Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Simple Office data - low hanging fruit PSI

From mashup.se translated by Google: Simple Office data - low hanging fruit PSI (guest post)

Recently, the spoken part of the government data (eg, SMHI weather data, Land Survey map data and the National Post and Telecom Agency's telephone data) should be made ​​freely available for reuse. The two main arguments is that this enables the development of new services that create an economic value, and that it can increase transparency in the public sector. PSI Directive from the EU and the subsequent Act (2010:566) on the re-use of the public administration , has provided entrepreneurs and transparency zealot high hopes.

It is slow

For several reasons, it is however quite slow. Firstly, not all data in such condition that they are suitable for exposure. It may require both filtering of confidential information, quality processing and infrastructure investment. First, there are sometimes financial interests of the authorities that may seem to speak against the free or cheap APIs. The authorities simply have significant revenues from sales of data and would not release them. Rightly is also questioned the usefulness of publishing all the data transparently. For an already congested authority, it is irresponsible to put resources in an API if no benefit from it!

Simple data with great value

But government data must not be either massive databases or unstructured word processing document. Regulatory Data can also be simple lists, numeric ranges and codes. For example, the list of names and codes for the country's municipalities, or the current base amount.
The advantage of these simple authority data is that usually they are not classified, not unstructured, not very expensive to produce, nor do they stand for any more revenue that would be threatened if they were released.
Nykvarns municipality was formed in 1999 but is still not in the form of the "National Atlas of Sweden"
In fact, many of them are already free. For example, publishes SCB current lists of counties and municipalities , with the codes, in both HTML, PDF and Excel format. But the purpose seems to be to facilitate the electronic recycling via APIs
There are thousands of forms on different websites where the user is expected to choose their local government from a list - a list that is typically filled with content by the developer once and for all when the form is created. Some years later, some municipalities have been merged or changed names or shared on it, and then form the list is no longer current. I know from personal experience that the need for this type of basic data occurs again and again and again. Last about a week ago, I had in my role as a consultant (an authority) a real need of just the current lists of municipalities and counties.
Other examples of simple authority data are all post towns and postcode, all currencies, names of agencies, degrees and professional certificate, area codes, base, consumer prices and of course the list of all countries and country codes. Did you know the country list that is built into Microsoft's development platform. NET has no Cuba, perhaps because the U.S. does not recognize the state?Perhaps it could be a task for the Institute of International Affairs to publish an API method for those wishing to list countries such as Sweden consider to be country ?

Persistent current information

If there was a machine-readable list (XML file or WebService method or the like) at an address that can be expected to be durable and with constantly updated information, it would be fairly easy to build online forms to keep them current. For performance reasons it would usually not be appropriate to retrieve the list each time the form must be presented, but by downloading the list automatically once a day or week or so would the quality be raised in its forms, and related databases.
It is, in itself, with no more effort, to automatically and regularly download the Excel or html file that SCB already publishes and through this bring about what I have outlined above. But for it to be appropriate with an automated clutch, you need to know that the format will not change, the address is permanent and so on. Ideally, the service is available from a trusted actor (preferably agency) over a secure communications protocol as well. And with wise designed version of the sturdy handle changes over time. It is not entirely trivial, but not rocket science. Statistics may not be able to squeeze this in the existing budget, but the Treasury would be a negligible cost compared to other investments of strategic importance to the country's infrastructure.
Can you influence your IT policy to provide any authority that mission? Or is there something better?
About Pär Lannerö 
Co-founder and consultant at Meta-Matrix Ltd , which since its inception in 1999 worked a lot with metadata on the web (or in "the Matrix", as the interconnected global computer networks are sometimes called before a certain movie la seized on the phrase) to achieve greater efficiency and greater transparency.

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