19 Fresh Open Data Stories

Data is only relevant when it’s used. This is even more true for Open Data, “data that anyone can access, use and share“. Be inspired by these simple ideas and physical objects to make greater use of Open Data.

These 19 tales of open data in use range from the really useful, like Australia’s The National Public Toilet Map, to commercial business models like BrightScope, to crowd sourced, social projects like Leeds Art Crawl. They cover a gamut of categories too: art, government & politics, smart cities and more.

The Leeds Art Crawl Map
The Leeds Art Crawl Map

The stories come from all over the world, but you just have to click on my Open Data Stories Pinterest board to explore them.

In no particular order:
1. Bicycle Barometer
2. Park Shark App
3. The Great British Public Toilet Map
4. National Public Toilet Map
5. UK Minecraft Map
6. Open Oil
7. Open Data Burkina Faso
8. Open Charities
9. Open Corporates
10. Leeds Data Thing
11. Transport API
12. Carbon Culture
13. Spend Network
14. Mastadon C
15. City Blocs
16. Smart Procure
17. Leeds Art Crawl
18. Bright Scope
19. Sweep Around

What to do next:

Read Open Data Institute’s open data case studies.

Buy Brett Goldstein & Lauren Dyson’s Beyond Transparency.

Check out my open data training and presentation resources.

B2B Lead Generation: Why I get excited about data reconciliation

Cubo de cerillas - Cube of matches by  Jorge González
Cubo de cerillas – Cube of matches by Jorge González

B2B lead generation is all about connecting with the right people, at the right companies, at the right time and crucially maintaining the right sales funnel. So what does that have to do with data reconciliation?

Data reconciliation is just one tool data experts use to create valuable insight from a messy bunch of data. When you think of valuable B2B lead generation, what makes you really want to tear your hair out?

  • Misinformation?
  • Mistakes?
  • Mystery?

With data reconciliation, data experts attempt to minimise these frustrations by doing what any good researcher would do: cross-checking the facts. How does this work? Let’s look at some examples.

Targeting the right companies can really streamline your sales funnel,  but how do you make sure they’re right?  You probably want to filter and segment, maybe by number of employees, location, or SIC code. Before you do that, it’s really useful to pinpoint the company with a unique reference.

Why? If you can link “Fuzzy Logic Inc Limited” to it’s Companies House number, 08087004, you can pull in financials and a wealth of other information based on that number – the unique and authoritative reference.

A name like “Computer People” is messy because it could be a trading name: in this case, computerpeople.co.uk is actually “Ajilon (UK) Limited” (01458245) not the dormant “Computer People Limited” (01861259). On the other hand, the company name could be mis-spelt, or the company could no longer be trading. Reconciling to Companies House and other authoritative sources, means improving the quality and usefulness of your B2B lead generation list.

Where data reconciliation really gets exciting (and valuable!), is when it’s combined with data mining – a process to dig deeper into available data and pull out fresh insights. For example, it would be helpful to know that “Harrogate & District Travel Limited” (02327319) is one of six subsidiaries of “Transdev Blazefield Limited” (02605399) before you target them. With the data reconciled, this information can be automatically pulled into a single document, saving you time and yet more research.

Better insights can completely change your approach. What would your strategy be if you knew roughly how much Leeds City Council reportedly paid to “Mears Limited” (02519234) in January 2015? (Just over £4 million according to Council Spending on Leeds Data Mill, the highest amount to a limited company).

Data reconciliation is exciting because it paves the way for more advanced techniques; It leads to cleaner, more valuable information. Used correctly, data reconciliation can turn your messy list into a trustworthy, reliable B2B lead generation tool.

Information correct at time of publication but information can and does change, so why not hire me to provide you with up-to-date insights?

Is ‘Practical Data Analysis’ a practical choice for small business?

You’re a small business. You’ve heard that “Data is the raw material of the 21st Century”. You want a slice of that pie, but where can you turn for practical, down to earth guidance?

So you start on Amazon and you stumble across “Practical Data Analysis” by Hector Cuesta. The title alone is promising – Practical. Data. Analysis. Let’s break that down:

Practical – /ˈpraktɪk(ə)l/ adapted or designed for actual use; useful:

Data analysis – processing data into information that can be used to make decisions.

