The 21st century has seen open data and organisational transparency become more prevalent than ever before with sharing data essential to many service transformations. But, that hasn’t meant that all data is openly shared, readily available or accessible.
In the UK, road data is historically not easily accessible or discoverable, and there’s not a unified platform built for organisations to know what data is available. Recognising this, the Department for Transport (DfT) wanted to bring data providers together to solve road users’ problems through a National Access Point (NAP).
A platform like this could mean a big improvement to transport-related problems, changing the way we deliver services like route finding, logistics planning and even EV infrastructure planning. Working with DfT, we’ve explored two opportunity areas that make a compelling steering point for a NAP, the success of which will require an open data platform and an invested community.
Current data users, data professionals, local authorities and citizens trying to solve road-based challenges don’t have access to the data they need. A NAP can play an important role in making types of specific data more accessible, through app-based intermediaries it can help solve problems like finding alternative routes on bank holiday weekends, avoiding road closures and saving ourselves hours waiting in traffic.
The broad approach that most data platforms use focuses on volume over quality. We’re looking at how we can narrow that down into specific challenges by focusing on real-time road data for issues such as journey planning or improving electric vehicle infrastructure. Often road usage data is not accurate enough, or to a specific standard that can help solve these problems.
Existing platforms like data.gov.uk are great foundations as they have the scope of all government open data, but don’t yet have the depth of metadata needed for solving complex challenges. Access to data standards, data ownership and local issues all need to be considered to make this data more discoverable and shareable between organisations who could benefit from this insight and the communities and places around them.
Communities in this area have significant power to shape data to their needs. We’ve identified specific ways to harness this power by creating collaboration between organisations, a focus on fostering those relationships and continuous feedback from data users and providers.
There’s currently very little incentive for data providers, from logistics companies, commercial transport, road data experts and road industry consultants to share their data. Barriers such as ownership, privacy and financial resources are blockers to collaboration.
We plan to bring these groups together to solve specific challenges such as local authorities identifying what infrastructure they need to build, or fixing transport problems like strained bus services in local areas.
There’s little communication between data providers and users, and the communication that does exist is often in hidden channels. Those who could have a stake in solving challenges are excluded and where there’s a disconnect, there’s no community of interest.
By fostering relationships between these groups, we can help build, maintain and strengthen relationships while supporting innovation to explore how we build data-sharing practices and increase the value of the data that is being shared.
It’s hard to get feedback to better understand what data is useful. We know that gaining feedback is crucial to building continuous improvement. By providing an avenue to learn from each other about where the valuable data is, we can empower data consumers to highlight what information they require to solve their needs, making it more valuable.
Feedback can also be used to improve the NAP platform itself by exploring whether there are any gaps in the feedback loops and how these can be filled by other tools.
Working collaboratively with the Department for Transport, we created the first iteration of a NAP for road data that begins laying the foundations for a community around a specific challenge area in the road data space.
We know it’s not just enough to make a better data store, the success of the project lies in creating communities around specific challenges. By breaking down silos between industries, fostering relationships and generating feedback, we can build a community focused on the sustainability of open and easily accessible data.