Reflections on Open Data Camp

November 6, 2017

Over the weekend of 21st – 22nd October, the UK Open Data Camp bandwagon rolled into town and ‘pitch’ed up at Queen’s University Belfast’s Computer Science Building.


Open Data Camp is run by a group of extremely enthusiastic volunteers from both the public and private sector in the UK. They were enticed to Belfast by the OpenDataNI team in the Department of Finance who formed the local organising team.

The Camp followed an ‘unconference’ format which is based around collaboration and peer-to-peer learning, giving everyone a chance to lead or just participate in a discussion on a topic related to open data.


There were over 100 attendees on both days, with a near perfect mix of 50% from NI with the other 50% coming from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and even further afield with an attendee from New York!

Permanent Secretary Hugh Widdis also attended the Open Data Camp and lent his support to the event.


The energy levels in the building were contagious as we were treated to a diverse range of discussions, debates and exchanges of information on all things ‘open data’.

The only problem was with 5 parallel sessions on Saturday and 4 on Sunday, it was hard to try and get to all the sessions that were of interest! The Open Data Camp website blogged throughout the weekend and many of the sessions are summarised there, along with brilliant cartoon representations which were captured in real-time by Drawnalism Ltd.


This is the image summary for the session on WiFi data.

And you can read more about it here .

Antje Otto, a communications manager from the Interfaces team in Department of Justice and a self- confessed open data novice, said the following:

Attending an Open Data Camp for the first time, I didn’t have specific expectations but hoped to find out what is happening, and how the Open Data community could be beneficial to the work of DoJ Interfaces team. What I found was a very enthusiastic community keen to improve access to open data and to share their own knowledge and experiences.

Some challenges will remain in making open data relevant and applicable to areas of evidence-based policy. From an Interface team perspective, the question I pitched was whether Open Data could support bringing divided communities together, and therefore our starting point to using open data is from a problem solving perspective.

Overall the weekend was an opportunity for learning, networking and researching opportunities for partnership working. The atmosphere was welcoming and supportive to the Open Data novice. All in all a weekend well spent, perhaps even addictive.”

The Drawnalism image of Antje’s session can be viewed below.

And you can read more about it here .

Stephen Barry who previously worked in the health sector attended and had this to say about the Camp…

“Open Data Camp allows the likes of myself who works in the public sector and who has ideas and possibly solutions to make things better openly talk about those ideas with like-minded folk from different sectors.

My talk was about how we develop better open registers the building blocks of open data. I talked about work being developed by the Government Digital Service in England and how that might help what we currently have in Northern Ireland using the open GP register as an example.

To my surprise and delight, I had folk directly involved with GDS and the NI GP register at my session! This led to a brilliant debate on how we could do better with me facilitating the session.

The outcome... new relationships formed, opportunities to explore better solutions and above all a keen desire to keep promoting how open data helps society daily. I would recommend everybody attends an unconference, hopefully like me you'll feel empowered, connected to a bigger community and come away having learned a few things.

How good would it be if we had unconferences as part of our work schedule...”

And you can read more about his GP registers session here .

Fantastic, amazing, extraordinary, super and historic were just some of the comments made by attendees following the event. We in the OpenDataNI team have to agree that Belfast was buzzing with open data conversations all weekend and ever since! Twitter was alight with tweets under the #ODCamp hashtag if you want to catch up on what you missed.

Stephen McGonagle, a statistician in the Department for the Economy, remarked that it was….

“A thought provoking event with open-minded people engaging in open conversations about opening up data, all with the aim to make life better for all of us!”

The Chief Executive of Enterprise Shared Services in the Department of Finance, Paul Wickens joined the Camp on Saturday afternoon and told us...

I was so pleased to see Belfast showing off our capabilities, knowledge and heritage to the Open Data community in the wonderful new Computer Science building at QUB.  I was honoured to participate in and observe the power of crowd sourcing ideas and experience to exploit the power of Open Data. Congratulations to Suzanne and the team for making us all proud!”

To sum up, Open Data Camp was a fantastic experience to showcase what is happening in Northern Ireland with open data and to learn from colleagues in both the public and private sector about their successes and experiences. 

We hope to encourage more of these events and more release and re-use of public sector data. You can follow OpenDataNI on Twitter @OpenDataNI .