Young Rewired State: bringing back open government data

Young Rewired State was born back in 2009 when a small group of us decided that we needed to bring the open government data revolution to the next generations. Our intention was to show them what had been fought and won on their behalf for democracy and scrutiny, introduce them to the potential for open data, open government or otherwise, in a non-dull way.

Google hosted that first weekend for us but the legend now goes that it took us three months and a massive credit card bill for hotels and trains to find 50 coding kids in the whole of the UK for a single weekend hackathon at the much-lauded Google HQ in London. Our original sign-up was three kids… three… for a free weekend in Google HQ London.

Photo by Lettuce
We wanted to introduce coding kids to open government data, instead we discovered
  • schools were not teaching programming, computer science, or anything really other than the PE/Geography/any spare teacher showing the kids how to turn on a computer and use Word/Excel/How to photoshop a kitten pic (the only nod to programming – some of you will get this)
  • this was not something the teachers were happy about and I found acres of frustrated geeky teachers fighting a Latin Goliath
  • young people were being driven to teaching themselves, something well-served online with a tonne of lessons on YouTube, websites with individual lessons in the greatest detail, should you care to look, but these kids were isolated and bullied
  • some/many were being failed at school <- when I posted that blog post 25,000 people on Hacker News clicked on it within the first hour…

M’esteemed colleagues were well-renowned software engineers and designers and did not have the capacity to fight this particular fight, except by continuing to do good – most of whom are now in the UK Government Digital Service – but I was able enough, and I was a Mum and I was an entrepreneur, and I was an open government data campaigner – and I had to stay to do something.

Through personal and professional means I turned myself into a lobbying machine to teach our kids to code and, through Rewired State, continued to run Young Rewired State as an annual event, growing from 50 kids to 600 kids, now 1000.

I gave up my job.

I fought battles.

I lost battles.

I won them.

I did school runs.

I got cross about girl engineers (lack of).

I wrote.

I did.

I talked (although I am not a natural speaker – BetaBlockers FTW).

And I found a community of fabulous people: Mathematica, CodeClub, Mozilla, Nominet, Nesta, Raspberry Pi, Raspberry Jam, MadLab, Birmingham City Council, CoderDojo, Treehouse, General Assembly – seriously so many people… and now I feel like I can step back from that fight now. I have been as much use as I can be… and a *lot* is happening.

I need to look to the future and I need to re-focus the kids we are now finding in increasing numbers, and as the others teach them how to code, and as the others fight the battle with institutions and education – I want to go back to what we wanted to do in the first place.

And so I think now is the time, as we grow beyond the UK, to re-focus what we are doing on finding these kids and introducing them to Open Government Data. I will always fight for education, but I fight for democracy, transparency and accountability over all – and I would like our children to grow up understanding Open Data as freely as they understand Open Source.

Starting now…

Our aim is to find and foster every child driven to teach themselves how to code – and introduce them to open government data

http://youngrewiredstate.org

What’s the point of a hack day?

I get asked constantly what my favourite app was that was built at any of the many hack days I have run through Rewired State. I am often ashamed that I struggle to answer, although there are many. This is because hack days are rarely about the prototype.

To cover briefly what a hack day is, it is:

  • one or two days long (often belying the name)
  • any number of developers, for me a minimum of 10 devs are needed to make it buzz a bit, but 20+ makes it exciting
  • a subject, challenge, dataset (the broader the better)
  • developers are given a brief of the subject or challenge at the beginning of day 1
  • they code/design/engineer over the course of a free form period of around 24 hours to create prototype solutions or ideas
  • they present back to their hack peers and any inquisitive viewers, as well as the sponsor, client or group who put the event together
  • prizes are awarded
  • beer and pizza is essential

Many people will not experience a hack day, but if you can, please do. Show and tells are usually open to anyone who wants to attend and twitter and lanyrd are quite good at curating such event information.

However, the reason for this blog post is to explain the point of a hack day, now in 2011 (it will definitely be different in a year’s time, but to chart right now).

If you take a little time to look at the above list of what a hack day is you can understand that the common question might be: yes but what did they make and what happened next?

My response to that is that you are jumping the gun.

What we do at hack days is show you the future. Here’s why.

Why do developers turn up?

