WMODF response to B’ham City Council consultation on ICT and D strategy 16 Sept 2016

West Midlands Open Data Forum (WMODF) welcomes the generation by Birmingham City Council (BCC) of an integrated strategy for data, information, IT and digital.  Furthermore, we applaud the commitment of BCC to consult on their proposals and to potentially collaborate with stakeholders.  In particular we trust this will include groups with overlapping interests and related expertise like WMODF; more of this later.

Our response covers two aspects of the strategy: overall remarks and specific comments on data in Theme 3, Insight.  While we are grateful for the opportunities provided to view the more detailed levels of the strategy, this response is to the published consultation document.

General Points (in no particular order)

  • An integrated ICT & D strategy open to consultation is a positive change. These technologies are so strongly embedded in our current and future lives and organisations, especially in a city with such a high proportion of young people.  We welcome BCC re‑establishing its control of its computing and data but we expect and require that it will work 24/7.  BCC does not feel like a council that has empowered us through technology – yet.  Yes, get the operation and standards right but ensure the highest profile for the way the systems are experienced by citizens, businesses and visitors.  Are there user panels testing, evaluating and suggesting how services should be experienced through technology?
  • There are references to partnerships and a commitment to open and common standards. It is not clear how the benefits of co‑operating with other local authorities in the region on data and systems will happen, or how the WMCA will reduce/share the demands on Birmingham as a city rather than add to them.
  • The consultation appears to be happening after the event, i.e. many key decisions appear to have been taken already. We recognise this is a chicken and egg situation and it is right that BCC creates the framework to which we respond.  The question we pose is how can there be early and ongoing dialogue with key stakeholders, like WMODF, to inform strategies and plans in the making?
  • The commitment to innovation is essential. Birmingham should be a national/international leading city, but we fear that in the area of open data we have some way to go.  For many reasons, it has been difficult for small, innovative organisations to contribute to BCC, particularly to win contracted work.  Open approaches and the sharing of data can open doors.  However, there do need to be new approaches to allowing SMEs and micro businesses into BCC.  For example, shared reward schemes which would allow some of the savings achieved by new approaches to be paid to the innovators.  ‘Outside’ expertise should be allowed to access, under appropriate NDA and confidentiality agreements, all of BCC’s data.  Has the City Council considered the establishment of a ‘skunk works’ team to innovate services and their use of technology?
  • Current technologies have the capability to transform the way BCC provides services. We support the concept of digital by default, providing there are options for those who choose otherwise or are unable to use it.  However, this does require a change in priorities for BCC staff so that the digital channels, e.g. website and social media, are up to date.  How are crowd‑sourced solutions to be handled?  Amazon‑style approaches to tailoring responses may also help.  BCC staff with expertise and knowledge of the city are not easily contactable and the BCC Contact Centre cannot resolve complex issues and may be a barrier between residents and staff.

Recommendations:

  • Create mechanisms to engage local residents, organisations and businesses to try out digital services at early stages of development.
  • Strengthen commitments and plans to sharing standards, systems and data with other local authorities within WMCA and to co‑operating with other agencies on data beyond BCC’s own, e.g. in Transport, Health, Business.
  • Establish processes to enable dialogue, prior to key decision points in the strategy.
  • Make access to data and reward for innovation easier.
  • Open BCC in appropriate modern digital ways, so that staff are available to citizens (customers) and knowledge is shared.

Points on Data (Theme 3 Insight)

