Steering a course for open data

Essex County Council is massive.

There are around 12,000 employees. It’s the second biggest local authority in the country, geographically, and it’s the second largest spending authority (which makes sense, given the size thing I just mentioned). There are hundreds of teams and departments split across eight different directorates. As you can imagine, navigating the landscape of the organisation can be tricky.

When it comes to open data, that presents us a real challenge. How do we operate transparently across an organisation of this size and share our data safely and proactively? It’s a problem that we’ve been seeking to address over quite some time, and so in June this year, we established an open data steering group.

The purpose of this steering group is to raise awareness and accountability across a far broader range of professionals - open data isn't just for data professionals! We want more people to know what our organisational responsibilities are when it comes to being open, and how others can help us to achieve our goals for open data.

To help everyone be aware of this, we’ve asked all members of the steering group to complete a short training course from Data Europa EU. It’s a useful course that takes about 90 minutes, so if you are interested in learning more about open data and how to get started, feel free to go through it yourself.

One of the things we are hoping to achieve in the short term with our steering group is to gain a much better understanding of the types of requests we get from members of the public through freedom of information requests. I won’t talk too much about the work that we’re doing to understand this, because it will be the feature of a future blog post in a couple of months, but I will say that developing that clear understanding of who typically requests information, and what types of information they request, will help us immeasurably.

We’ve also been working with members of our communications and marketing department through the steering group, identifying where we can make connections on how open data can support future communications campaigns.

Using those insights, we will be developing a clear content plan to create ever more open data. The goal for us is to safely make data increasingly accessible and usable to anyone who wants it.

Whilst the steering group is in its infancy, it does feel like this is a fantastic mechanism to really drive forward the open data agenda in Essex, and we’re very excited about it.

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