Some 14 weeks ago, having heard that Aberdeen City Council were cancelling their Open Data programme, I set out to uncover what the position was – and if possible to change their minds on this.
Since then, regarding the first FOI request I made, I lodged an appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner on 4th November (ref 201701934).
In the case of the second FOI request, I still await the release of the two documents which were identified on 11th September but for which legal permission was to be sought. I sent a chase up on 21 Oct and asked for an internal review on 21st November 2017.
Meantime, I raised two other requests for information connected with the Open Data programme. These concerned the council’s Open Data Working Group and its parent Information Governance Group. The first request of these, for a group that consists of officer-level officials, produced a number of documents but nothing which can shed light on what is going on with regards to open data. The second was for a group which normally is chaired by the Head of Service and consists of Service Managers (3rd tier) and team leaders. Curiously this produced a number of agendas, and what I take to be a number of action notes, although three of these were also confusing labelled agendas. But there were no report or other written material. My experience of attending these meetings in the past is that there would be reports for the bigger agenda items. A request for clarification didn’t add anything else.
Finally, I raised another FOI request for clarification of a document released in relation to an earlier application. This proved to be fruitless – other than to now show that they have an ‘internal consultant’ – whatever that is, on the case. I have asked for an internal review of the handling of this request too since a complete action has been redacted – which I can’t see how it could be possible.
Meantime, while working on another piece of work, I was reminded of Aberdeen’s Local Outcome Improvement Plan 2016-2026, or LOIP, which all local authorities are statutorily obliged to produce. It makes it clear that the Council’s Digital Place programme (now abandoned as far as I can gather) is at the heart of the LOIP.
At page 48 you will see this:
“Aberdeen will develop as a city which is known for excellence in digital innovation. This will build on existing skills and capacities, and will involve all actors in the city. This programme will have an ambitious span: from designing the urban environment to developing solutions to address the challenges of tele-medicine for an aging population, from involving citizens in the co-design of digital services based on open data, to harnessing opportunities presented by Internet of Everything (IoE), to creating living labs which test solutions to complex interconnected issues over longer timespans.”
So, there is clearly a commitment to Open Data there – in a statutory document.
You will also see that the lead partner, in addition to ACC is ODI Aberdeen. Ironic then, that since I left ACC they have not spoken to ODI Aberdeen once, and refuse to come clean about what they are doing with Open Data. Furthermore, they are going to deliver a “ state of the art dashboard to provide community with information on assets, alerts, groups and networks” by December 2017. With 7 days left (or 38 if you are being generous) they better be quick!
Of course, the council is merely the lead partner in the planning process which delivers the LOIP. These other local and national partners have signed off on it:
I wonder what each of them make of the council’s utterly baffling stance on open data, and the apparent void where the digital programme should be?
And what will the Scottish Government make of the apparent abandonment of the commitment to data, made in the LOIP. For that matter, what do elected members who approved the document make of it?
Bang up to date
Since I drafted this piece, and before I could publish it, I was contacted by Cllr. Douglas Lumsden, Convener of the Council’s Finance, Policy and Resources Committee who would naturally oversee anything digital. Councillor Lumsden has been extremely helpful in trying to get officers to provide answers to my queries.
He emailed Richard Lundie-Sadd(RLS), their Interim Director Business Transformation and asked for answers to my questions. I responded to both of them. Rather than repeat the whole long email here, the gist of it was:
- What the city does with open data is a barometer of their approach to Aberdeen as a Smart City, and currently it is failing.
- Open data isn’t a project or programme but an investment in the Socio Economic future of the region, and not committing to it is damaging
- There needs to more engagement, and collaboration locally and nationally – not a creeping isolationism, which is how staff portray the council’s stance on digital
- The few staff who understand and have the ability in this area are not being used wisely.
I posed the following questions to RLS:
* What is happening with the Open Data programme within ACC, and as part of the Scottish Cities Alliance programme?
* Is the programme going ahead or not? And if so, what are the timescales for the 4 work streams?
* If not, what has changed from the original business approved case that makes it now invalid?
* Who is leading on the council’s participation in the SCA 8th City Programme – and by inference the city’s Smart City programme? Where is the strategy / plan? I would rather do this without FOI if we can.
As I sent the email, RLS sent his reply to the councillor:
“I will provide you with update position and next steps on the Open Data projects by 21st December.
For information Open Data is a key component of the digital transformation and I will clarify the approach in the update position.”
[Incidentally I had contacted RLS via a Linked In direct message on 25th Sept, asking where the SMart Cities programme was, to which he promised an update in October. When none came, I followed up on 6th November, asking where the update was, but no response ever came.]
Back to the email chain. I replied:
“Why 21st December? Why not in the next 2 or 3 days? I’ve been waiting since 12th August to get this information – and nothing has happened with OD since I left in mid June as far as I can tell.
I now hear that the other cities (despite having working beta portals) have held off launching theirs until Feb 2018 in the hope that ACC see sense and get back on the programme, otherwise they would have launched by now. “
Would that bear fruit? No, of course not. He replied:
“We are currently developing our SMART city and Digital strategies, both of which will inform our approach to Open Data. Before responding I need to make I have all the right information to provide an informed response. Our timing for the information I require in order to respond to you is 21st December.
“As stated previously Open data is a key component of our digital and SMART city strategies.”
Keeping my cool, I responded with this:
What are the opportunities for the wider digital community to feed into those strategies since they are city ones, not council?
I take it that they are not being done by the council and inflicted on the wider city?
Given that you say you can advise by 21st December, then the engagement on their development must have started, no? Otherwise it will be a very short one.
ODI Aberdeen has had no invitation yet to feed into the Smart City nor Digital Strategies. Given ODI’s role in Open Data internationally, and the fact that we were named as a key partner in the LOIP, I’d have expected an early engagement.
I’ve messaged other key players and they have not been offered engagement either. Who has?
Also, has the Digital Place board been reinvigorated for this?
When can we expect the drafts? What is the process for us to feed into their development?
Yours in anticipation.”
That was yesterday – and so far silence – but things move slowly don’t they. If it takes more than 14 weeks to get a clear response to what review of Open Data is taking place, I guess an email like that will take a while.