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Open data bridging hard-to-reach gap

Open data is an internet thing. It’s all about building more and better apps to deliver digital public services. So what use is open data for people who aren’t online?

More than you might think. Eight million people in the UK have never been online and there are many more irregular users don’t have a computer or internet connection at home. Some people use the internet by proxy, relying on friends, family and professionals to provide printouts of useful information and even to make online transactions like shopping and banking on their behalf.

Open data makes it possible for anyone with the right resources to build apps to deliver public services and information. This makes great diversity possible. Developers can target niche user groups rather than the mainstream. So how about trying to reach people where they are as well as encouraging and enabling people to get online?

Printed paper is accessible to many people that aren’t able to get online and there are countless opportunities to beyond just printing standard web pages.

The Newspaper Club’s Postcode Paper prototype collated facts and figures and useful information about local services into a publication customised for a specific postcode. This could be useful for new residents moving into an area. Rather than going online and collating information from various sources, they’d receive an up-to-date paper with everything they need to know. It could all be generated automatically by software using open data sources.

Digital public noticeboards are accessible to many people and can be updated in real time from live data. As with the Postcode Paper, these work best when the information is targeted at the specific area where the board is sited. Printed paper can be used on standard noticeboards too. I built a prototype with local council news, jobs, consultations and planning applications for my neighbourhood.

Think about how you can use open data to increase social inclusion. What kind of information might people that can’t get online need and how might they want to access it? Westminster City Council, Go ON UK and the Government Digital Service are running a hack day 16th June to build apps for homeless people. That isn’t a typical audience for a website but they’ll be showing how open data and good design can reach even some of the most excluded people in society. With open data and keen local developers you could do that for your council too.

Adrian Short, data analyst, adrian@adrianshort.co.uk

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