The Environment Agency holds a huge amount of information. We gather information on areas at risk of flooding, the environmental impact of business, waste and where it ends up, the quality of water in streams, rivers and lakes, and the numbers of otters and salmon in England, to name but a few.
I’ve always believed that the Environment Agency is a powerhouse of knowledge. We use information to guide and inspire what we do, how we target our resources and how best to work with other organisations. We know others want and need to use our information to understand more about what we do, and help them in their decision making.
We are committed to ensuring our information is available. We do this by publishing as much of it as possible as Open Data – free of charge and restrictions using the Open Government Licence (OGL).
We have already published 101 datasets as Open Data, moved all our Open datasets to the Open Government Licence and since the Winter Floods 2014 have continued to provide permanent open access to live data, including flood warnings, flood alerts and river levels. As such, developers can now provide new products for the public and businesses to combine location, risk and live flood warnings.
We hold such a vast amount of data, it can be difficult to know exactly what would be useful to the public, other organisations or businesses. A vital part of our approach to opening up our data is to establish an advisory group of users of our data to help us. One of the first questions for the group will be their view on which datasets we should look to release next.
The group will be chaired and run independently of the Environment Agency, to give us a unique and different perspective on our data and help us understand how it may be useful to others. The group will have a direct influence on what we do in the future around data publishing. We are keen that the group helps us become more customer focused when we are planning and commissioning data.
We asked Tom Smith, who was formerly on the Government Transparency Board’s Open Data User Group (ODUG), to chair the group, drawing on his extensive experience of working with Open Data and public bodies. We were delighted to receive more than 40 expressions from those interested to be on the group, which Tom reviewed and has now appointed 12 members. This gives the group a wide range of representatives, including current data resellers, academics, our partners and Open Data advocates.
The group has its first meeting on 18 November in London, which I will attend. They will be taking away a list of datasets to begin the first round of prioritisation. We hope to set up a webpage to share comments from the group, to allow others with an interest to add their thoughts and input into what we do in the future.
This is an exciting opportunity for our customers to have a real influence on the data we publish. I would encourage everyone, whether on the group or not, to keep up to date with the progress and we would value all comments and suggestions via our website, twitter feed @dataenvagency, or through firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Open Data Institute is supporting the group and I would like to thank them for this. We are also working with them to ensure anyone can understand and access our Open Data releases. This complements our work with the Government Digital Service and others to explore real-time and near real time data provision, efficiencies, and increasing the rate of Open Data release.
We realise that it will take some time to realise our Open Data ambitions, but we are fully committed to Open Data. Over the coming weeks, months and years, we will be developing our licensing approach to ensure a simple transition towards Open Data.
I look forward to working with the Data Advisory Group and will blog further updates in the future.
Executive Director of Evidence
Note: The full list of members of the group is:
Tom Smith (Chair) OCSI
Piers Allison Pang Valley Flood Forum
Dr Louise Slater Queen Mary University
Rod Plummer Shoothill
Simon Womersley Yorkshire Water
Robert Langford Salford Council
David Johnson Rivers Trust
Mike Ockenden COPSO
Simon Waller JBA Risk Management
Mark Fermor ESI International
Liz Scott Emapsite
Jason Sawle ESRI
Owen Boswarva Independent User
You can find out more about the importance of evidence and information at the Environment Agency from our pages on the GOV.uk website.