Some of the more eagle eyed among you may have noticed a logo appearing next to some of our surgery dates denoting them as an “Open Data Surgery”:
Where you see this logo it means that as well as being able to attend a surgery to find support on social media there will also be someone there willing and able to discuss Open Data with you.
But what does this mean?
Open data is essentially all the facts, figures and statistics government and other public sector organisations release that we as citizens have the right to see and use. This can include things such and local authority spending. census information, road accident data, demographic information etc.
Surgery Managers have the option on whether to offer open data support on a event by event basis, depending on the availability and skills of the volunteer surgeons. So, Surgeons if you have the skills to be able to offer this type of support, be sure to let your surgery manger know when you sign up so they can toggle this option on to the sessions you will be able to attend.
Then all you patients need to do it keep your eye out for the logo and introduce yourself to your surgery manager when you arrive to make sure you are paired up with the right person that’s signed up to offer open data support.
I’m currently attempting to write a post about how data can be used for a community campaign. I’m looking at what data is available to someone who who would like to campaign for a pedestrian crossing outside a school.
Thinking practically – where would I start if I were really going to do this – I turned to the Department of Transport. They publish road accident data, road safety spend, population details, road traffic data and more.
They’ve handily created a map of the road traffic accidents from their data on collisions, but I wanted to see if I could find out how that related to the area when bringing other factors into play. For instance 3 accidents in a year is a lot when traffic is generally low – but 3 accidents in a year in a very high traffic low population area area might not be such a huge problem when considered in context.
I’ve just tried downloading their road traffic dataset, the description they give says it contains “Road traffic estimates broken up by local highways authority, vehicle type and total in miles broken up by year.” Fairly self explanatory, or so I thought.
Opening the excel file I quickly realise I need to do more research.
I understand that the numbers in the columns marked with vehicle type is the number of vehicles in millions that have travelled on roads in a specific location but in what location? What does ons_new_code mean? What do the S12000033 etc numbers represent?
I googled to try and find out, I quickly established that the ONS codes are codes from the Office of National Statistics that relate to place but that’s about as far as I could get without downloading other folders of documents to find what I needed from their site and I wasn’t sure which one…
So I turned back to the DfT site, and tried another download – this time looking at their data on population “Residential population data broken up by local highways authority and year.”
Now interestingly this data includes the ONS code and a local authority name so I can a least get an idea of where the codes related to…
So by looking up the local authority name on the population spreadsheet to find the ons code I was able to look up the road traffic data on the other…Or was I? I tried to test out my theory.
If the road traffic data is reported for the same 7 year period as the population data, (which it appeared to be) sorting the ONS_new_code column alphabetically on both spread sheets I should be able to compare the two side by side.
But that’s where my theory falls down. Just by looking at the number of rows on the two spread sheets you can see that the data isn’t easily comparable. There is 1170 rows of data on the population spread sheet and 1435 on the road Traffic Spreadsheet and it’s showing ONS codes that don’t exist on the other.
So it’s back to google I go to try and understand which of the ONS documents I need to decipher what the codes in the DfT data mean so I can ensure I’m looking at the correct information for the area I’m researching.
(Are you still with me?)
I’ve spent over an hour on this already – all the data I need is in front me, if only I could understand it!
Don’t worry – I won’t give up, but I just wanted to share this for anyone else embroiled in making the best use of open data to campaign around traffic, crossings, roads safety and any other term I can think of to encourage you to find this post through search.
By standardising collection methods it is easier for users to draw clearer and more robust comparisons between data sources.
There are guidelines around demographic information, economic status, general health, ethnicity among other things. Their website says;
These sets of harmonised concepts and questions provide a standard means of collecting information about a given topic.
For example the guide to Demographic Information, Household Composition and Relationships gives a clear description on definition of a household….
The definition of a household is: One person living alone; or a group of people (not necessarily related) living at the same address who share cooking facilities and share a living room or sitting room or dining area.
….and then further explanation on the breakdown of the household and the structure any other questions should take.
Of course not every attempt to standardise leads to standardisation. For example the ONS standard list for ethnicity (link opens as a pdf) includes this:
1. English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British
3. Gypsy or Irish Traveller
4. Any other White background, please describe
The 4th one – “Any other White background, please describe” is a bit of a get out of jail free card when it comes to standardisation.
But it got me thinking, If groups use the same standards when conducting large surveys would that make their data easier to compare to government data, or better still maybe – with each other?