Open data project

Stormont-front-close2 The first phase of an open data project has been launched, with information on plenary sessions and official reports expected later this year.

The Assembly has launched an open data project to provide information on its workings for individuals and organisations, particularly those interested in data analysis, web design and phone applications.

Launched on 21 May, the first phase of the service provides the names of MLAs and their Assembly roles, oral and written questions (and answers) since 2007 and the names of departments, committees, political parties and all-party groups. The data are available in both user-friendly and raw data formats (data.niassembly.gov.uk). They can be copied, published, adapted as well as collated with other statistics and information to create products for the web and smart phone applications.

“It was just something we’d thought about for a long while and with the introduction of the new website it made it quite easy to do,” a spokesman for the Assembly’s information system office told agendaNi. The Assembly’s new website was launched last December.

“We’re happy to share the data. It’s taxpayer-funded at the end of the day,” he added.

Two further stages will be rolled out this year: information on plenary sessions (motions, amendments and related division results) and committee meetings (agendas, items of business, locations and times) was expected to be available at the end of June; data on the Assembly’s Official Report (Hansard) will be published “closer to the end of the year.” In 2013, legislation data will become accessible.

Since the end of 2011, a team of six has been working on the project: four on the database and two on web design and data release. While data is conventionally released in XML format, the Assembly has opted for both XML and JSON formats as the latter is “easier for mobile phone developers and iPad developers to use as well.”

No additional costs to the tax-payer have been incurred from the project; it has been done internally and was work the Assembly had to do regardless of publication, for internal development.

The open data project has already seen a high level of interest. “We’ve had a lot of lobby groups coming to us, and charity groups who have already started to use it,” according to the spokesman. The parliamentary information website www.theyworkforyou.com also plans to use the data. While the Assembly does not plan to publish figures on traffic to the service at present, it will consider the matter during the summer.

A parliamentary data service exists for Westminster (data.parliament.uk), and its staff have contacted the Assembly to acquire information, as has the Welsh Assembly, which is planning to launch a similar service. The Scottish Parliament is also working on an open data project.

As well as releasing parliamentary data, the UK Parliament’s service also provides information from government departments, something the Assembly hopes to replicate. The Assembly is currently working with several departments, including the Department of Finance and Personnel, which is prototyping services such as “streamlining sending ministerial questions to the different departments and getting answers back,” to provide more joined-up government.

Open data has become more prominent in the UK with the establishment by the former Labour Government of a web service in January 2010 to make public sector data available (www.data.gov.uk). For transparency, the Coalition Government has been regularly releasing such data (issue 52, page 87) and has estimated that the direct and indirect economic value of public sector data, through new systems, products and markets, is £16 billion a year to the UK.

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