[wdmmg-discuss] What capital does the Government own? (plus watch Dispatches tonight!)

Francis Irving francis at flourish.org
Mon Mar 7 18:52:35 GMT 2011


We (ScraperWiki) have made two data visualisations for Channel 4 News
about what capital assets the UK Government owns.

1. The first is inspired by WDMMG's visualisation of Government
spending. We call it "asset bubbles".


2. The second is a map of brownfield land owned by local councils.


Dispatches is on at 8pm tonight, a whole programme about this subject.

Credit to Julian, Nicola and Zarino for making these visualisations
so good. And to everyone at ScraperWiki working with the people at


We couldn't find any detailed national asset registry more recent than
2005 (assembled in the National Asset Registry 2007). With a good
accounting system, and properly published data all the way through
Government, such a thing would constantly update.

In some ways there is less of a problem than with Government spending
at needing drill down. There isn't the equivalent problem of wanting
to know who the contractor for some spending is, or to see the
contract. Instead, you want to know assesments of value, and what
investment could happen in it - detailed in formation that probably
the authorities often don't have.

The PDFs were mined by hand (by Nicola) to make the visualisation, and
if you drill down you will see an image of the PDF with the source of
the data highlighted.

The brownfield land dataset is also a few years old, 2008. It also
contains lots of information about privately owned land, but we
deliberately only show the local authority owned land.

Links to original sources are in the articles above.

Some technical background:

The asset bubbles visualisation uses RaphaelJS, which you can think of
as "JQuery for in browser SVG". Amazingly, it even works in (most)
versions of Internet Explorer (using some VRML compatibility layer).

This has some advantages - you at least get iPad compatibility. It's
also easier for people with other web skills to maintain than Flex,
plus people can "view source" and learn from each other just like
in the good old days of the web.

That said, on the down side, CSS compatibility with the stylesheets of
the site it is embedded in were a pain. Perhaps next time should use
an iframe :)

The NLUD map is more straightforward Google Maps and JQuery, although
it does use a map pin clusterer. Part of the visualisation is text
based - constructed sentences. Something I think could be used a lot

You can get the source code, GPL like all public stuff on ScraperWiki,
on ScraperWiki here:


There are links from those views to the dataset scrapers behind them.

I could do a guest blog post about it all for the OKFN blog, if people
are interested. Since I'm CEO of ScraperWiki though, I won't just go
ahead and do it unless Rufus or Jonathan or someone ask me to!


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