Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens


The government wants you to show it a better way (and will pay £20,000)

As an idea, Free Our Data has now begun to gain some traction in government – and even, as the whole saga over crime mapping in London shows, with the Conservatives.

Now the Power Of Information taskforce, which includes Tom Watson, the Cabinet Office minister we interviewed a while back, has started a new initiative (though competition is just as good a word) at Showusabetterway.com:

Ever been frustrated that you can’t find out something that ought to be easy to find? Ever been baffled by league tables or ‘performance indicators’? Do you think that better use of public information could improve health, education, justice or society at large?

The UK Government wants to hear your ideas for new products that could improve the way public information is communicated. The Power of Information Taskforce is running a competition on the Government’s behalf, and we have a £20,000 prize fund to develop the best ideas to the next level.

To show they are serious, the Government is making available gigabytes of new or previously invisible public information especially for people to use in this competition.

And in case you wondered if it involves puttings CDs from HMRC into envelopes..

Rest assured, this competition does not include personal information about people.

There is a set of examples – such as crime mapping, Fixmystreet, and a pointer to others such as farmsubsidy.org (which “compiles obscure information about subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy and puts it in one place, to make it much easier to see where farm subsidies are going across Europe.”)

The team signs off with a flourish:

We’re confident that you’ll have more and better ideas than we ever will. You don’t have to have any technical knowledge, nor any money, just a good idea, and 5 minutes spare to enter the competition.

There’s already a list of submitted ideas, which includes a Road Works API, FixMyTransport (“where people with shared public transport problems could come together to get things improved”), Rate My Bus, and others.

Come on, people – tell us your ideas, then go and enter them on the site (or vice versa) and win the funding. It would be fantastic if a Guardian Tech reader could win this.

Update: just to point to some of the resources you can use (among many, many, many): mapping information from the Ordnance Survey, medical information from the NHS, neighbourhood statistics from the Office for National Statistics and a carbon calculator from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). And these are in API form, which means they’re all ready for mashup goodness.

Although not, it seems, the Postcode Address File (though the Edubase file, with school addresses, does include postcodes).

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