First catch your data

It isn’t always easy for large organisations to just open the floodgates and pour data out.   There’s always a host of compliance issues, some real, some over-cautious.  Tim Berners-Lee’s original, highly readable 2009 article on bureaucracies and open data acknowledges this and urges them just to publish, not spend years agonising:

Just do it…There are two philosophies to putting data on the web. The top-down one is to make a corporate or national plan, by getting committees together of all the interested parties, and make a consistent set of terms (ontology) into which everything fits. This in fact takes so long it is often never finished, and anyway does not in fact get corporate or national consensus in the end. The other method experience recommends is to do it bottom up. A top-level mandate is extremely valuable, but grass-roots action is essential. Put the data up where it is: join it together later. …So, take some data.

One of our goals for open philanthropy is:

‘within 5 reporting years 80% of grants made by UK charities, foundations & other grant makers are reported as open data to agreed standards’

To achieve this goal it’s important to understand what information that the Lottery/BIG will publish as open data.  BIG already publishes some historic grant information but in a cautious, toe-in-the-water way (thanks to Owen Boswarva for pointing this out).  This is important because it shows that BIG has no intrinsic objections to publishing grant data, but their approach just needs to come up to speed with modern open data practice in the spirit of the recent G8 TT and UN Open Government Partnership work.  So I have submitted some experimental FOI requests to give BIG the opportunity to publish open data for reuse and to have a dialogue about how to do so.  I have given BIG an excuse to publish data for the London N1 postcode area and also to reveal what data they hold about grantees and how it is structured. I know that BIG staff are aware I have submitted this request and will await the outcome with interest.

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