Emer Coleman: the challenges of managing open data projects

Emer Coleman

Emer Coleman, Deputy Director of Digital Engagement at the Government Digital Service

Some reflections from her experience in building the London Data Store.

Lesson 1 - it was never about data

The conversations are not about data - they're about the threat it was to the public sector. It creates a totally different approach to governance, so you gave have mature conversations with the electorate, who have the same data that government does. You move from the tyranny of the experts to the wisdom of the crowds. But that's uncomfortable for back office statisticians who have not been used to being in the public gaze.

Lesson 2 - the state cannot do this alone

Politicians are often open to data release - but officials aren't. So she ended up as internal lobbyist, and also working with digital disruptors both inside and outside the business to get what they needed done. There's also the Goverati - people outside the traditional structure who are prepared to pitch in at events like GovCamp 2011.  If the public sector can be less defensive, there are plenty of people to bring into projects. Some of those are real experts - like Jonathan Raper -  and can give you the information you need to push back against internal resistance. Get ugly early - release stuff quickly in the from people need, and iterate.

Lesson 3 - are we there yet?

People always ask about RoI. Developments aren't linear - they're emergent and unpredictable. People want to try and control things, but you need to allow a thousand flowers to bloom... You can't predict what people will produce, from expert blogs, to apps, to one off activities to support people during city problems.

But the focus needs to move away from just the data cities produce. How does the state harness the data from social activity to improve the lives of citizens?