Saving lives with open data

Stephen Cannings | 20 Dec 2018

Screenshot of crash clusters on map area in City of Casey

The winners of the DTA's 2018 GovHack award produced a stunningly useful tool to gain insights into road crash data.

Project Crashboard

Michael Murrell and Ashleigh Latter are the as.numeric team. Between the two of them, they created Crashboard, winning the ‘help government decide with data’ award. The interactive tool shows not only where road crashes happen, but when and why. The dashboard can also compare locations across the state to allow state government managers to ‘decide with data’ about where they allocate resources.

We dug a bit deeper and asked as.numeric a few open, data-relatable questions.

1. How do you prep for something like GovHack? Apart from building a tolerance to sleep… do you come in with some datasets already mixed and matched?

GovHack is difficult to prepare for as the award categories aren’t known in advance. A couple of things we could do is brush up on basic data analysis and app building skills, as well as to make sure any relevant software was installed and up-to-date. This helped us make a quick start once we came up with our project idea.

2. With the datasets you used, what were the qualities that attracted you to them (format, frequency, description, etc.)

Since we only had a weekend to complete the project, we looked for smaller, easy to understand datasets. Things like data cleanliness (e.g. minimal missing entries, unambiguous features) and familiar file formats were important to get on with the task quickly. Data with common features that could be easily matched across multiple datasets (such as postcode, date etc) were also a bonus.

3. What type of datasets do you personally think are critical for building Australia’s open data future?

We believe health and safety, as well as transport data are vital for the future of open data in Australia. These types of datasets can be utilised to develop valuable insights and tools that have the potential to directly impact the lives of everyday Australians in a positive way. If the public can see the benefits of using open government data, they are more likely to get on-board with future open data projects.

4. Now about your team. What skill sets make a 'dream team'?

Our team consisted of just the 2 of us, but we were lucky to have an assortment of skills that complemented each other. Ashleigh used her skills in data analysis, app building and project planning to manipulate and join datasets into the required form and then build the app. Michael has a background in statistics and audio engineering, which he used to develop the underlying app scoring metric and produce the project video. It is important to not only be able to use the data to build something but to also communicate why your project is useful.

5. You have a newbie friend about to enter GovHack next year for the very first time. What three tips would you give them?

  1. Come in with a plan and stick to it. Know what you should be working on and when – include things like data exploration, making the project and creating the video.
  2. Focus on developing a narrative around your idea. You need to communicate why your project is useful and how it meets award criteria. Showing off your programming skills won’t help you if you can’t explain why your idea is beneficial.
  3.  Don’t neglect the video! This is how you showcase your idea – think of it as a sales pitch. It is more important to fully explain what your project intends to do, instead of attempting to develop a fully functioning app that isn’t well pitched. Plan to spend plenty of time on the video as it takes a lot longer than you might expect to storyboard, record and edit video and audio into a polished video submission.

6. Your project was about safety. Why?

We attended the Casey event, where their award category focused on road safety. We wanted to develop something that could help not just our local community, but the rest of Australia as well. Millions of Australians use our roads every day, so if we can improve the safety of our roads and help make journeys faster, then we are benefiting a very large portion of Australians.

7. If you had all the Australian Government Data you could hope for, and a month, what would be one ‘super project’ you’d have a crack at?

One project we would like to attempt is a health tool with the aim of identifying areas in Australia with higher than average rates of various illnesses. We would use data from multiple sources (such as climate, health, socioeconomic, etc.) to determine what could be contributing to the increased illness rates, and provide suggestions based on identified factors to improve outcomes in those areas.

8. To government data publishers, any friendly advice?

- Keep datasets updated. It’s great seeing government departments publishing datasets, but if they’re not kept current, then they gradually become less and less useful for present and future projects.

- Work with data analysts to improve data quality and formatting. The data needs to be unambiguous and as clean as possible to encourage people to use it for developing new insights and tools.

Thank you, Michael and Ashleigh, View their GovHack project (including their video) on their hackerspace page - external site.

The DTA was lead agency sponsor of the 2018 GovHack awards. Find out more about the annual event at - external site