Publishing #opendata in Portable Document Format (PDF) files

Seriously don’t do it. Open data users don’t want it. Believe me I’ve asked:


I received a lot of responses. They kept me occupied for most of the weekend. The 1st and most graphic was from the founder of


Parsing (automatically analysing the contents) of a PDF file is challenging. Without the correct knowledge and tools, any data in a PDF file is rendered inert:


Several replies accused publishers of ignorance and obstruction:


I’ve barely scratched the surface of the responses I received. This blog post doesn’t do them justice. But it does start to highlight the issue with PDFs.

Please stop publishing them. Please start using other formats.

Need a hand? Email me.


Week notes – 2015 week 17

These week notes cover the period Monday 20 April to Sunday 26 April 2015

  1. Caught up with data scientist in Singapore who is working on Bank of England data visualisation competition
    1. Thinking about putting a plan together for similar government visualisation project
  2. Updated @new_blog_posts automation
  3. Worked on
    1. Mainly focused on Ministry of Justice (MOJ) as they have the highest number of requests
    2. Next week will look at
      1. Home Office
      2. Ministry of Defence
      3. Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS)
    3. received some good feedback
  4. Band A catchup with @AntonioAcunaR and @JemmaVenables (@BuckleyOllie and @kittyvonbertele were away)
    1. Main topics were succession planning for team members who plan to move on
    2. and focusing on quantifying user needs for everything we do
  5. Discussed dashboard with @danking82 and @1jh
  6. Looked at directors (executive and non-executive) declarations of directorships/trusteeships/etc and also financial investments over an arbitrary amount (£20,000 up to 2013-14)
  7. Had 1-2-1s with @lizetta and @sukiboora, focusing on
    2. transparency team “things we want to do” in the next Parliament
  8. Went to the departments of business, innovation and skills (BIS) show & tell of their digital skills pilot study with LinkedIn
  9. Met with transparency practitioners in the MOJ and discussed:
    1. dashboard for MOJ on + link to Excel spreadsheet – does this work?
    2. advice on anonymisation, even if its just “who to go to” (preferably free advice)
      1. much of MOJ’s data is personal, so this needs to be solid
    3. Sector Panels – need to make them more valuable to internal audience
      1. Having external people you can trust is useful – @JeniT was mentioned
  10. Met with DCMS transparency practitioner
    1. Discussed issues with duplicate or ambiguous publisher names
    2. Might speak about the value of #opendata at next museum forum
  11. Went to #cmgrLDN meet-up to learn about setting and measuring community metrics
  12. ‘Digital Yurt’ with @MGreenhalgh523, @PollyGannaway and @thomtownsend
    1. Brainstormed some things to present to @_OpenP >
  13. Learnt how to do lab based user research using as a test case
    1. used the Government Digital Service (GDS) user research studio
    2. valuable learning for Transparency Election briefing submission on next steps for
  14. Photography club with @JanetHughes and @annkempster from GDS >
  15. GDS ‘Griffins’ softball team battling practice

Tweeted this blog post at 17:56 on 25 April 2015

Making #LocalGov news easier to read

Before I joined the Government Digital Service, I hacked together some Local Government news feeds into RSS.  I did this under the guise of LocalGovBot.

I basically looked at each local authority’s website and catalogued some of their digital output.  You can view the work so far in this spread sheet.

After Housing Camp, I was inspired to see how I could present these in a readable format.  As I’d been banging on about automation, I decided to use If This Then That + an app that would work on desktop and mobile devices.

The collected feeds are shared via Google Reader (which will be switched off in July 2013).  Using If This Then That, I selected an existing recipe to push news items in Pocket.

Hit me up if you want to know more.

GDS + = sense?

Had an interesting conversation with a highly experienced and knowledgeable Government employee recently.

After flirting around several fascinating topics, we eventually discussed open data and its place in national and local Government.

From the sound of it, the current Government is going to bail on the whole “schmazel” of open data.

I hope that: –

a) I got the wrong end of the stick

b) The individual is just downtrodden by their experience with open data

c) They were just wrong.

My friend had an idea; if the Government Digital Service (GDS) is perceived to be doing good stuff, why not roll under GDS’s wing and give open data a potential shot in the arm?

I liked this idea.  Not because I’m (hopefully) about to start working for GDS, but I love open data and want it to grow, growing our economy in the process. has received some negative press recently: –

Four out of five people who visit the website leave it immediately without accessing links to data, says the parliamentary watchdog, and there are big gaps in information about adult social care and other parts of the public sector, so that people cannot use it to make informed choices.

Read the full article at

My own experience of contacting (as someone who is building the open data plan for the largest unitary authority in Europe) has been inconsistent.  Yes, they were launching an improved version of their website at the time, but 3 weeks to reply to an email?  That’s rather poor in my book.

So, what am I saying here?  Well, if its true that the Government will “go South” on open data, then I agree; pick and GDS up, and squeeze them together into one small powerful ball of hot, glowing power.

What do you think, please?