Leeds Digital City: Real life problems with online solutions

Stephen Blackburn, senior information governance officer at Leeds City Council who  manages the Data Mill North project.  PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Stephen Blackburn, senior information governance officer at Leeds City Council who manages the Data Mill North project. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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Developers in Leeds are using a huge vault of gathered data to make life easier for city residents.

Data Mill North, which was established in 2014 as Leeds Data Mill, combines information from numerous organisations across the city and was a key factor in the Leeds Bins app, which gives recycling and collection day advice.

The new version of the project started when the organisation teamed up with Bradford Council and working on a string of new projects.

Coun James Lewis, Leeds City Council’s executive member for resources and strategy, said: “Leeds City Council is part of the UK’s Smart Cities network that aims to open up council datasets to third parties and entrepreneurs to find new ways of offering our services digitally at low, or no cost.

“We’re firmly behind Data Mill North and we’re happy to support digital innovations that help make our services even more accessible to residents, who are increasingly used to online transactions and want to be able to find what they need quickly and easily at times that suit them.”

The council has ambitions to go further and tap into the city’s growing digital sector to make more use of the collected data.

It set up what it calls “Urban Sustainable Development Labs”, which are used to use the data to create, for example, apps that make services easier to access. Working alongside Open Date Institute Leeds, based at Munro House in the city centre, the new projects include a service to give council house tenants rehousing timescales guidance and information on where might be the best place in Leeds to live using the pooled data.

The original Leeds Data Mill “open data” platform was created by the council in 2014 with the ambition of opening up data from a wide range of organisations across the city.

The concept was to have a one-stop-shop of Leeds data to enable citizens, developers and analysts to easily view, re-use and scrutinise city data.

Following the expansion and rebrand at Data Mill North, a spokesman for the organisation said: “For most people, council and political boundaries are irrelevant as we live, work and access services from a variety of places. Linking up across the region and the North of England therefore can only be good news for citizens, businesses and visitors alike.”

Discussions are now taking place with a number of local authorities both sides of the Pennines with new collaborators due to join the platform before Christmas.

At an industry awards ceremony at the held at the British Film Institute in London, Data Mill North won the ODI Open Data Publisher 2016 award.

The organisation faced opposition from the Department for Farming and Rural Affairs and ARGIS, the United Nations Agriculture Open Data Portal, but came out on top.

ODI Leeds started in November 2013, a year after The Open Data Institute was founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Sir Nigel Shadbolt.

You can find out more about information already published on Data Mill North and the products that have been created using open data on at, www.datamillnorth.org.

The team is on Twitter @DataMillNorth.

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