Yesterday I was in Prague for the Big Clean conference, a day with the express purpose of cleaning up government data so it can be better used, e.g. for data driven journalism. This way the ‘life cycle’ of data is extended beyond its original use for a public task.

The Big Clean: not a commercial for soap, but a conference on open government data

I had been asked to provide the opening key-note presentation. As my knowledge of scraping data, refining it and turning it into journalistic products is limited, and a large number of people with precisely those skills was present to give hands-on workshops as well as present their projects, I decided to position my presentation in a bit wider context.

Titled “Cleaning up data as well as the relationship with our government” I outlined the following ideas:

  • Scraping, coding, refining data are much needed skills, but doing that we must not forget to include the data-holders in our work. They are part of the picture.
  • Government institutions are in transition and those with the skills need to help make that happen
  • By building collaborative e-government services: services that increase in value when more people use them
  • By showing that open data is of huge value to the functioning of government itself, as a policy instrument
  • While it may be hard to change institutions, it is much easier to connect to change agents inside them: that is the starting point
  • In two places this may be most effective: locally where there is a wide variety of data and likely a lower level of skills inside government bodies, and around large data sets, that take a higher level of understanding and analysis to be used in new valuable ways
  • By building this ecosystem we can turn government into a platform: open to all comers, including newly emerging stakeholders, transparent about our own agendas, two-way interaction (also by adding citizen generated data), and creating conditions in which the ecosystem can evolve and grow
  • From the top down there is a strong wind blowing in the same direction: the European Open Data Strategy and the legal frameworks already in place are supportive of these developments
  • Making yourself visible, sharing your stories, will foster stronger networks and will help to create more impact
  • Be an Optimistic Radical, optimistic in your work with civil servants, and radical in applying your skills to where it counts


It was a good day, and great to connect to the open data community in the Czech Republic in person. After the conference a large group went for drinks and food, at a nearby Czech pub, which provided more great conversations and fun.

Thank you to the organizing team of the National Technical Library for a fun conference.