Open Data Can Work for Councils Too!

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openlylocalAs a lot of you probably know, I’m a big fan of open data, as well as driving innovation and making it easier to share information, it’s also a lot of fun.

Now, councils are pretty slow in picking this stuff up, for all sorts of reasons (lack of knowledge / interest, lack of technical skills, as well as a lack of direction from anywhere higher up), so most platforms that require local government data are built on ‘screen scraping’ websites for data - it’s a long and laborious technique that you have to repeat for (almost) every single website.

Openly Local is one site which does that - a gargantuan effort of just one man, which takes councillor and council meeting data from a number of different council websites and puts it all together. Not only does it put the information in a web-based format for us humans to read, it also publishes it in a machine readable format, so anyone who wants to reuse the data can do so much more quickly than screen scraping.

So imagine my joy when it was announced that Staffordshire County Council (the county area that covers Lichfield District Council, the council I work for) were the latest addition to OpenlyLocal - I’ve been looking for a way of putting county councillor’s details on our website, but was reluctant to just copy and paste, as phone numbers, addresses etc can change.

This is the result, after just a few hours work of parsing the XML that comes out of OpenlyLocal, I’ve got all our county councillor’s details on the Lichfield District Council website, together with a link to the county website for more detailed information.

It doens’t end there either, as well as councillor details, OpenlyLocal also publishes iCal feeds, which people can use to subscribe to meetings on their own desktop calendars (although support is a bit janky in Outlook (suprisingly)) - and there’s nothing to stop you publishing these links on your own websites, meaning anyone who wants to keep up to date with where and when council meetings are taking place can do so quite easily!

Cool n’est-ce pas?