Request for Geek Bearing Gifts

Raw Data – Tough to Chew

This is what happens when geeks start to play with data and map the blogosphere. This is just showing links and connections as well as indicating apparently how much certain topic areas are addressed. I found this on a website run by a Malcolm Hurst who works for MSN and is a co-creator of BlogPulse. In that random Internet way, I had started at the Open Data Consultation document and was thrilled to discover that the authors of that paper had watched the same TED lecture as I had – we both quoted Tim Berners-Lee calling for ‘Raw Data Now!’. But if you start looking for raw data, you speedily discover that you need some expert assistance -the sort that the Malcolm Hursts of this world can help deliver. I started out looking at a prize-winning site Openkent  and clicked on the Treemap of Community Grants in Sevenoaks only to be told I had the wrong version of Java. What to do? The need is not just for raw data but a raw data eating geek – a devourer of data who can rip the guts out of a mammoth-sized  data dump – steaming and raw – and feed them (data as plural- pedant) in little digestible bits to the rest of the citizenry – me, you – who lack the skills to do it for ourselves.

Geek Intermediaries Needed

So we are very interested in the idea floated in the consultation of ‘data intermediaries’. Who will they be? Where can we find them? Whose side are they going to be on? This last may boil down to who pays their salary? The question posed in the consultation document is “Should we consider schemes for accreditation of information intermediaries and if so, how might that best work?” I see an opportunity for Citizen Data Intermediaries working perhaps out of a Citzens Advice Bureau or Which? magazine environment which has moved on from advice to action by feeding their clients/subscribers information to be make them yes better informed but also angry, involved and active. Paul Hodgkin of Patient Opinion writes that freeing up this sort of data could revolutionise the way public services are delivered. The link between patient feedback and peformance data could, in the example he gives of a mental health patient experience, be used by mental health charities operating as both a skilled data intermediary using their own or hired-in resource to crunch this data and their files of patient stories to present powerful arguments for change and action. What we need is clones of Hans Rosling and access to his Gapminder software.

Good Use, Bad Use

Paul Hodgkin has identified another ingredient that turns data into decision and action – the human connection. We have to make the empathic connection between numbers and emotion that creates action using all the technologies and information available to us. To do this, users  need to see the point of the technnology and proof of what it can deliver for them.  And the effects may be malign. The riots were dreadful affairs causing pain and loss to many but they showed how particular groups of citizens can take a technology like Blackberry messaging and use that means of communication to create streams of information that prompted action.

Data is for everybody

Which is the final point I wanted to make. The consultation document asks whether there should be an accreditation scheme for information intermediaries? Maybe, but the other side of the coin is whether there should be accredited users. If the data are there, are there any ways the information can be denied to the particular sorts of citizen? It is difficult to imagine barriers to access based on being duly certificated as a fit and proper data user person – an accredited data consumer. It is like the convicted criminal who wins the lottery – he gets his money. If the data is out there, it can be used by us all.

We believe that this is inevitable, valuable and positive. Governments may be more worried.


  1. Andrew Craig says

    Data access can also mean creating patterns of patient satisfaction expressed visually on maps by parts of the country showing where through PROMS (patient reported outcome measures) for four specific surgical treatments patients think they have benefitted the most from having treatment.

    But how to interpret this? Does this tell us more about the effectiveness of the interventions or about the expectations of the patients, or a bit of both? The Information Centre has plotted this here

    Also, as Mr Lansley is asking for suggestions for apps that could help us all use the NHS better and look after our own health, we’d like to have some ideas from readers. Mine is an app that would show comparisons between local GP practices on the things that matter most to patients: access on the day and extended hours, ease of getting through on the telephone, appointments up to a fortnight in advance, seeing a clinician of one’s choice and that sort of thing.

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