Explaining Linked Data to Your Pro Vice Chancellor

At the JISCEXPO Programme meeting today I led a session on ‘Explaining linked data to your Pro Vice Chancellor’, and this post is a summary of that session. The attendees were: myself (Adrian Stevenson), Rob Hawton, Alex Dutton, and Zeth, with later contributions from Chris Gutteridge.

It seemed clear to us that this is really about focussing on institutional administrative data, as it’s probably harder to sell the idea of providing research data in linked data form to the Pro VC. Linked data probably doesn’t allow you to do things that couldn’t do by other means, but it is easier than other approaches in the long run, once you’ve got your linked data available. Linked Data can be of value without having to be open:

“Southampton’s data is used internally. You could draw a ring around the data and say ‘that’s closed’, and it would still have the same value.”

== Benefits ==

Quantifying the value of linked data efficiencies can be tricky, but providing open data allows quicker development of tools, as the data the tools hook into already exist and are standardised.

== Strategies ==

Don’t mention the term ‘linked data’ to the Pro VC, or get into discussing the technology. It’s about the outcomes and the solutions, not the technologies. Getting ‘Champions’ who have the ear of the Pro VC will help.  Some enticing prototype example mash-up demonstrators that help sell the idea are also important. Also, pointing out that other universities are deploying and using linked open data to their advantage may help. Your University will want to be part of the club.

Making it easy for others to supply data that can be utilised as part of linked data efforts is important. This can be via Google spreadsheets, or e-mailing spreadsheets for example. You need to offload the difficult jobs to the people who are motivated and know what they’re doing.

It will also help to sell the idea to other potential consumers, such as the libraries, and other data providers. Possibly sell on the idea of the “increasing prominence of holdings” for libraries. This helps bring attention and re-use.

It’s worth emphasising that linked data simplifies the Freedom of Infomataion (FOI) process.  We can say “yes, we’ve already published that FOI data”. You have a responsibility to publish this data if asked via FOI anyway. This is an example of a Sheer curation approach.

Linked data may provide decreased bureaucracy. There’s no need to ask other parts of the University for their data, wasting their time, if it’s already published centrally. Examples here are estates, HR, library, student statistics.

== Targets ==

Some possible targets are: saving money, bringing in new business, funding, students.

The potential for increased business intelligence is a great sell, and Linked Data can provide the means to do this. Again, you need to sell a solution to a problem, not a technology. The University ‘implementation’ managers need to be involved and brought on board as well as the as the Pro VC.

It can be a problem that some institutions adopt a ‘best of breed’ policy with technology. Linked data doesn’t fit too well with this. However, it’s worth noting that Linked Data doesn’t need to change the user experience.

A lot of the arguments being made here don’t just apply to linked data. Much is about issues such as opening access to data generally. It was noted that there have been many efforts from JISC to solve the institutional data silo problem.

If we were setting a new University up from scratch, going for Linked Data from the start would be a realistic option, but it’s always hard to change currently embedded practice. Universities having Chief Technology Officers would help here, or perhaps a PVC for Technology?