Well, in the current climate: API bonkers, information overload (yes devs get that too), tablet shmablet, toy shmoy world that we live in, there needs to be a little peace, as well as a challenge. As I have explained in a previous post about developers it is up to the rest of the world not to risk developer apathy (already here IMHO), and to look at what really matters.

Developers are simply awesome and if you know one I dare you to go try your million dollar idea out on them – they will have deconstructed and reconstructed it in minutes. Tell them your *save the world* idea and they will probably risk divorce to build it for you – please don’t do this.

Developers who know hack days turn up for the buzz, the competition and to learn, mainly to learn. Those who have never been to one come for the challenge.

I have been running hack days for three years now, and one veteran of the Rewired State hack days was at this weekends’ hactivate event. He spent the weekend coding a composting app, it’s cool, you can see it and many more here. But the big thing for him was spending 1.5 hours playing with a web server, in peace, legitimately, on a Sunday (and learning). Another group (and this is usual for a hack weekend) were hack day virgins, and have adopted the amaze-balls face of pride at what they can actually build when challenged by time (hack days are ruthless) as well as taking home the contact details of the colleagues who are as talented as themselves, at other stuff.

One developer gave himself this hack weekend as a Father’s day present. To have a weekend to spend with his peers, although coding was his day job, to work on his own projects, surrounded by like-minded awesomes, fed, watered – that’s the point.

Most developers will leave a hack day with new knowledge or at least new contacts, that can lead to extending their ability to deliver the awesomeness.

It’s probably fair to say that most would not admit to being so excited by the non-coder audience blinking at what they have managed to create in a two-day period, nor the prizes showered upon them. And, from those I know, it is always the afterthought – although I am now really clever and spend my life finding flipping brilliant geek prizes that they can’t ignore :).

Which is why it is important to understand all this before you ask: what is the point of a hack day?

What’s in it for the non-coders/organisations/brands?

So, there is an immediate and very obvious benefit for anyone engaging a number greater than ten developers on your own idea/API/bit of kit, and hack days seem to be de rigueur. Is not hard to be confident that good things will come of the weekend.

But is it the list of prototypes at the end? That no good hack day host would ever be able to predict?

No, it is engagement with the development community. Gifting your idea/API/bit of kit and enabling some free time for developers to engage with and over said idea/API/bit of kit. Yes of course you will get any number of good prototypes and even working applications – but better you will get to meet a number of developers, showing off their skills and often their newly acquired ones – this is really as rare as hen’s teeth (usually because they are fully employed fulfilling other peoples’ ambitions) engaging over a dedicated period, with peers they may not have yet met, over your technology or challenge. Yes, your super-sexy next bazillion idea might come out of this – but you created the environment for that conversation, that dev-to-dev spark.

But yet…

The thing I have noted today after Hactivate is that the sponsors are actually dedicated to seeing the apps go beyond the hack day. The winning app was one built to try to address human trafficking, and it was created to make the interface so simple that anyone could take it up without needing access to anything too technical; then we could crowdsource peoples’ safety.

The judges are determined – from a human pov, not only the brand they represented – to help collate the necessary charity network information and wherewithall to make it happen. However the geeks who thought it needed to happen and were so passionate about beating human trafficking that they spent their weekend building an application to make people a little bit more safe, found it hard to adjust to the jump of someone actually taking it on and helping make it happen (within 24 hours). Possibly because they had been coding non-stop for 24 hours, presenting to Press, sponsors and co-hackers – more probably because they were not used to their ideas being taken up so strongly and immediately by the kind of brands that can really make it a reality.

Such is the magic of a hack day.

This is why I love hack days… dilemma :)

And so…

The point of a hack day for a developer is to be with like-minded people, work on your own stuff, learn and be celebrated; for the rest of us, it is to create the environment for magic to happen.

Maybe in the next few years they may become simply about the prototype, but I hope that day is a long way off. The point is developers, living and learning from each other in an environment that is created by you: the challenger.

Finally…

As ever, my cry is: please, do not take the piss, developers are for life not just for your *next million* or *save the world* idea. They are an asset to be cherished and nurtured and they do not necessarily always value the same things you do. It is rarely money or jobs – most developers are awash with job offers, and extra-curricular *cash* offers.