  • We particularly welcome this theme and its objective “to become more data centric – so [BCC] can create the capability to turn data into information and information into insight”.
  • We welcome the statements “[BCC] must adopt and insist on the use of agreed „Open‟ data, models, standards, specifications and architecture” and “[BCC] will become less resistant to unlocking and providing access to data, stemming either from data protection concerns or exposing the performance of the organisation or specific services. Public access to Council information will promote lively democracy, integrity and better decision making”. BCC needs clear processes to implement current policies that make BCC data open by default, develop processes and keep them updated e.g. BCC Open Data policy, “There will be an assumption that data likely to be useful to the public or other users will be published automatically by council services” i.e. data is only withheld by exception, for example confidential personal data.
  • Opening data should ensure that the limitations imposed by the use of proprietary systems, e.g. Ordnance Survey (OS), do not affect open use. There may be alternative solutions such as Open Street Map.
  • As BCC moves to a model of increased partnership working with other statutory bodies, a greater range of data is likely to be created that is not under the direct control of BCC. Equally, as BCC increasingly commissions services from the voluntary and private sector a volume of data will be created through contract management. It would be beneficial for BCC to create a presumption that data created through these routes should both inform insight and have a presumption of being more widely released. These principles should be explicitly embedded in partnership agreements and contracts.
  • The principle of customer insight should not be seen as an exclusively BCC function. After all customers are shared across a variety of organisations, both public and private, in Birmingham. The open data model provides a medium for BCC to release anonymised data to develop innovation in customer insight.
  • As part of WMODF, RnR Organisation, a local social enterprise, is running an Open Data Commission. This includes a brief document entitled ‘Top 10 Tips’, which WMODF is happy to release to assist the development of this section.
  • The establishment of an Open Data Institute node in Birmingham, whose membership and steering group includes several WMODF members, offers opportunities to support and develop local and regional open data insights, knowledge, expertise and service/product development which, amongst other outcomes, can contribute to the success of this strategy

Recommendations:

  • Use the ‘Top 10 Tips’ from WMODF to review this section.

Conclusion

As indicated in our introduction, we welcome the generation of an integrated strategy by Birmingham City Council and the process of openness and consultation which we trust will continue.  Our comments are not intended as criticism but as a contribution to improving the strategy as it continues to be developed and, more importantly, as it is implemented.  In line with our recommendations we look forward to further contact.

Freedom of Information consultation

Battle lines drawn over FREEDOM OF INFORMATION reform – published by UK Authority (www.ukauthority.com)

The 30,000 replies to a consultation show a sharp divide in attitudes about whether change is needed
Published submissions to the government-created independent commission on freedom of information show a predictable – but nonetheless uncomfortable – divide in opinion.

In one corner, public bodies are strongly demanding reforms to reduce the burden of compliance. In the other, bodies ranging from campaign groups to newspapers to law firms passionately oppose any watering down of the regime.

In all, the consultation attracted some 30,000 responses, presumably including some from what former communities secretary Eric Pickles memorably termed ‘armchair auditors’.

A response from Chelmsford County Council exemplifies local government’s attitude. To the question “Are controls needed to reduce the burden of FoI on public authorities?” it replies unambiguously “Yes”.

It suggests imposing a £10 request fee, similar to the €15 fee that was imposed by the Irish government but dropped in 2014.. This would not cover the actual administration costs of providing information but would reduce the volume of requests.

Business requests

A joint reply from Cotswold and West Oxfordshire District Councils articulates a common complaint: “A large number of requests appear to come from businesses seeking information for their own benefit rather than in the public interest (as opposed to the media, charities and lobby groups etc, and private individuals).”

Official figures about the proportion of business requests may be an underestimate. For example, the councils say they regularly receive requests for lists of properties with a business rates credit balance from people using a gmail address and not disclosing any information about themselves. “It seems unlikely that a private individual would want this data,” they claim.

Both councils say they have have tried to reduce the inflow of FoIs by publishing databases, both those required under the Local Government Transparency Code and those about subjects on which they receive a large number of enquiries, such as non-domestic rates.

However, the number of FoI requests continues unabated.

“If FoI requests were confined to enquiries from the press, lobby groups and charities, private individuals and businesses pursuing genuine concerns we would consider that the burden imposed by the legislation was reasonable,” the two councils say. “However, given the amount of officer time which is being taken up with responding to marketing related enquiries (whether to market to us or other individuals), we are concerned at the burden that the FoI Act has created.”

Negative perceptions

Meanwhile Fay Gooch, chair of Barming Parish Council, submits as “a busy parish councillor and borough councillor” that FoI “needs a complete rethink: it needs to be far more focused in its aims, stricter in its applications, and more clearly understood by the public”.

