Free Our Data: the blog

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


Show Us A Better Way: the winners are chosen

It seems like an age ago that Tom Watson and the Cabinet Office kicked off the Show Us A Better Way competition, intended to see whether there really was an entrepreneurial spirit out there that wanted to get hold of government data and make something with it.

It turns out that yes, there was. And like a team of Bob the Mashup Builders, many people said “Yes, we can!”

And now the competition has got its results. (And the Guardian reports it exclusively.)

Tom Watson, the Cabinet Office minister who pushed so hard to get it off the ground, said: “These excellent ideas are born out a truly democratic competition which has seen entries submitted for all over the world. Show Us A Better Way has really captured the imagination of people in their own communities. They are telling us what information they want and how they want to use it.

“I have been delighted by the ideas submitted and how ingenious people have been in applying the information that government already holds. This is about taking service design out of Whitehall and to the people who use it. I hope the people behind the ideas that just missed the cut will not be disheartened and will continue to develop them into working websites.”

So who are the winners? In no particular order, in the first category they are:

  • Can I Recycle It? Input your postcode to find out what your council recycles
  • UK Cycling A one-stop site to plan your cycling route, for those at any skill level
  • Catchment Areas Shows boundaries of school catchment areas, even “fuzzily”
  • Location of Postboxes Shows where the nearest one is to wherever you are
  • Loofinder A mobile texting or website that tells you where the nearest public toilet is.

But there are two other categories:
Ideas where the government will develop the idea further:

  • Road Works API, an interface to any and all roadworks so that organisations (such as satnav companies) or individuals could build alert systems;
  • Oldienet, which would tell you about services in your area;
  • Free Legal Web, which would be an authoritative mashup of expert legal commentary and public-sector information;
  • Allotment Manager, for better allocation of garden allotments; and
  • Where Does My Money Go, an interactive web application showing government budget data via maps, timelines, graphs and charts.

There were then another four that were declared to be “fully working” already, as prototypes, and which will be funded for further development:

  • UK School Maps (showing where the UK’s schools are – building on data released for the competition by the Department for Children, Schools and Families);
  • School Guru, which helps determine whether your child could get into a school (in Hertfordshire only at present);
  • Where’s the Path, with an Ordnance Survey map and Google Maps satellite picture of any spot; andthe
  • UK Wreck Map, showing the location of undersea wrecks around Britain’s coast.

The judging was difficult, and protracted. You may wonder why the ideas that got the largest number of votes on the Uservoice site didn’t automatically get the prizes? Because we recognised that there were weaknesses in the Uservoice system – one could vote without registering, or just wipe your cookies and vote multiple times – and also that the aim of the competition was to reward ideas that were truly innovative, that would stretch the capabilities of government data, and not just replicate services that already existed either within government or commercially (a surprising number of entries did, one way or another).

Thanks of course to the DCLG (£40,000), Ministry of Justice (£20,000) and Cabinet Office (£20,000), which all contributed to the prize fund.

But that’s not all: the final winner will be announced on BBC’s iPM programme on Radio 4 this Saturday. Let’s see who gets it.

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