UKOLN’s DevCSI (Developer Community Supporting Innovation) has recently announced that it will be running a workshop on “Open Data and the Institutional Web” which will take place at the University of Reading on 25-26 July.

This free workshop, which will address ways in which institutional data can be surfaced, used and reused, is aimed at developers, web developers, information specialists, data managers and policy makers who are interested in the provision of open data to support a variety of institutional activities. The event will provide an opportunity to engage in development work related to either institutional data sources of data sources of relevance to institutions.

The value of open access to institutional data has long been promoted by many developers who have explained how open data which is made available in open and structured formats and unencumbered by licence restrictions can help to stimulate innovation. The benefits of such approaches have been demonstrated recently in a variety of hack events which have exploited open data provided by government  departments, local authorities and related organisations.  However despite the advocacy we have seen from developers and others who have argued that those working in the public sector in particular should adopt more open and transparent working practices, there have been difficulties in embracing a more open approaches due to concerns regarding the quality of the data, fears that the data may be misinterpreted, legal concerns such as data protection legislation and the technical difficulties in opening up access to data.

However in its recent White Paper on Higher Education the Government announced that Universities would be expected to publish data related to its activities and various aspects of the student experiences.  In a section entitled “Well-informed students driving teaching excellencethe White Paper states (emphasis mine):

  • We will expect higher education institutions to provide a standard set of information about their courses, and we will make it easier for prospective students to find and compare this information.
  • We encourage higher education institutions to publish anonymised information for prospective and existing students about the teaching qualifications, fellowships and expertise of their teaching staff at all levels.
  • We are asking HEFCE to improve Unistats, so prospective students can make more useful comparisons between subjects at different institutions. From summer 2012, graduate salary information will be added onto Unistats.
  • We will ask the main organisations that hold student data to make detailed data available publicly, including on employment and earnings outcomes, so it can be analysed and presented in a variety of formats to meet the needs of students, parents and advisors.
  • We are asking UCAS and higher education institutions to make available, course by course, new data showing the type and subjects of actual qualifications held by previously successful applicants. This should help young people choose which subjects and qualifications to study at school.

The DevCSI workshop is therefore particularly timely in enabling participants to hear about initiatives which have been taken by the institutions which have taken a lead in providing open access to institutional data as well as providing an opportunity for managers and policy makers to engage with developers in order to understand what developers can do in as short period of time if presented with open data and, ideally, APIs (together with supplies of pizza!)

The DevCSI workshop will begin on the day before the start of IWMW 2011. This will allow those involved in institutional Web management activities who have a particular interest in open data to participate in the workshop.  The workshop will continue on the opening morning of the IWMW 2011 event, with DevCSI participants having the opportunity to continue their development activities whilst those who have signed up for IWMW 2011 can attend the opening two plenary talks at the event or, if the development work is going well,  stay on at the DevCSI session until lunchtime.

Note that since there are only 30 places available for the DevCSI workshop you should book your place soon.  Also note that, in light of this late announcement, we will be keeping bookings for the IWMW 2011 event open for another week, and we have decided to provide day tickets for those who are unable to attend the full 2-day event.