It’s summer and an enthusiastic hacker’s heart turns to thoughts of data. We’re all about visualisation, UI, colour schemes and creativity…

“Speak to me not of rules” we cry. “It’s hacking time!”

That is of course all true, but Open Data is lovely and we’d really like to keep it that way and there are a few pitfalls that can befall all users of data, no matter how high their intentions.

With that in mind, here are some guidelines (polite requests!) that all hackers, visualizers, data scientists and interested people might want to bear in mind – (loosely adapted, with many thanks, from the ODI’s 5 ways to be a better open data user).

1. Know what the data means

Sometimes an obvious bit of data doesn’t mean quite what it seems to say and sometimes the headings on a row might be completely incomprehensible. In most cases data in our datastore will have definitions attached to each column of data which will help explain what it means.

If it’s still not clear, it’s also worth having a chat with the people who provided the data. The Council will have some friendly faces around during a hackday, failing that, find one of our data curators or directors who’ll usually have a good idea what to do.

2. Know what you can do with it (and what you shouldn’t)

Open data from the government is usually published under a license called The Open Government licence. The short version is that this means you can use the data for whatever purpose you want as long as you say thank you to the person who provided it.

Most of the time it’s as easy as that.

Most of the time…

Sometimes there are restrictions placed on the data, usually for legal reasons. These restrictions may limit what you can do with it, for example some data may only be used for not-for-profit purposes.
In terms of how we work in Bath:Hacked, all of the data held in our datastore should have some information about licensing and you can find it in the ‘about’ section on each dataset. The two bits to look for are Licensing and attribution, who usually say who you need to say ‘thank you’ to and the additional license detail which contains the data itself.


But again, if it feels unclear, just have a chat and ask for advice.

3. Tell everyone about it

Bath:Hacked’s golden rule #3 is “Share Knowledge”. If you found getting to the bottom of a data problem tricky, then let us know about it, as the chances are that other people will find it difficult as well, maybe write us a blog post on the subject for posterity!

In short

  1. Check the metadata, does the data say what you think it says? If in doubt, ask.
  2. Is there anything you can’t use the data for? Have a check, if there is, don’t do it – and say thank you – even if there isn’t a specific attribution, it’s nice to be nice.
  3. Find out something weird about the data? Tell other people about it.

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