She points out that many members of the public use FoI to request information that they could obtain by either making more use of their local councillor, or by simply asking the question of the authority.

“Such an approach would enable questions to be absorbed into ‘the day job’ instead of having to be put through a separate burdensome and resource-thirsty process,” she says.

However, increasing fees and making it easier to refuse requests “may seem like a good idea, but it will alienate the public and increase negative perceptions of local government”,

On the other side is a diverse group of users of public information and transparency campaign groups – the two categories often overlapping.

Spend Network, a start-up company which uses open public data to build a picture of what is being spent by over 270 organisations, says it needs FoI requests to ensure the publication of open data.

The Open Government Network (OGN) says that any weakening of the FoI Act in the UK “would run contrary to the spirit and purpose of the international Open Government Partnership, undermining the leading role of the UK, and would offer reassurance to closed and corrupt governments around the world”.

Struggle with technology

Activist web group MySociety is predictably on the side of more transparency. Its submission calls attention to the exemption from FoI enjoyed by private sector operators of public services.

It also offers a clue to why some organisations find freedom of information a burden: “Sometimes public bodies appear to struggle with technology, and for example print documents out before scanning them to release. Such approaches create an unnecessary workload.”

Specialist consultancy Aldersgate Partners agrees: “Our experience is that most of those who oppose FoI are people who have not come to terms with IT and that IT is now a normal part of working life. They are the people who wish IT could be disinvented. They have on the whole not made a sincere effort to upgrade their own skills and attitudes.”

Just possibly, in the long run the problem of handling freedom of information will solve itself.
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/independent-commission-on-freedom-of-information-call-for-evidence-responses

LGiU briefing on the ‘Re-use of Public Service Information Regulations 2015’

Copy of useful briefing from LGiU about recent legislation effecting public service info.  Thank you LGiU

Summary

Since 2005, how public bodies provide access to their information and data and specifically the extent to which it can be re-used by others has been governed by regulation across the European Union designed to remove obstacles to the re-use of public sector information.

New regulations which came into force in July this year will make obtaining information for re-use easier and bring the cultural sector, including libraries and museums, into scope.

Essentially the regime is moving from one where public bodies were encouraged but not required to make information available for re-use to one where accessible information which is owned by the public sector body – with some exceptions – must be made available for re-use.

This briefing will be of particular interest to officers with responsibilities for copyright and licensing, information/data production and protection, IT and web, communications and press.

Briefing in Full

The purpose of the briefing is to explain the statutory requirements on local authorities and other public bodies to allow information which it holds to be re-used by others for other purposes.

Since 2005, how public bodies provide access to their information and data and specifically the extent to which it can be reused has been governed by regulation originally set down in a European Directive (2003/98/EC) and then transposed into domestic law through The Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005. That legislative framework has recently been the subject of significant change. The original regulations did not oblige public sector bodies to permit re-use of its information. Instead it removed obstacles by setting the rules public bodies must follow if they chose to permit re-use. The new European Directive (2013/37/EU) which has been transposed into UK domestic law from 18 July 2015 by The Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015 (“2015 regulations” or “the regulations”), subject to certain circumstances, goes further and increases the rights of re-users by:

  • Making re-use mandatory for most public bodies, unless specifically excluded or restricted.
  • Extending the scope of the information available for re-use to not just that which is accessible but anything produced held or disseminated within a public body’s “public task”;
  • Setting a default charging mechanism of marginal cost recovery in most circumstances;
  • Bringing public sector museums, libraries and archives within the regime for the first time; and
  • Introducing a process for complaints that would provide for binding decisions.

The National Archives is the UK policy lead on public sector information, and the legislative framework is UK-wide.

This briefing seeks to describe the whole legislative framework as is, rather than simply the changes made by the 2015 Regulations. However the diagram below produced by the National Archives highlights the main differences with the previous requirements under the 2005 regulations.

