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SpeedData: Chris Taggart on Open Election Data

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Christ Taggart

Chris Taggart of OpenlyLocal

Chris Taggart of OpenlyLocal spoke briefly during his presentation about his work with several councils to provide open election data for the elections on May 6.

As Chris points out it is something of a surprise that election data isn’t just available freely. But it isn’t. Well, at least until Chris got involved.

I got a chance to speak to Chris about why he was interested in providing this information and how he went about the process. He makes some really valuable points:

  • The only database of election results is commercial, but it should be a matter for public record – and therefore free.
  • While local authorities do publish results on their websites, they do so in lots of different ways – with different formats and styles.
  • Chris is on the local public data panel. Councils have approached them but don’t know how to do it.
  • It can be intimidating to get involved in open data for public authorities

As a result, Chris had the idea that he could get councils to produce their results on the web in a consistent machine-readable form. Then it’d be possible to build up a database, while councils could begin to learn about how to use open data.

  • While it took some time to get the project off the ground, now a number of people have started to get interested. Very recently there are many councils involved and Chris says that councils have started to help each other.
  • There are at least 30 people in local authorities who are beginning to understand how open data can be useful to them.
  • Now they’ll have a database with between 20 and 40 local authorities’ election results, some going as far back as 1998.

Now Chris says it can be demonstrated that local authorities can be part of the open data movement in a fairly simple way. Chris talks passionately about how big, monolithic projects often turn out to be useless. Instead, he’s much more interested in small projects that be demonstrably useful – and will help people to learn.

[podcast]http://bevocal.org.uk/files/2010/04/Chris-Taggart-two.mp3[/podcast]

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