Open the data and pass the dips!

Many interesting uses of open data were in sight last Thursday, at the latest meeting of Open Knowledge Edinburgh in Edinburgh Napier University’s Glassroom. Hosted by Peter Cruickshank, and introduced by Hazel Hall of Napier’s Centre for Social Informatics, the event brought together opendataphiles from research, government and public streams.

Ewan Klein promoted Open Data Maker Night, an informal event focused on ‘making’ with open data – creating visualisations, foraging for new data or telling stories. He also talked about Code the City Edinburgh (20-21 July), which aims to help to fix access to services (letting people know that they exist, where they are and who is involved).

As the general election looms, you may wish to know who is asking for your vote. James Baster and colleagues at Meet Your Next MP have created an open hustings list. It also provides space for anyone wishing to organise their own event.

Alistair Lawson introduced Edinburgh Napier’s forthcoming work-based MSc in Data Science. This course is designed for employees who wish to improve their data skills, being based around learning at the workplace (1 day per month studying at Napier). It covers three layers of analysis: business, science and engineering.

WBL structure

Year 1
Trimester 1 2 3
Module Advanced Professional Practice (60 credits)
Module Analytics
Data Analytics
Data Wrangling (Python, NoSQL, MapReduce, Sparql, RDF, etc.)
  Stats for Data Science (R)
Year 2
Trimester 1 2 3
Module Dissertation  
Teaching compressed into 1 day per month ( 3 days times 3 modules) in parallel with 60 credit Advanced Professional Practice Module

Open data can be a study focus if this benefits the students’ employers. The course will start in September 2015 or January 2016. If you want to find out more, contact Alistair.

Gregor Boyd explained how the Scottish Government (SG) is Opening up our Official Statistics. The SG publishes lots of data but knows it could do more with it. Last month it published its open data strategy.


The strategy will build on Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics. Currently there are around 6000 data sets but it’s hard to use them. However, the imminent Open Data Publishing Platform should steer past such difficulties. SG wants to work with organisations to help them use data, and wants feedback and challenges to make data open. Gregor can be contacted at @ScotStat, @grgrbd or gregor.boyd [at] Scotland dot gsi dot gov dot uk

Sally Kerr, Digital Services Manager at City of Edinburgh Council told of A year with open data. This included three initiatives designed to improve life for residents and visitors alike. Possibly the most important one is Edinburgh Open Data, currently publishing 59 datasets, from school catchment area shapefiles to locations and features of litter bins. Edinburgh Living Lab is a ‘new collaborative initiative between researchers, the public sector and industry’. It aims to be a portal for the city, not just the council. Current programs include a series of projects under the Active travel in Inverleith banner. Also leaping from this year of open data is Sports3, a web/mobile app for finding sports facilities at times, places and prices that suit the user.

Following on from this, Jana Ramos spoke about Edinburgh Apps, which is designed to improve life for both residents and visitors. It provides challenges to app-makers and builds case-studies to show what can be done with (open) data. Products so far include ACE (an app for recovering addicts) and Run the city, which shows where visitors can run. The 2015 Edinburgh Apps initial events are in late September, with the final taking place at Edinburgh University on 25 October. Challenges will be und=veild on the Edinburgh Apps portal soon.

Jac Kaye is on a quest to find non-sexist barbers. In her experience, many barbers simply refuse to serve women. Of those that do serve women, many charge women more than men for the same service. You can visit to see the four gender-neutral barbers Jac has found so far. But if you know of more, please contact Jac at @JacToTheFuture or hello [at] shorthairdon’tcare dot co dot uk.

After these tales of shocking sexism, participants chatted over beers and chips’n’dips before the second set of short talks.

Jonah McLachlan, who studies at Edinburgh Napier University while working at Edinburgh University, talked about Deepening Data and Supporting Students. He has found that many lecture courses use fake data but that it’s important to work with real data. Within universities there is much data that could be made open, but it’s siloed thanks to lack of open data policies. Jonah and colleagues maintain a student portal that provides personal timetables. They are also creating means for interdepartmental communication and sourcing student feedback/input.

Alan Gardner spoke about Code for Europe, which ‘strives to solve local civic challenges, by enabling agile temporary teams of developers to create solutions that are easily reuseable in other European cities’. The Scottish face of CfE currently involves 4 LAs (Aberdeen, Clackmannanshire, Edinburgh and East Lothian) and works on the EU premise that all data should be open. Products include Clacks Kids (about family wellbeing), Active Aberdeen (promoting sport and volunteering). The theme of this work was changing organisations by identifying issues and then investigating whether apps could be used to combat them.

Olivia Gill of SEPA publicised the Scotland Environment Web hackathon. This is part of the Scotland’s Environment web project, which aims to make environmental data interesting, and to pool data from partners such as Scottish Natural Heritage. The hackathon will take place on May 30-31 at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, with ice-breaker events a week before. Olivia and SEPA are looking for mentors and speakers.

Finally, Leah Lockhart of the SG’s Digital Engagement Team talked about Transparency in government This team aims to enable civil servants and MSPs to communicate better. There is a large amount of culture-change still to do but the current First Minister is very supportive of openness.

So there you have it – open data can touch on anything from national governance issues to finding your way around university to getting a decent non-sexist haircut. Over to you!



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