This briefing is also meant as an introduction and not a comprehensive guide on these statutory requirements, for that the National Archives’ has published separate guidance for public sector bodies and for cultural institutions. They have also produced several more supporting documents for example, on producing information asset lists and on the procedures for investigating complaint; these and the many others can be found here.

What is reuse of public sector information?

The re-use of public sector information means using public sector information for a purpose different from the one for which it was originally produced, held or disseminated. The government sees that public sector information constitutes a vast, diverse and valuable pool of resources enabling the creation of new products and services and thereby stimulating economic activity and helping to make public functions more efficient and transparent.

Which public bodies are covered by the regulations?

Most public sector bodies across central and local government, the police force and the National Health Service are covered by the regulations. Specifically this includes county councils, districts, London boroughs, parish councils, fire and rescue authorities, national park authorities, police and crime commissioners, as well as the Council of the Isle of Scilly, the City of London council and the Greater London Authority.

The cultural sector and specifically public sector museums, libraries and archives have been brought within the regime for the first time.

However, the regulations explicitly do not apply to public broadcasters, or to educational establishments including schools and cultural establishments which are not libraries, museums and archives.

(This table is reproduced from inNational Archives guidance publication (PDF document))

What information is covered by the regulations?

Any information in whatever medium – including print, digital or electronic and sound recording – produced, held or disseminated by a public sector body is considered public sector information and potentially within scope of the regulations. This includes a range of corporate information such as reports and financial data, mapping, codes of practice, public records, statistics, local planning and tourist information and artefacts.

Public sector information within the “public task” of the public sector body and is accessible must be made available for re-use unless the information is otherwise restricted or excluded (see below). Accessible could mean that the information: has been published; it is information already being re-used by another party; or the applicant has gained access to that information through access legislation like the Freedom of Information Act.

Libraries, museums and archives are not required to make information available to re-use but may choose to do so. This is unless the information has already been made available for re-use including by the public body itself or its commercial trading arm, then they must make this information available for re-use on the same terms. See section below.

The regulations do not consider that all data held by public bodies to be in scope, providing a number of exemptions including where information:

  • Falls outside the scope of the “public task” of the public sector body;
  • Information in which the intellectual property is owned by a different organisation that is not in scope of the regulations;
  • Parts of documents containing only logos, crests and insignia;
  • Information that covers personal data protected by the Data Protection Act 1998; and
  • Information exempt from access legislation including the Freedom of Information Act 2000, for example on grounds of national security, defence or public security and statistical or commercial confidentiality.

Information is also out of scope if it is transferred within a public body or to another public body and that information is required to carry out its ‘public task’. Where a public body shares research information with a research institute that sharing is not considered re-use and is therefore out of scope.

The flowchart, below, published by the National Archives, illustrates the scope of the regulations:

What is expected of public bodies?

What the regulations essentially mean is that accessible information which is produced, held or disseminated by a public sector body, and for which it owns the copyright, must be made available for re-use; that is unless it is otherwise restricted or excluded. In the case of libraries, museums and archives they may release that information for re-use.

Under the Regulations, public sector bodies must maintain and publish a list of information available for re-use with relevant metadata, and ensure where possible that applicants are able to search the list by electronic means and provide details of their complaints procedures.

Upon receipt of a re-use request, public sector bodies must respond “promptly” and within twenty working days at the latest. Where documents are extensive or the request raises complex issues this may take longer. Documents must then be made available to applicants “in the form and language in which it is held on the date of the request” and where possible in an machine-readable format, together with its metadata, complying insofar as possible with ‘open standards’ and by electronic means wherever possible.

Where appropriate, conditions may be imposed upon re-use through a licence, but only insofar as those conditions do not “unnecessarily restrict” competition or the way in which a document can be re-used. TheOpen Government Licence (OGL) is the preferred policy option; however it is not mandated by the regulations. (Where information is made available for re-use under the OGL a request is not necessary, but the re-user must meet licence conditions). However, the regulations do prohibit exclusive arrangements except where exclusivity is necessary for the provision of a service in the public interest or where re-use is in relation to the digitisation of cultural resources.