So you start to get that hopeful, excited feeling in your gut. Could this book be a step towards becoming analytics-driven? You want to be sure, so you check out the blurb:

“For small businesses, analyzing the information contained in their data using open source technology could be game-changing. All you need is some basic programming and mathematical skills to do just that.”

Basic programming? Basic mathematics? It’s looking even more promising! In fact, now, you only have one decision to make.

Is it worth it?

To answer that, let’s start with: who is the book is for?

“This book is for developers, small business users, and analysts who want to implement data analysis and visualization for their company in a practical way. You need no prior experience with data analysis or data processing; however, basic knowledge of programming, statistics, and linear algebra is assumed.”

Next, does it do what it says on the tin?

Well, here’s where it goes wrong. The book is clearly aimed at digitally literate people with some technical and mathematical skills, which you can pick up or dust off from CodeAcademy, Coursera, or your local Learn Direct for example. It insists you don’t need data analysis knowledge to get the most out of it. The author, Hector Cuesta, has the solid, trustworthy qualifications in the technical areas that make him a promising guide. Unfortunately, judging a book by it’s cover, this gets an F.

This book is unsuitable for most small businesses. It doesn’t cover topics that are relevant to a typical small business owner. It doesn’t cover the most important part of data analysis – how to get the pay off: “discovering useful information, suggesting conclusions, and supporting decision-making“. 

Don’t get me wrong, it covers a lot of interesting, technical topics. Using a cookbook approach, Hector touches on a number of great open source tools. Therein lies the problem. It’s a technical cook book that focuses on tools, pretending to be a book about practical data analysis for small business owners who are focused on their business thriving.

The bottom line is, you can get most of this information on the internet. It will also be more up-to-date as tools change regularly. You will not learn the secrets of data analysis because you will not learn how to turn data into relevant, contextual information that will give you the insight to support your goals.

So, why should you get this book?

Are you a an analyst or developer with data analysis skills looking for a reference book of open source tools? Then this is definitely for you. As long as you remember, tools change so rapidly, the information may well be out of date.

So, is ‘Practical Data Analysis‘ a practical choice for small business? That’s a “no” from me.

The Missing Guide to Leeds Business Rates Open Data

Help! by GotCredit (flickr)
Help! by GotCredit (flickr)

Leeds city council makes information about business rates freely available on the Leeds data mill. This is a forward thinking approach to reducing freedom of information requests. By publishing open data, the council saves money, gives the public much needed transparency, and provides a wealth of information to businesses investing in Leeds.

But what’s included and how can you create value with it? This is the missing guide to using the business rates open data.

Let’s see what’s included.

Since April 2014, Leeds city council has published spreadsheets, roughly every 2 months, to the business rates page.

What’s in

Every rateable premises in Leeds including: the address, what the premises is used for, who’s responsible for paying the rate, the rateable value and a selection of relevant discounts (relief) given. It also tells you if a property is empty (as far as the council knows).

What’s not

Any premises that are actually home addresses. So breathe easy. If you’ve registered your business premises at home, you won’t be on this list. However, mistakes do happen, so contact the business rates team to correct them.

How good is the information?

Pretty good! I looked through the latest file published on the 2nd of March 2015. I found a couple of problems with postcodes, which I emailed to the open data team. They’ll be fixed in the next release. That’s one great thing about the Leeds data mill, they listen and respond promptly to feedback.

When it comes to discounts however, treat them with a pinch of salt. Not everything is included and it would be hellishly complex if it were. There is enough information for most uses, but use the discounts as ball-park figures.

Another thing to note: the Retail Relief information mixes retail and other forms of relief. Retail relief is capped at £1,500.

Read on for an in-depth examination.


This is the organisation “entitled to possession”. In other words, the occupier, leaseholder or owner of the premises, depending on if it’s empty or not. Remember: Individuals are usually excluded from this open data publication to protect their privacy.

Billing Authority Reference

This is gold! This number is the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) billing authority reference number. It’s unique to each premises which makes it an authoritative reference number. Think of this as an iron clad way of making sure you aren’t mixing up premises. You can use this number to find out everything you wanted to know about the premises, using the VOA’s “find my property valuation”.

