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Ah beurocracy

June 20, 2008

We’ve always got an eye out here for interesting, copyright-free sources of data to add to Zenbu and share with the world. I thought I was onto something when I came across a list of premises with Food Ratings on the Rodney District Council website. Rodney really came through. They maintain an up-to-date list of every business which serves food to the public including trading name, address and type of premise e.g. bakery, grocery, fruit & vegetable, cafe, restaurant, takeaways, food manufacturer. We loaded that onto Zenbu so now we can authoritatively say that we have every food outlet in the Rodney district! Very cool.

The Rodney data is missing phone numbers but it does have the Who (name), the What (tags) and the Where (address). Phone number and website (the How) would be great but I trust that the community can fill in this detail as we go forward. Having all the basic data makes it much simpler to add that one extra field.

One down, only another 72 territorial authorities to go…. (Is it just me or does that seem like a lot of government for such a small country?)

I moved to Auckland City next, why not start with the biggest. They have a food premise search system on the website but it was a little cumbersome to use and did not present all the information I could see on the certificate in nearby cafes. So, I invoked my citizen rights, and made a LGOIMA request (LGOIMA is the local government equivalent of the Official Information Act).

The Auckland City Council (ACC) was very efficient.
Someone emailed me to notify me of receipt of my request.
Someone else rang me to verify the wording of my question which did not specify just Auckland (you know what they say about presumptions) so did I want to proceed with just Auckland? yes please.
Someone else again emailed me to say they could not split their data by type, did I want to proceed anyway? yes please.

So I got the spreadsheet file (only a week after my request, well inside the mandated 20 days), a whopping 3500 licensed food premises in Auckland but the file only has the Who and the Where, not the What. I got back in touch with the very pleasant person who had supplied me the data to ask why they couldn’t supply the license type – which I could see printed on the certificate displayed in rated premises.

Well… She kindly explained that their computer system simply wouldn’t allow them to export that information. They are upgrading the system and by October/November they should be able to supply that data, but…
It may not be very useful because the license type categories were based on the 1974 legislature which introduced the need for the Food Premise Ratings and have been unchanged since – which is why that cafe downstairs was classed as a Eating House. She laughed about how silly it was to collect such useless information and how industrious Rodney must be to proactively develop a better system. I don’t mean to belittle her, she had obviously been pushing for change in the 2 years she has been with the council but obviously slow progress.

I’ve geocoded it (converting address to coordinates), value added some information such as mall names where the address matches, matched it with existing data (700 odd out of 3500 already in, not bad) and added some tags where I know the business. The data is shared in a spreadsheet online here.

I’m still not sure what to do with it though. On one hand it’s better to have some information than none, but on the other hand, it dilutes the usefulness of the site if you search for something that is in there but can’t find because it doesn’t have the obvious word like cafe or restaurant associated. Sigh… suggestions?

UPDATE: Matched up another 500 with existing listings and added the other 2300.

Better in than out. Better to know what you don’t know. Wax on, wax off. etc, etc.

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