against the total licence fee coming in. You have to say you’re trading off the income against the potential uses.

“It’s clear from the Lidar data that it’s such a valuable national data sources that it was a no brainer.”

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