Hack days do work, right now, because everyone wins when they are run well and with consideration. But please don’t ask me what my favourite app is that was ever built at a hack day! I can’t tell you, I have no idea. I do however now know 200+ developers whom I would be able to call in a heartbeat, and know their skills, passions and talents – but I would never sell them to anyone.

Developers are a talent to be nurtured in our open data and open society world. Hack days respect this and act as breathing spaces for devs.

It is rarely about the prototype, and when it is, I will probably go buy that flower shop I have been promising myself.

Open the business case

So I have been doing a bit of research into being “Open” as a business strategy, inevitably it led me to Open government thoughts.

We can all cite merrily the bazillion reasons for buying Open source/Open tech, using Open standards, championing Open platforms and generally being the cheering public and sometime consumers of, or contributors to, Open projects.

But what about when you are the supplier? What about when you are the business, looking at the business model and not just being the vendor of Open technologies? It’s a tricky one. In this blog post I have shared some of the things I found out, and as ever, I would love to learn and understand more.

Here is a starter for ten:

“Companies that keep their intellectual property too close to the vest risk missing out on critical business innovations that idea-sharing could generate. Open business models foster collaboration with customers and suppliers to everyone’s benefit.

The more companies learn about open business models, the more they realize how much they have to change their own innovation activities to take full advantage of these paradigms. It’s not simply a matter of searching for new technologies. To thrive, companies must adapt their business models to make them more open to external ideas and paths to market.”

Henry Chesbrough, “Embracing Open Business Models”, Optimize Magazine, 1/1/07

Ponderables for a business case

  • While you are Open, you still own the data
  • What you gain by being Open is distribution
  • The value of user generated content (UGC) is growing, indeed it’s king when it is structured properly
  • The more you Open up and distribute the higher the quality of UGC you get back
  • Sometimes, other people do better things with your data

(The above is a synopsis of a conversation I had with @steveathon, in Sydney, over IM, whilst his wife made gingerbread – thanks for giving up your evening Steve)

But that’s irrelevant: Crisis forces Open consideration

The one thing I saw repeated article after article was that it usually takes a crisis for a business to even consider the benefits of being Open. None detailed more clearly than this business week article by Michael Arndt. I advise reading the whole article but here copied is the bit that I think is most interesting:

Their companies converted to Open innovation—relying on outsiders for their next products or services—only after falling into a crisis….

Whirlpool came around that same year after top management realized that big-ticket appliances had become a commodity. As a result, prices and margins were in a permanent decline, steepened by the recession. Unlike P&G, it didn’t respond initially by Opening its portal to product suggestions from outsiders. But it did enlist proposals from all employees. Further, it trained some 3,000 in the innovation process and began collaborating with suppliers. Now, in Phase II, Whirlpool is inviting consumers to help, said Moises Norena, global innovation director….

GSK’s goal was to boost its share of externally developed products to 33% in three years. Instead, it hit 50% even sooner than that. Among the Open-innovation products is a new form of Aquafresh that turns to foam in your mouth. Rutledge said the idea came from someone in the oral-care business who had background in gel foams like Gillette’s Edge, but it never would have hit the market if not for technology that came from four outside partners….

Makes blinding sense right? A hard sell into a thriving business, relatively easy to a business in trouble who are pretty willing to do anything, especially when that ‘anything’ is something others have done successfully.

So – government: Open and as a platform

If we accept that fact that crisis triggers a consideration of an Open solution (and I am sure that there are many who will disagree) – a bit like how we can tell that someone is about to leave their job/is scared they are about to get booted when they start updating LinkedIn and asking to connect with lots of people: we can recognise that Government only really embraced Open principles after it realised its own crisis, economic mainly, but also engagement with the citizens of this country.

Not, sadly, for all the reasoned and logical arguments, lobbying and hectoring over the last decade or so. Shame that, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it has happened – in a very roundabout and reactionary manner, which does leave everyone feeling a bit unstable and scared, but the blame for that cannot be laid solely at the door of Open – it’s crisis, innit.

Martha Lane-Fox and Transform’s paper: Directgov 2010 and beyond: Revolution not Evolution really is all about giving Open a go (not going to expand on this here but many have, if you want to read).

