About openLocal

Umumtu ngumuntu ngabangtu

The African philosophy of Ubuntu can be summarised as "I am because we are." Our communities are our expression of the intersection of our commercial and social interests. When they are in balance, we may take them for granted. When things change — when what we take for granted is disrupted — we want to know why.

openLocal is a quarterly-updated commercial location database, aggregating open data on vacancies, rental valuations, rates & ratepayers, into an integrated time-series database of individual retail, industrial, office and leisure business units.

Since 2016, we have made more than 2,500 Freedom of Information requests and curated almost 20 million records on individual commercial locations in England and Wales.

We are your first choice for impartial, transparent, and comprehensive data to support your search for answers.

Who and what research does openLocal support?

We have supported the Greater London Authority (GLA), the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG, both BEIS and MHCLG are now Ministry for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, DLUHC), University College London (UCL) and the universities of Leeds, Northumbria, and Warwick, and research groups like Centre for Cities, Centre for London and the Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC).

Our data and analysis have served to inform analysis into the COVID lockdown period, the Levelling Up economic recovery response, and research into meanwhile use for empty shops, business energy consumption, the impact of rates on business vacancy, and business activity clustering maps.

Our visual data explorer is free to use. Subscribers have access to more advanced reports, such as comparisons, and are able to download our source data.

You should subscribe.

Who supports openLocal?

openLocal is developed and maintained by Whythawk, which offers integrated open data consulting, data management and analytical software development, and technical data science training and research for open knowledge-based economic development and public health projects for governments and institutions.

In 2015, openLocal was one of three finalists in the NESTA-ODI Jobs Open Data Challenge, and was awarded a £70,000 EU Open Data Incubator grant, funding its initial development. In 2021, openLocal was selected as the winner of the Activating High Streets Challenge and awarded £50,000 by the Mayor's Resilience Fund.

If you want to contribute to our work, please support us.

How does it work?

As COVID revealed, retail doesn't exist in isolation from the rest of the economy. If offices are closed, or fewer people commute, retail suffers. A retail-only view is not enough.

openLocal tracks the history of all types of business units, across England and Wales, irrespective of their proximity to active high streets or town centres. We integrate a wide variety of source data imported from thousands of openly licenced datasets published as spreadsheets by local and national government.

Data are assembled via a combination of machine-learning techniques – including regression analysis, natural language processing and pattern-matching – into a single, unified geospatial database supporting research requirements for complex queries. All sources are automatically imported and processed, save for local rates data which are processed manually and algorithmically by our data wranglers.

All our data are available under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence ensuring you can easily share and reuse our work.

If you want to go deeper into our systems and techniques, and our licencing, read our FAQ.

What are openLocal's ethical research principles?

Whythawk works in the field of data science, transparency and accountability. We are committed to research integrity, and believe that complete transparency is critical for trust between ourselves and those who use our services.

We commit to these ethical principles:

  1. Identifiable sources — Our publisher source history, along with links to their source data, are listed in public.
  2. Transparent methods — Our data and software are openly licenced. Anyone who wants to review our methods, source code, or research processes need only ask.
  3. Publication before analysis — People are fantastic pattern-makers, even when no patterns exist. Our role is to curate our source data impartially and without bias, implicit or otherwise. We continually review our data and systems to ensure we do not inadvertantly introduce artifacts which could distort your analysis.
  4. Point data before aggregation — While our online data explorer presents aggregations, all reports are derived from point data and not from summaries.
  5. Repeatable, auditable trail — This openLocal app, including publisher history and data explorer, exist to ensure you have a public view on our work, helping you scrutinise us.

In practice this means a commitment to pre-publication of our research protocols, methods and data, systematic review, and open licences. We do not expect trust without support for peer review and validation.

If you are interested in partnering with Whythawk and openLocal to advance ratepayer and commercial location data transparency, and support our work, please contact us.