Making Open Data a Reality

A couple of weeks back Digital Birmingham held an open data event in the Learning Hub at University Hospital Birmingham. The aim of it was to gather people from different areas of the public sector to talk about our plans for opening up access to data. The idea was that by doing so we would discover additional benefits for ourselves.


Once people had suffered me blethering on for a bit about the government’s current legislative programme and the relevance of open data policies to it we had a number of speakers.

Daniel Ray, who is the Director of Informatics and Patient Administration at University Hospital Birmingham, spoke about the work the hospital are doing with the My Health system.

This is being made available to a small number of people with certain long term medical conditions. It gives them access to their records, allows them to contact

their consultants and to update their records. It also puts them in touch with other patients.

UHB are currently conducting a survey of up to 20,000 people asking them what information they want before they arrive. This could be information about parking, including how far you might have to walk to your appointment or how well other patients have rated the food in hospital.

Then I spoke a bit about the Birmingham Civic Dashboard, which Digital Birmingham recently released. Built with local digital SME, Mudlark using money from Nesta‘s Make It Local programme, every day, the application takes live data from the city’s Customer First contact database and shows trends on a map, allowing both the council and residents to identify ‘hotspot’ areas where issues are common or recurring.

In turn residents can comment on the trends that emerge over time, giving an on-the-ground perspective on particular issues. This is the first time that a UK council has put its service request data online in this way.

Stuart Harrison spoke about the work he has done on Rate My Place and howopen data can give positive health outcomes. Rate My Place is a partnership across 8 local authorities which awards ratings on a 5 star basis to food outlets based on their hygiene.

Stuart told us that he has the policy of publishing the data once, but updating in many places. So, he uses a Twitter account to Tweet every inspection, there is also a website which is mobile accessible and there is an iPhone app.

There has been interest from the local press and the Burton Mail especially uses the inspection reports to write up stories. Since the site was launched there has been a 20% increase in ‘broadly compliant’ premises in Lichfield .

Masood Nazir from United Birmingham Consortia told us about the benefits to GPs of electronic systems. Especially interesting was that Masood records personal details such as the name of patients’ dogs or where they are going on holiday. It was a neat example of electronic system enabling a more personal touch.

His main topic was about how the right information can be available at the right level to help the patient make the best decision for their care. Masood felt that the current legislation is going to force practices who were previously resistant to being open with patient data into being more so.

It was interesting to hear how GPs base referral decisions on patient feedback about how hospitals and consultatnts have treated them. Masood highlighted the research that Daniel had spoken about and said how it would add to this decision making.

Some common themes emerged from the workshops which followed our coffee break.

Often we are asking people to tell us the same things, just in slightly different formats. After all, how many times do we expect people to underestimate how many units of alcohol they drink?

Opening up data will have benefits to us as well as the public. At the moment large organisations don’t know all the data they hold – this in part is why we keep asking for it. Opening data will help us understand this. Also, it will be useful to see what other public sector organisations hold.

We have an inconsistency in the systems we use and the data they produce. Sasha Taylor spoke about the plethora of crime mapping systems that had been used when the government first asked police forces to provide this.

It was felt that there was a role for us to put our data into context and help members of the public to make sense of it. Meaningful data exists when you know things such as when it was created, for what purpose, how long can it be considered accurate for and other such meta-data. This can also affirm its credibility.

I’m hoping that people weren’t just being polite when they said they enjoyed the morning and found it useful. It certainly gave me a few ideas about uses for the Civic Dashboard, which I hope people will see in due course.

Thanks are due to David Taylor of University Hospital Birmingham for having the idea of holding the event and to the Learning Hub for their hospitality.

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