Interestingly when researching this a bit, I discovered that Tim O’Reilly has opened up his book: Government as a platform for comment, as he says:

You are reading the text of an O’Reilly book that has been published (Open Government). However, the author of this piece—Tim O’Reilly—understands that the ideas in this chapter are evolving and changing. We’re putting it here to get feedback from you—what are your ideas? This chapter uses the Open Feedback Publishing System (OFPS), an O’Reilly experiment that tries to bridge the gap between manuscripts and public blogs.

Next to every paragraph, there is a link you can use to comment on what you’re reading. We are grateful for any feedback you have: questions, comments, suggestions, and corrections are all welcome and appreciated.

It’s fascinating, and I know most of you who read my blog love this stuff, so get commenting :)

So, government has embraced Open, through a combination of natural crisis response behaviour with some well-timed logic in the form of a paper that they could respond to and point at.

This is good – but a LOT of information and a lot of confusion. It does help though to separate the confusion created by the crisis: money and engagement; and the confusion created by an Open and transparent government. See? It feels easier already, right?!

So how should we, as the Joe Bloggs in this wonderful Open world of government work with this?

Well, if we understand the business reason behind being Open and the ponderables, it gives us a place to start.

The trigger

Response to a crisis: no money, gloomy jobs market, disengaged electorate, nothing else is working so why not? (oh and the expenses palaver)

The business reason

  • Martha said it would work
  • It has worked elsewhere
  • We have tried everything else

Going back to the final three points I made in my list of ponderables up there:

  • The value of user generated content (UGC) is growing, indeed it’s king when it is structured properly
  • The more you Open up and distribute the higher the quality of UGC you get back
  • Sometimes, other people do better things with your data

What’s in it for us?

  • Well, assuming that one day soon government will realise the value of UGC and digital reach, they will soon find a way to run consultations in a proper consultative fashion – and find a way of receiving the feedback and including it in policy development: this ticks the box of those dealing with the crisis of a disengaged electorate
  • and assuming we have good collaboration around well-consulted policies, you never know, the solution they seek – much like the foaming toothpaste GSK stumbled upon – may be found more quickly than they thought, and a regenerated economy may be triggered by Mrs Miggins at Number 47 – you never know
  • and of course, we all know that the geeks will inherit the earth – and they will do better things with government data, whether that be services for us all or a hugely successful commercial opportunity that highly acclaimed, sets us as digital leaders and is syndicated across the globe. Dunno, might happen?

Shutting up now

The point of writing this was to share what I had learned, and the resulting clarity of mind I had with regard to the chaotic world of government at the moment. As well as unpicking the business reasons for being on the supplier side of being Open. I hope it was interesting.

Many thanks to Gordon Rae @socialtechno and Steve King @steveathon for the Links/conversation/insight

Developers

Updated on 23rd Feb 2012 to recognise government changes

Frustration is never a good reason to write a blog post, nor a knee-jerk reaction to something that has happened in your day – something that I am sure you will see I have learned during the course of my scribing here (and some seriously random posts in my early blogging years, sorry about that). So please believe me when I say that this is not a rash post, it has been a long time in the making.

It is the age old fannying about all day doing the distracting stuff that demands immediate attention, then lobbing the stuff on the ‘to do’ list to the next person down the line making the most noise about it: I think it is time that someone said: developers are no longer the 5pmers, willing to deliver for a 9am deadline.

The average view of developers and open data (from within government) is that:

1. developers work for free/very little because they are so driven

2. developers will do anything for early access to data

3. developers will do anything for kudos

None of the above statements are true. I can name perhaps two people who may fall into one or two of the above categories, but I know no one who actually fits all three. So let’s start from there.

What developers have been saying for the last decade or so, is that there is a better way. It is:

  • cheaper than outsourced IT and CMS contracts
  • faster and more agile
  • diverse and inclusive

The blockers are:

  • closed public data
  • procurement
  • change

Developers are indeed talented, and worthy of enormous academic respect – such as people reserve for scientists or those people on CSI. And yes, there are some developers who are so excited and driven by their talent that they will more than happily talk for hours, or work for a while – for free – explaining why they love their subject and how they could revolutionise the way the world works. Just as there are those who know how to code and do that as a day job, are brilliant and talented but it is a job and no more, and those who push and grow their talent to become super-developers, world-renowned futurologists and/or billionaires.

