Geeks show government a better way

The best websites to share public information aren’t created by the government, a leading civil servant has admitted.

web fix

Web-savvy geeks are showing the government a better way to share public information online - but some people just want to be shown a better loo.

Last year, the Cabinet Office ran a competition, asking people to mash up public data into something useful. Dubbed "Show us a better way," the competition asked people to "suggest the sorts of websites which would be useful for them," said Alexis Cleveland, director general of transformational government at the Cabinet Office, speaking at the Government Computing Live conference in London today.

Among the many suggestions was "Loo Finder" a site accessible by mobile devices to let people find a toilet when they really, really need one.

But not all the suggestions were so physical. Many people requested a better way to access information about schools. Cleveland said her team asked the Department for Children, Schools and Families to put the necessary catchment data into the public domain which they did.

"Geeks working away in the background, even before the competition was finished, completed School Maps'," explained Cleveland. That mashup lets people put their address in and find schools as well as performance data.

Cleveland noted that the site was "better than the DCSF" could do, and it "cost the government nothing to create." It was one of the sites that won funding in last year's competition.

Cleveland said such achievements show that well-meaning citizens should be given access to data, as they're much better at sharing it than the government.

For example, Cleveland noted that anyone wanting information about their MP would struggle to find anything useful on the official Parliament website, with much data held behind a subscription wall.

But the privately made site They Work For You holds a wealth of information about MPs, and it's all free and easy to use. So easy in fact, it's how members of the Cabinet Office have been keeping up with the many recent ministerial changes.

"If you're sitting in the Cabinet Office... you don't go to the Parliament site, you go to They Work For You," Cleveland admitted.

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