The default is to make this information available at marginal cost; where this information is provided online or in digital form, the National Archives’ advice is that the marginal cost will usually be nil. Where a charge is made, public sector bodies must publish a clear and equitable pricing structure which is readily available to applicants. Greater fees can be imposed by libraries, museums and archives or if public bodies are “required to generate revenue to cover a substantial part of its costs relating to the performance of its public task”. In such cases public bodies may charge to recover their costs plus a reasonable return on their investment. And cultural bodies may do so over the appropriate accounting period.

An internal complaints procedure must be established to manage any issues with requests that might arise; see below.

The relationship between ‘access’ to, and ‘reuse’ of information

While the re-use regulations provide a framework for obtaining permission to re-use public sector information, they do not provide a right to access information that is not readily accessible (i.e. it has been published in one form or other or has been provided to the applicant). Nor does having access to information give an automatic right to re-use it except where information has been provided under the Open Government Licence.

The advice from the National Archive is that re-use requests for information that have not already been provided, or it is not otherwise assessible, should be handled as an access request (under the relevant legislation) and only when it has been provided will it become eligible for re-use.

Libraries, museums and archives

The 2015 regulations bring libraries, museums and archives within the regime for the first time. That includes university libraries. However, there are a number of notable differences:

  • These bodies are not required to permit re-use, but may do so.
  • While they retain the right to decline a request, these cultural bodies cannot do so if the information has already made available for re-use (even by themselves including by a commercial trading arm).
  • They can require terms and conditions of re-use if the end-use is deemed to be unsuitable (e.g. limit use to non-commercial research re-use).
  • Such decisions (on refusals, and conditions of use) may not be discriminatory and all decisions can be subject to challenge by the applicant.
  • They are not subject to the marginal cost default and so may charge to cover the cost of collection, production, reproduction, preservation and right clearance together with a reasonable return on investment.
  • Exclusive licences are permitted for digitising cultural resources as well as when it is in the public interest to do so, but the regulations provide for time limits and the agreements must be published.

There is no distinction between works of art, artefacts and other information in the 2015 Regulations.

The transfer of local government archival information to a cultural sector archive (such as the local authority’s archive) is not considered re-use as receiving archival transfers is part of the archive’s “public task”.

Complaints process

The new regulations require public bodies to establish an internal complaint procedure and to deal with such complaints within a “reasonable time” with National Archives’ guidance advising this should be within 20 working days (i.e. the same statutory period for dealing with applications).

If unresolved, the complainant can escalate their complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) following the existing statutory procedures which apply to freedom of information requests with a subsequent appeal to the First-tier Tribunal in specific circumstances.

There is a different (to the FOI) appeals procedure where the compliant is against the basis on which a charge has been levied for permitting re-use. The ICO will consider the initial complaint and but will only be able to make a nonbinding recommendation. If the public sector body decides not to follow that recommendation it must notify the complainant and give its reasons and it is open to the complaint to seek a binding decision from the First-tier Tribunal. This different approach on charging issues reflects that the government considers that only a judicial authority can make a binding decision affecting the funding of a public sector body.

Freedom of Information Act 2000

Public authorities within the meaning of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 have to provide dataset of factual management information in a re-usable form, and with a licence permitting re-use when obliged to disclose information under the 2000 Act. This was provided for in changes made to the 2000 Act in 2012.

The new re-use regulations go further than this. So to facilitate this and ensure that the two pieces of legislation work together, the new regulations consolidate these requirements. This essentially means that where a public body and a dataset is covered by the 2015 regulations, then it is those regulations and not the FOI Act which will govern the re-use of dataset information and their entry on publication schemes. For other datasets or public authorities out of the scope of the 2015 regulations, like educational establishments, but which are covered by the FOI Act there is no change.

Data Protection Act

The 2015 Regulations do not reduce the protections of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). They do not apply to any personal data that is not available under access legislation nor to personal data that may be accessible but cannot be re-used due to data protection.

