Skip to main content

Data Governance and Open Data

Many people in the University support the idea of making resources open for anyone to use, and some trailblazers have set up the Open Knowledge Network to help support this notion.  One aspect of this is open data and with the Edinburgh Cityscope project developing nicely, it would be timely to put support for open data on a firmer basis.  In this post, I consider some implications and prerequisites for publishing University data.

Suppose someone wanted to make some data available as open data.  What would they need to consider?

Well, first of all, who owns the data, and who is responsible for it?  If it is the University’s data, whose permission do they need?  To answer this, we have agreed policy to assign data stewards to the University’s main enterprise data sets.  These data stewards will be responsible for making data available to people who need it, and ensuring that restricted data (such as personal information) is protected.  So they will be the people to give or deny permission.

A follow-up question is, what is the University’s policy towards making data open?  As far as I'm aware, there is no official policy specifically about open data.  The University does have a policy that empowers people to make educational resources (such as lecture notes) open, and it would seem sensible to clarify whether there is a similar institutional desire for publishing data.  So a group of us are writing a draft policy to take to the official policy-making committees of the University.

The next question is whether the particular data in question is allowed to be published.  While the University might encourage the idea of open data, there is plenty of data that we should not publish.  This includes personal information, certain financial information, data provided in confidence, and so on.  To help the data stewards, and University staff in general, we are proposing a simple scheme for classifying the confidentiality of any information into one of three categories.  Only data in the first category – unrestricted – may be made open.

The Data Governance Group will give data stewards advice and guidance as to which data should be classified into which category.  Enterprise Architecture will add this to our nascent data dictionary, so we have a central, shared record.

Then there are practicalities to consider.  Which open licence should be used (e.g. Creative Commons)?  Is the data sufficiently well documented? What processes are in place to handle queries, and to publish corrections?  Will the data be kept up to date?  For all these concerns (and more besides), we need to provide guidance to help people make consistent decisions.

Open data has been an ambition of the University for several years.  Now it is looking likely we can put this ambition into practice.


Popular posts from this blog

Presentation: Putting IT all together

This is a presentation I gave to an audience of University staff: 

In this seminar, I invite you to consider what the University’s online services would be like, if we worked together to design them from the perspective of the student or member of staff who will use them, instead of designing them around the organisational units that provide them. I’ll start with how the services might appear to that student or member of staff, then work back from there to show what this implies for how we work, how we manage our data, and how we integrate our IT systems. It might even lead to changes in our organisational structure.

Our online services make a vital and valued contribution to the work of our students and staff. I argue that with better integration, more consistent user interfaces, and shared data, this contribution could be significantly enhanced.

This practice is called “Enterprise Architecture”. I’ll describe how it consults multiple organisational units and defines a framework …

Not so simple...

A common approach to explaining the benefits of Enterprise Architecture is to draw two diagrams: one that shows a complicated mess of interconnections, and one that shows a nicely layered set of blocks. Something like this one, which came from some consultants:

I've never felt entirely happy with this approach.  Yes, we do want to remove as much of the needless complexity and ad-hoc design that litters the existing architecture.  Yes, we do want to simplify the architecture and make it more consistent and intelligible.  But the simplicity of the block diagram shown here is unobtainable in the vast majority of real enterprises.  We have a mixture of in-house development and different third-party systems, some hosted in-house, some on cloud infrastructure and some accessed as software-as-a-service.  For all the talk of standards, vendors use different authentication systems, different integration systems, and different user interfaces.

So the simple block diagram is, basically, a l…

2016 has been a good year

So much has happened over the last year with our Enterprise Architecture practice that it's hard to write a succinct summary.  For my day-to-day experience as enterprise architect, the biggest change is that I now have a team to work with.  This time last year, I was in the middle of a 12-month secondment to create the EA practice, working mainly on my own.  Now my post has been made permanent and I have recruited two members of staff to help meet the University's architectural needs.

I have spent a lot of the year meeting people, listening to their concerns and explaining how architecture can help them.  This communication remains vital, the absolute core of what we do and we will continue to meet people in this way.  We also talk to people in other Universities in order to learn from what they are doing and to share our own experience back.  A highlight in this regard was my trip to the USA last January.

Our biggest deliverable for the past year was the design of the data wa…