The Glasgow data portal in its present form is only a month old and already getting a lot of attention.

“It does look good”, commented opendatasites who designed the first data visualisation based on the CCTV camera location dataset. The school of data used the registered companies data set to show how to work with large text files. This is the story of the data portal, told by Brian Scott, one of the developers behind the portal.

Bringing data to light

The Glasgow data portal provides the public with a more transparent view of what goes on in Glasgow. Many sets of data are collected around the city but until now have never seen the light of day. The portal encourages a wider audience to find inventive ways of using the data to improve life in the city.

Through open source technology

The portal is built on CKAN, a powerful open-source data management platform. Think of it as a large data catalogue that will continue to expand as more and more city information becomes available.
Users can search for data, subscribe to feeds and share with others. Users need to be confident that the data is up-to-date, accurate and complete so we are working on mechanisms to automate the data collection and publication.

Can a data portal be creative?

Every time we buy something or go somewhere, we create data. Data isn’t a technical subject; it is at the heart of our lives. To enable citizens to see the potential of data, it needs to be presented in an inviting way:

  • The datasets are organised into logical groups such as health, education and transport.
  • The visual presentation conveys a sense of openness and transparency by avoiding clutter, giving the site a unique identity. For instance, you may have noticed the repeated use of hexagons. They represent the multi-dimensional nature of the project of which the data portal is only one aspect.
  • The data stories give context to a dataset, demonstrate where the information came from and how it could be used.

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Do the hard work to make it simple.
Iterate. Then iterate again.

Community Engagement Principles of the OPEN Manifesto, inspired by HM Government, gov.uk design principles

We wanted the data stories to catch people’s attention so the design had to look inviting and be easy to maintain to keep the content current.

CKAN does not have a content management system where editors could create, organise and publish content easily. The data stories are created on the Glasgow OPEN blog, which is a WordPress site. I then developed a new mechanism in CKAN to request the information and display it on the data portal homepage.

CKAN requires a substantial amount of development to apply a unique look and feel to it. Out of the box it does not present a warm or welcoming environment. I typically take a Photoshop file with the designers’ vision and extract the key components. From there, I’ll develop snippets, small blocks of reusable visual interface elements, and apply them to the site. The more technical readers will want to know that these are written in CKAN’s python language and then delivered as HTML 5 and CSS 3.

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The process of building the data portal is a true collaboration: refining how the design, data, content, and technical aspects fit together.

What do you think? Can you see things we can improve? Have you used the data sets? We’d love to hear from you.