Personal data may be accessible (for example, in a public register or by a request under access legislation) but that does not automatically make it re-usable. Any subsequent use or re-use of any personal data must be lawful under the DPA, which controls how personal information is used.

The public sector body is responsible for complying with the DPA when making information available for re-use. After permission to re-use has been given, the re-user is responsible for complying with the DPA.

Copyright law

While the government has relaxed copyright assertion, and has encouraged the wider public sector to do the same, to facilitate re-use of public sector information the 2015 regulations do not change copyright law. This is particular relevant where intellectual property of documents or material within is owned by a third party.

Copyright in re-used information does not grant copyright in the original information (to the re-user) even if that information is in the public domain or otherwise out of copyright.

Comment

The National Archives tell us that for most public bodies, particularly those which already make their information available for re-use under the Open Government Licence, the amended Directive and the new regulations will mean business as usual. Or will it? We are moving from a regime where public bodies were not required to make information available for re-use to a mandatory one. And, significantly for local authorities, the regime now also covers museums, libraries and archives – though with some significant differences. So it is to be seen whether or not this is ‘business as usual’.

Going forward the key steps that each local authority can take to ensure compliance, include:

  • Creating and publishing a statement of re-use which describes the processes for making requests, details of any charges which apply, together with the procedures for making a complaint, helping re-users know up front what material is offer for re-use and any conditions which might apply.
  • Developing an asset list register detailing all the main documents available for re-use with relevant meta-data” aligned to the “public task” of the council.
  • Ensuring that records of intellectual property are up-to-date and include contact details of third-party rights holders where known (while still complying with the Data Protection Act).
  • Consider how information and metadata is made available in an open and machine-readable.
  • Consider on what basis information will be offered for re-use, noting that the conditions may not be discriminatory and restrict competition and must not restrict the way in which a document can be used (save cultural bodies) this may point to using either the Open Government Licence or an alternative like the Non-Commercial Government Licence.
  • Work out a clear and equitable pricing structure and publishing these details up front; in the majority of cases as per the regulations information should be offered at marginal cost.
  • Creating or updating (i.e. you might build your FOI process) internal complaints processes to manage any issues with requests for re-use.
  • Consider how the council’s process for dealing with FOI and other access requests can work in harmony with requests for the re-use of information.

Useful external links

 

Related LGiU briefings

 

 

For more information about this, or any other LGiU member briefing, please contact Janet Sillett, Briefings Manager, on janet.sillett@lgiu.org.uk

© LGiU Third Floor, 251 Pentonville Road, London N1 9NG Reg Charity 1113495.

Creating a Business Case for Open Data

CREATING A BUSINESS CASE FOR OPEN DATA

Digital Birmingham is part of a group of local councils that are leading the open data and transparency agenda, set up by Cabinet Office, to share learning and develop our thinking and future approach.  Last week I attended a lively discussion and wanted to share some ideas, picked up from Glasgow, Hampshire, Devon, GLA, Lambeth, Future Cities Catapult and others.  Small caveat: This is my interpretation of what was discussed, if you have been there or know more about these projects, please feel free to comment or correct.

Open Data has been around for a good few years now and quite a number of local councils have followed Government’s lead and published much more data than is required by law.  Many good examples such as the London Data Store, Open Glasgow,Nottingham and last but not least Birmingham’s Open Data Factoryhave been created and initiatives such as the LGA Incentive Scheme and the Breakthrough Fund encourage councils to publish more data sets.

Much of this work has been done based on goodwill, a leap of faith and often some form of grant funding.  This has created lots of anecdotal evidence and great stories but we’re now reaching the point where a good business case is needed to do more work and justify longterm effort and cost.  As one attendee put it: Council decision makers might be able to find funding but they lack a clearly investable proposition.

In response to this, the Open Glasgow team, which has been set up as part of their Future City Demonstrator project, has started to work on measuring the benefits that nearly 2 years of open data activity have created.  They have created the categories below and expect results to be available in late summer 2015.

