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Crime mapping and why I will never again go for a big bang launch

By February 1, 2011 No Comments

Clearly I will be a mass of opinions about the crimemapping data once I can actually get on the site (presently showing no policing in my area but I know this is not true!) but my initial reaction is why oh why did they not launch this more quietly as a beta where we would have all helped them figure out some of the inevitable teething troubles? I know a few folks at the Home Office and I know that their intentions here are really good but what we are seeing is a real clash between the embedded culture and how ‘digitally native’ projects really ought to run.  Is this just entrenched work practices or unrealistic deadlines that meant this was the only way to work?

I’ve been obsessing a bit about this over on curiouscatherine in terms of the need to start thinking about more agile ways of delivering policy – I was part of a session on this at UKGovCamp and you can read the write-up here. A beta release may not have solved all of these load issues (though I would be interested to know what stress testing they did) but it would have meant that there would have been a lot less frustration around the launch and the focus would not have been taken away from the content.

However, this will – I am sure – all sort itself out and we can talk about What It All Means… and embrace the fact that we really can’t start to understand the impacts until we have lived with it for a while. I think we also have to accept that this is the first step in something much larger – and that the next step will need to be shaped by the communities and individuals that we hope will use this data. Those of us who think about open data are very demanding – we want more, wider, deeper data – and that is absolutely right. However we have to get over the idea that this is all being squirreled away and hidden by the State – in some cases it’s not, but in other circumstances we just need to articulate a response that the data holders can actually respond to and that communities will find useful. I think this really means more conversation around the data – and that is what we are suggesting to the Virtual Police research team – we need to take the data as a starting point for a conversation with communities and allow that to shape where we need to dig deeper.

My first thought is that we really need a tool that will allow us to better define ‘an area’ or even ‘a beat’ so that we can query against that rather than post code of mapped name. In fact – I will pitch this at CityCamp Brighton and see if we can get someone to build it. My second thought is that I really want to be able to comment on and correct the data when I see a problem rather than just moan about it. And my last thought is that just making it easier to get at the raw data is something that should have been done in parallel to this – open isn’t just about the data its about the process as well.

However – the big question is what next and I will be watching with a lot of interest.

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