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Public Sector Data

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by Helen Ensikat on 7 January 2014

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Transcript of Public Sector Data

Public Sector Data
Searching beyond the Surface Web.
The groundwork.
Getting the most out of Google.

An introduction to finding the resources you need.
Making friends with your library.
Using existing research to find leads.
Other humans.
Data quality.
Messy data.
Copyright and referencing.
Useful resources.
What am I looking for?
Why am I looking for it?
time series?
subject area?
live data?
what am I trying to produce?
is the data for me or for someone else?
am I looking for a broad overview?
do I need something very specific?
Where shall I start looking for it?
what agencies might have oversight?
who else might use the same data?
is it something a statistical agency might hold?
do I know that it exists?
is it old enough to have been stored in historical archives?
who might know more about researching the topic?
basic stuff:

-"not this phrase"

"this phrase"

trickier stuff:

"this is * a word"

"this is * * words"

thisword 100..200
(intitle:resume OR inurl:resume) (Java AND Agile) (developer OR programmer OR engineer) (Missouri OR MO) -jobs -job
narrow it down:


allintitle:thisterm thatterm

allinurl:thisterm thatterm

go broader:
Learn more about how Google works:
Advanced Search:

'Search Tools' button

Google products
Image Search
Public Data Explorer
Other specialist search websites and metasearch websites
(Australian Government)
Resource lists
Ever searched for ' database' ?
Let other people do the work!
The National Library of Australia
online sign up
metasearch of Australian State libraries
books and ebooks
photographs and video
newspapers (OCR)
archived websites
diaries and letters
Your State Library
Why sign up?
Depth and breadth of resources
Information you won't find anywhere else
Free ebooks and journal articles
Historical public sector and consultant reports
Friendly librarians!
Beyond the bookshelves.
Researcher registration
Items in the stacks
Microfiche and microfilm records not yet digitised
Maps not yet digitised

In praise of browsing, online and offline:
research by proximity.
Bibliographies in (vaguely) related journal articles and books

Sources mentioned in newspaper articles

Citations on Wikipedia

References in PhDs and Masters theses in university libraries
Choosing the right approach.
what do I think I need?
what is the clearest way to describe what I need?
explain your objective rather than making a data request
if they can't help, can they introduce me to someone who can?
meeting in person yields better results
treat people like expert sources of advice, not gatekeepers (even when they are)
Finding the right person.
authority to provide data
willingness to provide data
access to data
an understanding of what you're asking for
do your homework
Getting in contact with the people in charge.
cold calling and cold emailing
arranging meetings
using intermediaries
asking for introductions
social media
More generally, maintain your networks.
social and professional events
training courses
have coffee with interesting people
social media
ask for introductions
have projects
offer help with other people's projects
practical mailing lists
ask for help
Is it good enough to use?
Can I improve or recalculate it?
Do I need to advise my audience about any limitations?
Try online tools.
OpenRefine (formerly Google Refine)
GoogleDocs (or Adobe) OCR
Data format converters
Try Excel.
Online tutorials and advice
Excel's own functions
Plug-ins and macros available online
No need to code to use the macro recorder to automate repetitive tasks
Even if you're totally new to programming, you can learn online, and languages like R and Python are great for getting your datasets into shape. (Or, make a coder friend - events like GovHack are great places to make coder friends.)
Give up and do it by hand. (Really.)
Try Google's free courses:
and their presenter's blog, SearchReSearch:
might an international organisation have collected it?
Australian Government websites.
Federal and State lists of department and agency websites
For example:
International resources.
Blogs worth reading.
Learn and network.
Some books.
Finding more tools.
A few of the best.
Other Australian resources.
This workshop provides an introduction to finding public sector data (and data useful to Australian public servants). I'm Helen Ensikat. @helenensikat
Any questions, or tips and tricks to share?
You can find this slide deck here:
All the links in the presentation are also in a bundle here:
World Bank
United Nations
CIA World Factbook
Information is Beautiful
The Guardian Datablog
The Governance Lab @ NYU
Flowing Data
Open Knowledge Foundation Blog
Hacks and workshops, like GovHack and HealthHack:
Organisations like Open Knowledge Foundation Australia
Interest groups on networks like
Open Data Handbook:
Data Journalism Handbook:
Beyond Transparency:
Open Metadata Handbook:
search: data visualisation tools beginners
search: free online data conversion
search: [topic] 101 tutorial
search: getting started with [topic]
search: free [topic] lessons videos
Tools and resources come and go, but there are always plenty out there to find.

(Australian Governments Open Access and Licensing Framework)
Training courses (such as those offered across Australia by the ABS).
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare:

Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences:

Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics:

Geoscience Australia:


Australian Ocean Data Network:

Data and Open Government on Social Media
Sites like Quandl (numerical data),, and - metasearches, databases of databases, and lists of lists.
Specialised software (like Beautiful Soup), that can help you extract data or do another particular job.
Untangling the Web: A Guide to Internet Research:
See the full transcript