The Organograms Linked Data project

The Vision

To provide a customised organisation chart (organogram) visualisation for human users with the capability to download machine-readable data via a Linked Data API and by SPARQL Query from an RDF store.

To meet new requirements for transparency, financial information such as reporting structures, salary bands and the combined salaries of direct reports would need to be provided.

The Linked Data output will gain value over time, enabling users to see the changes to the machinery of government as departments and their responsibilities evolve.

The Solution

The new system was devised by John Sheridan of The National Archives and Jeni Tennison, working as a consultant to TSO with a superb visualisation by Dan Smith. It went live in June 2011.

The system sits upon TSO’s OpenUp® platform services, including:

  • Harvesting – setting up a pipeline to process good quality department data
  • Enriching – extracting RDF
  • Storage – ensuring RDF is stored and available
  • Publishing – making the data available on the web through both an API (to support data re-use) and a visualisation

The Challenges

It was a complex project, the first occasion on which every government department has published RDF.
There were technical challenges to:

  • Generate RDF successfully
  • Align with and where possible, help improve existing organisational processes
  • Cope with an inevitable amount of change as organisations needs evolve
  • To make the process as smooth as possible for users

In the initial system build, the team hoped to make the process user friendly by using a familiar tool. Microsoft Excel was chosen to provide the template for users (designated officials within each government department) to complete the organisation’s details.

Originally each completed template was converted from CSV to RDF using PHP and XL Wrap. The aim was that users should publish the RDF on their corporate websites from where it would be harvested by using the registry to identify the location. This proved impractical as several web content management systems were unable to handle RDF.

The Government Secure Intranet technology on which many department’s systems were based would not work with VBA code and the obvious alternative - signing macros - would have required testing and support for each individual organisation. Considering the size of the roll out, this was not practical. As a result VBA script was maintained.

Usability issues with the template and uploads were resolved individually as they become apparent. One irritation to users proved to be the use of two separate validation stages - within the template and on submission to the central website. This led to problems as data passing first stage validation, sometimes later failed validation on online submission without sufficient explanation as to why. This was remedied by locating all validation within the template itself.


As some data elements such as salary bands and reporting lines are sensitive, officials often need ministerial sign off to proceed. This proved impractical as time-poor ministers were often on the move. The preview process was speeded up and organisers given the ability to upload to a preview server for sign off purposes.

ResultsOrganograms Linked Data project

These changes to technology, usability and process design have resulted in a low cost, low effort mechanism to enhance transparency for government and publication of a valuable data set.

Although some support desk time is still necessary each month in order to cope with change and special requirements, in general each department is able to complete its own template and upload the result and there are clear directions to support them with any issues.

Lessons from the Project

There are three main systems-architecture lessons to be learnt from the organogram project:

  • Always think at the outset about how the system will really be used
  • Create a flexible solution to deal with evolving user needs.
  • The solution must be sustainable, support requirements minimised, and cause little friction for users

Next steps

Watch bite-sized films of Richard Goodwin’s presentation ‘Reaping the benefits from Linked Data’ from SemTechBiz 2012

November 21, 2012, 4:21 pm