The ongoing issue of data transparency in Northern Ireland. #data #opendata #charity

There’s an interesting data parallel happening at the moment, the ability to champion open data and all the trimmings: reports, dashboards, findings (with smatterings of bias thrown in for good measure). And on the other hand the one in the cogs of government, this kind of thing.


During the Detail Data Conference last week the main word that delegates were interested in most of all was one of “transparency” and while Northern Ireland is getting there in some measure, there’s a portal of open data, I can even see Translink real time rail data now, something un-imaginable five years ago.

If you look at the mainstream media it appears to be the opposite, data is requested, demanded and downright expected so someone can back up their claims. It’s been an interesting few weeks indeed.

The harsh reality is that while things like the open data portal for Northern Ireland are a great idea, under good management and have the potential to let others do good things, well we are far behind with some catching up to do.

Three Key Requirements for 2017

Open up the Postcodes

It comes up time and time again but on Wednesday it was coming from some heavy hitters in the open data sector. The GrantNav utility in the 360Giving website lets you find details on all levels of giving in the UK. Their main issue (if I picked it up correctly) is the ease of searching on Northern Ireland, with postcode searches still requiring a licence it makes things very difficult for them and others on the mainland.

The work around was to map to ward level, it feels like a stop gap to me though, I’m hoping from NI’s side of things it can be resolved. The mainland is taking interest in what we do, there are times we just make it difficult to access the information.

file-15-01-2017-11-46-14Open Up Grant Funding

I know that Detail Data got part the way with this, here’s the report on Invest NI funding.  These usually require freedom of information requests, phone calls, sarcastic tweets and so on. There has to be an easier way. Who benefits from the RHI money? And I’m not just talking about the ones with boilers, I mean the suppliers too? Invest NI money, as it’s essentially public money to aid the economy, so the old eSynergy fund or the newer TechStartNI management. The Propel Programme, who’s going through that and what were they getting at the end? StartPlanetNI? I’m scratching the surface…. there’ll be hundreds.

Now Tell Me The Ones That Got Turned Down

One conversation I had during the Detail Data Conference was with 360Giving CEO Rachel Rank, while the site has all the parties who received money it doesn’t list the ones who applied and got turned away. I was interested to see if i) that data existed and ii) would it be publicly available.

The short answer is no. I personally believe this needs to happen. There’s actually a lot to learn here and I’m thinking on a algorithmic level. Neural networks predicting Darcey Bussell’s scores are all well and good but it would be better for all to put it to good use.

How about a startup who securely feeds their idea into a system that can predict their probability of getting funding from various bodies? To train a system like that you need the accepted, the declined and the undecideds.

Northern Ireland’s Panama Papers Moment?

It’s better to start opening up as much data as possible. What could follow is an opening up of data by other means. Back door sifting and publishing with connections to all the funding received. The media would love this and baking cakes with pictures on will be a walk in the park compared to the explaining some could potentially have to do.

Rest assured, it won’t be me having the Panama Papers moment, I have enough to do.


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