Liable From

The date the current ratepayer was charged from.

Rateable Value

The current value as rated by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA). It’s the maximum amount to pay but can be reduced by applying for one or more discounts.

Mandatory relief (%)

This is a discount that is always applied for certain types of organisations like registered charities, including colleges and public schools, at 80%. There’s a 50% rural relief available for businesses in rural areas with a low population. Find out more about: relief from business rates.

Discretionary relief (%)

The council can, at it’s discretion, use this rate to top up the mandatory relief, sometimes up to 100%. This is mostly approved for sports clubs, the arts, social enterprises, and not for profit organisations like hospices.

Small Business Rate Relief (%)

This is another form of relief for small businesses. The criteria is a little more complex, but in a nutshell: it’s for businesses occupying a single premises with a rateable value less than £12,000. (There is some leeway in 2014/15 for taking on an additional premises or occupying multiple premises within certain rateable values). Legislation was changed in 2010, temporarily, to raise the discount up to 100% from 50%. Quirkily, this temporary (vote winning?) raise has been been renewed every year. Find out more about: small business rate relief (Leeds city council) and small business rate relief (gov.uk).

Retail Relief

Retail relief is another form of mandatory relief for businesses occupying a retail premises, with a rateable value less than £50,000 (Eligibility criteria may apply). The relief is a fixed sum, rather than a discount (up to £1,000, £1,500 in 2015/16). Despite the name, other reliefs are included here, for example, enterprise zones like Aire Valley, but these are a tiny number over £1,500. Find out more about: relief from business rates and retail relief.


The address of the premises, this is good quality information! There are four lines of address available, handily named Address, Address 2, Address 3 and Address 4.


The postcode at the premises and also good quality information. There were a couple of oddities and incorrect postcodes putting the premises outside Leeds. These will be resolved in the next publication.

Empty Property

This flags up empty properties (as far as the council is aware): Yes means empty, V means empty and rate payer is unknown. Remember: There are additional temporary reliefs for long term empty retail premises, up to 50%.

Empty From

The date when the premises became empty (as far as the council is aware). This is not available in a small number of cases but is still a good way of working out roughly how long a property has been empty for.

Empty Exemption Flag

Certain properties, like listed buildings, have a permanent 100% exemption. This flags up why the property or premises is exempt. Another reason for exemption includes action by crown (i.e. compulsory purchases which are exempt until the purchase is complete). Land or car parks are exempt if they’re unused. Finally, premises with a low rateable value (under £2,600) are exempt. Where occupation is prohibited by law (usually derelict properties with asbestos contamination), these may appear as exempt, however derelict properties are removed from ratings list. Find out more about: empty property rates.

Property Description Code

The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) code groups premises by how they’re used. Unless it can’t.  Then it uses MX (miscellanous) for premises that don’t quite fit neatly into existing categories.

Property Description

The council provides additional information about the property, sometimes adding context, like describing the condition (derelict) or numbers (25 car parking spaces, for example).

Handy tip: I’ve made these definitions available to download as a spreadsheet.

What else?

A couple of things to take into account. If you add up all the reliefs, you’ll get more than 100%. This is a quirk due to legislative shenanigans that I won’t go into here. Also, reliefs are applied in a certain order: Mandatory first, then Small Business then Discretionary including Retail Relief.

What next?

Now you understand how the business rates were put together (the model), you can do something with it.

  • Find out the rate payer’s company number which opens up a wealth of corporate information. I reconciled nearly 75% of ratepayers to companies and got back their SIC codes – useful for grouping companies by what they do or investigating corporate networks.
  • Explore areas of Leeds by putting premises on a map, something like this map of empty commercial properties in Leeds South Bank I made earlier.
  • Work out the best place to put your next business venture, something Local Data offers as a commercial product.
  • Work out if your organisation isn’t claiming entitled reliefs or find other companies that aren’t.

What would you use this information for?

Get in touch to discuss creating value with business rates or other business information.

My usual disclaimer applies: Provided without charge or warranty. Please verify facts independently.