Transparency–        Intrinsic value for organisation

–        Savings evidenced through reduced FOI requests

Insight–        Value of sharing internally

–        Value of combining new data

 

Engagement–        Changing the conversation with the citizen

–        Reduced cost to engagement

–        Citizens connect easier to assets and services

Visualisation–        Better decision making due to analysis and presentation

–        Measurable efficiencies or savings internally

Glasgow Benefits for Open Data

 Another approach to answering the question about value is a change of the selling proposition: All of us, councils, public sector organisations, private and third sector organisations are consumers of data.  We consume data on a daily basis to run our services, monitor and improve operations.  Good data is the lifeblood of our internal operations and will usually have agreed quality standards.  Publishing some of our data could just be a by-product that shouldn’t’ require much extra effort. By publishing data we’re enabling it to be shared and reused internally much more easily.  Additionally, data that is being viewed and used will drive its own quality improvement because users will spot anomalies and may suggest corrections or a better format that benefits more users.

Last but not least, the Future Cities Catapult is undertaking research into Measuring the Value of Data.  Led by Catherine Mulligan, Head of Digital Strategy and Economics, they are looking at developing like for like comparisons to estimate realistic value of open data for the economy and counter the various estimates that are floating around assigning Billion $ scenarios to the exploitation of data.  This work will also address how to value the complementarity of datasets i.e. value created, possibly early on and on a smaller scale, through combining several 3 datasets that have not been combined before.

The Share PSI Network

At our October 2014 meeting there was a briefing by Simon Whitehouse on the Share PSI project, which has Digital Birmingham as one of its project partners. Share PSI is the European network for the exchange of experience and ideas around implementing open data policies in the public sector. Its approach is based on the European Directive on Public Sector Information and it is funding a series of workshops examining different aspects of PSI. The output of the workshops will be an input to the W3C Data on the Web Best Practices Working Group.

Simon attended a workshop on behalf of Digital Birmingham and WMODF in Samos on Open Data and Efficiency within Government where 35 different partners presented their projects from across Europe. He has written a blog post about the Samos workshop for Digital Birmingham and it is on the Smart Birmingham blog

As a result of attending the Samos Summit, SW was asked to represent the Share PSI project at the Legal Aspects in Public Sector Information (LAPSI) project meeting in Milan last week, where he delivered a presentation on the Exploitation of Cultural Data.

The next Share-PSI workshop took place in December in Lisbon, where there were parallel strands with the LAPSI project There is another post about the Lisbon workshop on the Smart Birmingham website and there are more details on the Share PSI site

There is also a meeting in March in Timisoara, Romania. Simon has been representing WMODF (only travel and accommodation refunded) for Digital Birmingham, who are project partners. Simon encouraged other WMODF members to consider putting themselves forward to attend future workshops. Anybody interested should speak to Heike from Digital Birmingham. Simon said he would be happy to talk to any one interested about his experiences to date.

Connect to superfast broadband in Birmingham with a £3,000 grant

Superfast broadband is here – in Birmingham – now, and businesses large and small are already taking advantage of the opportunities it affords, such as software-as-a-service or instant collaboration with clients and colleagues.

To help SMEs connect to superfast broadband we are giving them a grant worth up to £3,000 – all they pay is line rental and VAT.

This makes it free to connect for most businesses in Birmingham.

As you are no doubt aware broadband connection speed is a critical enabler of business growth – we want to see businesses in Birmingham prosper by taking advantage of all the opportunities superfast broadband can bring.

If you would like to learn more about this scheme please visit:

connectionvouchers.co.uk

Or if you would like to make an application for the grant (called a connection voucher) apply here:

digitalbirminghambroadband.birmingham.gov.uk

published by Digital Birmingham

EU-funded tool to help our brain deal with big data

Every single minute, the world generates 1.7 million billion bytes of data, equal to 360,000 DVDs. How can our brain deal with increasingly big and complex datasets? EU researchers are developing an interactive system which not only presents data the way you like it, but also changes the presentation constantly in order to prevent brain overload. The project could enable students to study more efficiently or journalists to cross check sources more quickly. Several museums in Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the United States have already showed interest in the new technology.

