Case study - BBC / Open Data Institute

Open data consultancy, analysis, and strategic recommendations


Over the course of a few months this year I worked with the Open Data Institute in London, on a project for the BBC.

The Open Data Institute is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, limited by guarantee company, founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt. It convenes world-class experts from industry, government and academia to collaborate, incubate, nurture and explore new ideas, ultimately promoting innovation with open data.


One of the many pieces of art based on open data, scattered around the ODI offices

The BBC, as with many organisations, are increasingly interested in the concept of open data, especially since there is a growing belief that the BBC is funded by and serves the public, and so its data should also be ‘owned’ by the public. As such the organisation contracted the ODI in order to undertake an in-depth piece of consultancy around their potential to increase consumption and publication of open data.

My involvement

Due to the fact that a large amount of this project was to involve really understanding the workings of the BBC, and to explore the associated opportunities and limitations, my role was somewhat undefined at the start of the project. We didn’t know what to expect in term of the data sets available, the systems that we may have needed to look at, or the form of any prototypes that we could create to demonstrate our recommendations. At this point I joined the core ODI project team as a technical associate. I also attended the official Open Data in a Day course prior to the project kicking off, which I would recommend to anyone interested in learning more about open data.

In actual fact, once we started to investigate, we realised that the priority needed to be much higher-level, business and user-led consultancy rather than a technical-driven piece, and as such our focus shifted somewhat to be more strategic. This was a nice change for me, and continued the trend of how my work now seems to be split between either complex technical analysis, discovery and planning; or more high-level digital strategy and consultancy. I love the mix, and this was a fantastic project to be part of.

I was involved in the following project activities:

  • Background reading of existing data strategy documents, lists of BBC datasets and examples of how they are used. As part of this I was sent the original 1927 BBC Charter, which was fascinating, and had a look at the new Nitro API.
  • Stakeholder interviews with representatives of different areas of the BBC, as part of the core ODI team.
  • Workshop – bringing the interviewees together to consider the various ideas and options that had emerged. This involved a mixture of the ODI team (including myself) presenting information to the group, and the attendees partaking in activities.
  • Analysis of findings.
  • Joint ODI creation of a report to set out findings and recommendations.
  • Documentation of a set of tangible, real scenarios linked to known BBC user types (personas and task flows, if you will), that had come out out of the interviews and workshops, intended to show the current ways that they interact with the BBC, and how these could be improved through greater consumption and publication of open data. These were created instead of working prototypes, based on the investigation findings.
  • Presentation – preparation for and presentation to the BBC executive team.

Our final report was titled ‘Assessment of Open Data Opportunities for the BBC’ and covered The BBC’s current position, education around open data, benefits, challenges (including those specifically relating to the BBC), over-arching recommendations and strategy for the BBC, recommendations around consumption and publication.


Cover of the BBC/ODI report


The future

I learnt a huge amount through working on this project, both from the ODI and the BBC. Open data is something that I was aware of before, but being able to apply the theory to an organisation as huge, traditional and complex as the BBC was a fantastic opportunity. I’m going to be eagerly awaiting the feedback for the project, and really hope that some of the recommendations that we gave will be able to be rolled out, and hopefully included in the new Charter.

In addition, the guys at the ODI are all incredibly smart, and it was a real privilege to be able to work alongside them. The office is ‘open by default’ and there is a great feel to it, helped in part by the hot-desking mentality and the numerous ODI-associated startups that work out of the space. It’s really testament to the team that I kept trying to come in to spend time in the office with the team, when they were very happy for me to work remotely! As you also may have seen, I kind of fell in love with a lot of the things that are done there, right down to my blog post about how they use technology in cool ways.

The work around open data has given me a lot to think about regarding certain aspects of projects, and it’s something that I’m going to be exploring further in the future, including potentially putting together a conference talk on the subject. I also really hope to work with the ODI again if possible, as the whole experience was great.

Contact me

If you'd like any more information about what I did on this project, or would like to talk to me about doing something similar in the future, please get in touch.