News and Comment

Open data, big data, rich data?

Thursday 25 July 2013


DbyD recently signed up as members of the Open Data Institute a not-for profit set up by Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt  to catalyse an open data culture and attended their inaugural members networking event last night. The Institute aims to create the conditions for experts to collaborate, ideas to germinate and tools to develop that allow open data to be used basically for good. The event was a great mix of tech start-ups, university spinouts, innovation firms, public interest companies, and us, described by one networker as doing ‘people stuff’!

And that’s a bit of a truism, because Dialogue by Design has always been about helping people to make informed decisions, either by getting them in a room together and facilitating discussion, or by asking the right questions of the public and collating tens of thousands of answers.  And when we talk about ‘data’ and ‘openness’ we’re referring back to a long tradition of encouraging the people we work with to be ‘transparent’ about their ‘dialogue’ with stakeholders. What’s exciting about the open data agenda is how it’s refreshing the debate about transparency with new tools, new discourses, and a new excitement that’s spilling out into the policy world that defines much of our work (see our blog post on open policy here).

One question that occurred to us yesterday while talking to developers of open data applications was how to apply the techniques for big quantitative data to the type of rich qualitative data that we commonly work with. Take the example of the excellent ‘Prescribing Analytics’ site launched by ODI members Mastodon C in collaboration with NHS doctors. It shows the proportions of proprietary vs generic statin prescriptions issued across the UK. This data is hugely relevant to an over-stretched NHS which could potentially save millions by switching to the cheaper, but often equally effective, generic types. Now compare this data with the kind of insights produced by our group partner OPM in work with the Royal College of Nursing’s Frontline First project, where they worked with frontline nursing staff to co-produce rich data about the economic value of their clinical practice. (You can read more about this approach in our report Valuing Public Services

So both projects had a similar aim, to highlight potential cost savings in the NHS, but the approaches were completely different and the data produced worlds apart. The exciting question for us is how we combine the kind of rich data our qualitative work produces with the smart tools that open data developers are putting to such good use. Answers on a postcard…

Lucy Farrow is a Project Manager at Dialogue by Design, OPM’s sister company and part of the OPM Group.