Open data hard to understand, says chief

The cabinet official behind the government’s open data initiative has conceded that users are struggling to make sense of the huge volume of public sector data sets that have been published online.

In an official podcast broadcast this week, Richard Sterling expressed concerns that the public may be coming to conclusions that "weren’t quite valid” after browsing the 2,500 data sets available on

He continued that while the government has attempted to add context to data by including short contextual summaries, it may be necessary to provide visualisations of popular data sets, such as bar graphs, pie charts and scatter graphs.

"I think what is likely to happen is that with data sets where there is an awful lot of interest and we can see that there is a lot of interest in the visualisation of the data, then I think we’ll put more work into doing that web front end,” he added.

Data feeds published on the website, which was launched last autumn, include themes on crime, education, health and spending.
Third parties have already used feeds published on to create ‘mash-up’ applications – primarily for mobile devices – such as the ‘ASBOrometer’, which gauges the level of anti-social behaviour in the user’s area.

Among the data sets to have been released via the site so far is detailed list of government IT spending, published last week. It revealed that central government agencies and English local authorities spent a combined £7.6 billion on ICT in 2009.  

Peter Done

Peter Done is managing director of Peninsula Business Services, the personnel and employment law consultancy he set up having already built a successful betting shop business.

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