Most of our time in the Digital Services Division is devoted to digitally redesigning justice services. But another one of the commitments in our strategy was “to make full use of digital to become more transparent, make data more accessible and improve performance, accountability and services.”
Open data is very important for the DSD as well as the Ministry of Justice as a whole. Generally, MOJ does quite well at transparency: we release all of our statistics as CSV files – which would give them 3-stars on the Berners-Lee open data scale – and we run a site called Open Justice, which aims to help the public understand facts and data on the criminal justice system, with infographics, interactive charts and explanations.
But there’s a lot more that we can do. For example, we found that hundreds of the MOJ links on data.gov.uk are broken (partly as a result of the migration to GOV.UK – we’re currently fixing these). Often we release statistics, but not the more granular data behind them. We don’t maintain a core reference dataset, which the recent Shakespeare Review of government information highlighted as a key recommendation to departments.
Just as in service design, we are particularly interested in the user needs. We’ve started to try to find out what people need from justice data or information, so that we can prioritize releasing these items, in a usable format. An excellent ally in this is Simon Whitehouse, who is crowdsourcing a crime and justice open data wish list (you'll be able to find it on GitHub soon, until then you can comment on this post).
We’re having conversations online and offline with developers, journalists, lawyers, activists and many more, including Francis Davey, John Sheridan and Judith Townend. We’re also looking at the analytics across our sites, to see how people interact with the information and data we already publish, what’s popular and what people are searching for.
Learning the lessons of agile, we will take an iterative approach. Our technical architect Max Froumentin has made a good start by making our newly redesigned court finder tool serve 5-star linked data, a first move towards creating a core reference dataset for MOJ and providing services that fulfil the promise of the government's open data strategy. We hope to go much further soon.