Leeds Data Mill becomes Data Mill North

Leeds City Councils much lauded open data platform has joined forces with the City of Bradford and the Leeds node of the ODI to become Data Mill North

The change is a conscious effort to echo and build on the idea ‘Northern powerhouse’ as Stephen Blackburn, the sites publisher, notes in an introductory blog post:

We hear a lot about the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and I think by and large it’s still to be defined what the phrase actually means. As far as I’m concerned digital is clearly a massive part of everything we do in future. Taking the progressive, forward looking approach to open data that we are, enables us to be right at the centre of promoting the skills, diversity and passion of the people here in the North – exciting times ahead!

The plan is to invite and encourage more data holders in the North to submit data and Blackburn is casting his net wide;  “I’m looking at the map which goes as far north as Scotland, south to the Midlands and stretches from Liverpool to Hull” says Blackburn.

The change of name also coincides with a more visible role for the Leeds ODI node which has made a big splash in northern open data circles in a short period of time with events and also support for new open data portals like Calder Valley’s Data Works. 

Opportunities for growth

A look at Owen Boswarva’s open data list shows a rich pot of councils similar to Bradford to go at and they could be low hanging fruit for a critical mass that would be needed to make a Northern data portal work. 

But there are also a number of existing efforts to combine data across authorities such as Data North Yorkshire and Data GM and, if we take a generous interpretation of Blackburn’s view of the North (north of 53 degrees with a bit of leeway), there are a number of existing open data portals to draw on/collaborate with too.

Existing Open Data Portals across the ‘North’ might offer an easy win for collaboration. 

The extent to which existing portals might present competition or opportunity is going to important for the development of Data Mill North.

The broader ambition and robust infrastructure of the Data Mill will no doubt be an attractive proposition for those looking to step beyond open data/transparency sections on their site.  But for those with existing data portals there is a chance to ‘federate’ data and take advantage of the community building and engagement experience that Leeds and the ODI have is not without challenges. Issues of interoperability might be minor (the dominance of CKAN as a platform means some level of consistency) but ensuring good data quality standards might make sharing an expensive and time consuming proposition regardless of existing platform interoperability   That said, for some,  economic realities might mean that the DataMill North offering is a chance to step back from the costs of running an open data portal all together.

Ultimately the success or otherwise of the broader ambition of Data Mill North will rest on issues similar to those facing the broader northern powerhouse project. It needs authorities across the region to be joined up, working together and connected in way that doesn’t happen at the moment.