Open Data tools for Open Data days

19 August 2013 - Kev Kirkland

I was reminded why we started the Data Unity project a couple of weeks ago at the first DataKindUK DataDive (thanks to Duncan, Jake and the team at DataKind plus Mozilla for making the weekend happen).

We started work on Saturday morning, looking at food price data for Oxfam. We were looking for possible causes for the wide fluctuations seen in food prices. I was working with someone from a major UK retailer who had also volunteered his time. Using a proprietary dashboarding product he was getting results within minutes, producing insights far quicker than us guys doing R/Python scripting by hand (if only Data Unity were ready at this point so I could keep up…).

By the end of the weekend the guy had put together a nice dashboard with the tools he used in his day to day job. The problem came when the Oxfam representative asked if they could take the dashboard back to the rest of the organisation. No dice. The data was locked away in the proprietary software and the dashboard could only be accessed by purchasing the software which came with a $4k license fee (per person per year). All the great work that the guy had done wasn’t taken forward by Oxfam because it was stuck in a closed system.

I very much want to see Data Unity used on Open Data days to address this problem. We can generate results much faster using simple data editors rather than scripting by hand. Because Data Unity is Open Source we can give the dashboards to the charities at the end of the day then they can keep digging into the data long after the Open Data day has ended.

It’s a little much to expect the first version of Data Unity to cover all the features of a $4k tool, but we’re well on the way to covering the same features. I’ve spent over a decade developing similar tools in the private sector, but it’s great that Nominet Trust has funded the project to bring the same level of functionality to not-for-profit organisations. I can’t wait to road test the tools with other data analysts at a data day later in the year (after we launch).

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