Data is everywhere: it can either be created by people or generated by machines, such as sensors gathering climate information, satellite imagery, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, GPS signals, etc. This information is a real gold mine. But it is also challenging: today’s datasets are so huge and complex to process that they require new ideas, tools and infrastructures.

Researchers within CEEDs (@ceedsproject) are transposing big data into an interactive environment to allow the human mind to generate new ideas more efficiently. They have built what they are calling an eXperience Induction Machine (XIM) that uses virtual reality to enable a user to ‘step inside’ large datasets. This immersive multi-modal environment – located at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona – also contains a panoply of sensors which allows the system to present the information in the right way to the user, constantly tailored according to their reactions as they examine the data. These reactions – such as gestures, eye movements or heart rate – are monitored by the system and used to adapt the way in which the data is presented.

Jonathan Freeman, Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London and coordinator of CEEDs, explains: The system acknowledges when participants are getting fatigued or overloaded with information.  And it adapts accordingly. It either simplifies the visualisations so as to reduce the cognitive load, thus keeping the user less stressed and more able to focus.  Or it will guide the person to areas of the data representation that are not as heavy in information.

Neuroscientists were the first group the CEEDs researchers tried their machine on (BrainX3). It took the typically huge datasets generated in this scientific discipline and animated them with visual and sound displays. By providing subliminal clues, such as flashing arrows, the machine guided the neuroscientists to areas of the data that were potentially more interesting to each person. First pilots have already demonstrated the power of this approach in gaining new insights into the organisation of the brain.

From museums to shops

Possible applications for CEEDs abound, from inspection of satellite imagery and oil prospecting, to astronomy, economics and historical research. “Anywhere where there’s a wealth of data that either requires a lot of time or an incredible effort, there is potential,” adds Professor Freeman. “We are seeing that it’s physically impossible for people to analyse all the data in front of them, simply because of the time it takes. Any system that can speed it up and make it more efficient is of huge value.”

The CEEDs system can help with gathering and reacting to feedback from users in places as shops, museums, libraries and concerts. In the physical and virtual classrooms, professors could teach students more efficiently by adapting their presentations to their attention level. The CEEDs technology has been used for two years at the Bergen-Belsen memorial site in Germany and discussions are ongoing with museums in the Netherlands, the UK and the United States ahead of the 2015’s commemorations of the end of World War II. The project’s team is in discussion with several public, charity and commercial organisations to further customise a range of CEEDs systems to their needs.  Applications discussed are related to a virtual retail store environment in an international airport and the visualisation of soil quality and climate in Africa in order to assist local farmers in optimising crop yields.

Making the most of big data

CEEDs is a large project: 16 partners in nine countries (Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and the UK) are putting their heads together to optimise human understanding of big data. €6.5 million of EU funding is invested in this innovative initiative, under the Future and Emerging Technologies scheme @fet_eu

EU action to take advantage of big data goes beyond research projects. The European Commission has recently called on national governments to wake-up to the big data revolution (press release) and is using the full range of policy and legal tools make the most of the data-driven economy (more information).

Vice-President of the European Commission @NeelieKroesEU, responsible for the Digital Agenda, says: “Big data doesn’t have to be scary. Projects like this enable us to take control of data and deal with it so we can get down to solving problems. Leaders need to embrace big data.”

Read more about the CEEDs project (also in French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish).

Useful links

Video on Euronews – Futuris programme

(also in French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish)

Blog post by CEEDs project coordinator Professor Jonathan Freeman – Ethics at the core of the CEEDs project

TEDx lecture by CEEDs scientific coordinator Professor Paul Verschure – From big data to big ideas

Contacts :

Email: comm-kroes@ec.europa.eu Tel: +32.229.57361

Ryan Heath (+32 2 296 17 16) Twitter: @RyanHeathEU

Siobhan Bright (32 2 295 73 61)

For the public: Europe Direct by phone 00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11 or by e­mail

 

Published by the  European Commission – IP/14/916   11/08/2014