Glynn Staples is a City Data Project Officer within the City Technology Platform strand of the TSB Future Cities Demonstrator Programme. He has written a blog post to share his day and some of the work he is doing:

My first official blog post for Future City | Glasgow. Here we go…

My two colleagues and I call ourselves Data Gatherers, which means I can call my boss Chief Data Hunter. There are three Data Gatherers all with slightly different backgrounds: I have a Database background, Clare has a Statistics background, and Tayo has a Geographical Systems background. The three different skill-sets work well together and complement each other.

My role means I meet many new people. Who would have thought a shy retiring coder type would have enjoyed this so much? I talk people into giving me their data – my dad was a salesman and I wish had he passed on more of those skills!

About my day

Thanks to the complications the school run brings, I normally arrive to the office at 9.15am. Time for coffee whilst I check my e-mail and calendar.

I always check my e-mail first in the vague hope someone has suddenly decided that they have 100 gigabytes of five-star quality RDF data about Glasgow they want to share.

I then check my calendar to see who I am meeting and why. Meetings are split between people within Glasgow City Council itself and other organisations the council deals with; now and then there will be a totally new person to the party.

During a normal day I connect with a number of people via e-mail, phone, twitter and the web.

Today’s meetings are all internal at Glasgow City Council so I can take off my salesman hat. The people I am seeing are very much in favour of open data and what we are trying to achieve with Future City|Glasgow. The morning is spent on checking data names, formats and paperwork while the afternoon on meetings and signatures. No data gets published until data owners are happy to release it. We always ensure no personal information is released.

Opening up data

I got a little teased about joining “Big Brother” when I started this role, especially with ‘Future Cities’ and ‘Data’ in the job-title. Some people like conspiracy theories, but funnily enough the opposite is true. We are trying to open the closed data that has existed for years. The future bit is not the gathering of the data which councils need to do to run the city, no –

the future bit is opening that data up for anyone and everyone to use.

There is sometimes resistance to opening up data. One concern is invasion of privacy but we are not publishing personal information.

Another misconception is that the information will only be of interest to small groups of people. In fact, there is a huge community of developers, academics and ordinary citizens who want to be engaged with their city and our platform.

This is a great project and I think once again my mum was right when she said I always land with my bum in the butter (that is a good thing by the way).

Open Data Charter and the Open Knowledge Foundation

Sometimes it can be a struggle explaining the benefits of open data. It has certainly gotten better since the G8 summit in June 2013 when G8 leaders signed the Open Data Charter. It has been described as –

a new era in which people can use open data to generate insights, ideas, and services to create a better world for all.

I am not so naïve to think there is no danger – or “nae danger” as some of my fellow Glaswegians would say – but if we are committed to transparency, accountability and stimulating innovation then surely open data is a big piece of the puzzle.

The other thing I have in my calendar today is to check a venue. The Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) have a monthly meeting in Edinburgh, and we are getting something going in Glasgow. In growing into this role I have found their website a revelation for Open data and Open Source tools. Like our portal will use CKAN, which was developed by the Open Knowledge Foundation. They also have an Open Data handbook that I refer to quite a lot…

The 3 key rules from the OKF Handbook –

  • Keep it simple
    Start out small, simple and fast. There is no requirement that every dataset must be made open right now. Starting out by opening up just one dataset, or even one part of a large dataset, is fine – of course, the more datasets you can open up the better.
    Remember this is about innovation. Moving as rapidly as possible is good because it means you can build momentum and learn from experience – innovation is as much about failure as success and not every dataset will be useful.
  • Engage early and engage often
    Engage with actual and potential users and re-users of the data as early and as often as you can, be they citizens, businesses or developers. This will ensure that the next iteration of your service is as relevant as it can be.
  • Address common fears and misunderstandings
    This is especially important if you are working with or within large institutions such as government. When opening up data you will encounter plenty of questions and fears. It is important to
    (a) identify the most important ones, and
    (b) address them at as early a stage as possible.

So that’s my day, really for me it is about connecting with people. There is also research and head scratching around concepts like Semantic Web and Ontologies. I think I get it now but don’t ask me to explain ;-) I follow Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt on Twitter as part of immersion into all things open.

As the project steps up through the gears no doubt my job will evolve. I am especially interested in bringing some of my development skills to the table when we start data manipulation, so watch this space. You may yet see some Python or PHP code snippets flying about the place!