There are back end developers, front end developers, php, ruby, c++,  java, perl, (a list of programming languages are here), some are dedicated to open source and open standards, some are quite happy working with bespoke software – most write their own; some use agile programming and scrum mastery, others don’t; some fight the fight – most, to be fair, won’t.

Not only are developers talented, they are also human. I know it may seem facile to point this out, but they have relationships, own homes, or rent; eat food, not just vegetables they have dug up from their gardens – all of this costs them the same as it costs the rest of the world. Taking a girlfriend or boyfriend out for a ‘show off’ supper/date costs a developer as much as it does a politician, doctor or plasterer.

The only difference is that it has taken the world a little while to listen to what they have been saying for many years now:

developers can redesign the way the world works – they can make it cheaper and more sustainable

So developers have been working effectively as jobbing actors, working the poles whilst waiting for the world to realise what they had to offer.

A few have hit the headlines/Hollywood, but let’s face it – not many. For those who were determined not to waste any more of the worlds’ collective cash or resources – much of their spare time has been spent, in recent years, lobbying for open data and standards, fighting for a way to prove that they had the algorithm, the app, the simple interface – a new way of doing things that would not cost lots of noughts, or lives, but would revolutionise the way the world operates its business: government, corporate and social business. (But just because it did not cost lots of noughts cannot dis-count making lots of noughts, and for some developers making money is paramount; in as much as for others it is irrelevant – that’s not the point…)

To discount the revolution in open government data and standards over the last few years would be ridiculous – it has taken a massive amount of work and dedication from an increasingly broad community – but it has not reached a tipping point yet.

For a while, in 2009, there was a brief moment of illumination, in my opinion, where world governments in particular woke up to the reality of what had been glaringly obvious to the militant dev (as well as the jobbing dev, to be fair) and the studious few who were truly looking for future solutions to today’s problems.

Open data meant a new rich seam of renewable resource, upon which not only could there be built scrutiny and accountability in democracy – but also small businesses could grow, entrepreneurs could flourish, investors could be wooed – tech-cities could be born out of dead olympiad space, internally companies could revolutionise process design and service delivery – the whispered word was agile and it all suddenly seemed possible. At a cost to no one, seriously, no one. (Oh except perhaps those who had been exploiting an antiquated system for years, meh).

Until it all went a little bit wrong.

Somewhere, somehow, here in the UK, amongst the rise of the Coalition and loss of the tech manifestos – torn up in the aftermath of a hung Parliament – an ethos has risen based on the fact that developers will solve all the problems that can be resolved through technology – for free, for love.

What do you mean, you can’t?

Let me just be clear: there is a better way, it is not free, but it is massively better! R&D through hack days is a very valuable thing indeed, of course :) (see Rewired State, we are doing some good stuff but we are a very small cog in a very large change machine) but actually delivering what developers have been talking about for the last few year takes time, money and talent.

Developers need to live, and actually the world needs to woo them. To romance a developer you need to be willing to listen and willing to pay where they say it is fundamental to invest – feel free to get a second/third opinion – in fact I suspect they would demand it. But for now, please remember that:

  • developers have accommodation that costs money – not data
  • developers love open data but mainly to show *you* what you are missing
  • developers will help – but don’t take the p***

Disclaimer: I run Rewired State

Free data, yes! But please don’t go mental on maps (Web 2.2)

Last year social media was twitter, this year it is maps; well in my world… and it is a bit annoying.

There is a groundswell of activity to free up the public data, that which we are allowed to know (not the personal stuff) thanks mainly to the Power of Information report and also the general noise: ref Rewired State :) *plug* this is great, but what is not so great is that the easiest thing to do with this data is to shove it on a map, and combine it with other data sets.

Hacking data together and putting it on a map is fun and clever; but not always useful.

Richard Pope sent me a presentation of his this morning, after I yelped on twitter about the number of map requests I had pouring in, not only at work, but it seems to be everywhere I go, people I speak to… everyone’s the cartographer. Here’s his presentation: http://www.memespring.co.uk/talks/maps/#(1)

My favourite page from his presentation is here:

picture-1Just because you can!!

And look, here’s all the help you will ever need: http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=map+mashup&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&client=firefox-a and here are a load of must sees.

Mind boggling… let’s cut to the chase. There are two kinds of map I am regularly asked for:

User-generated content maps

One where anyone is able to upload data onto a geographical map of an area. Wonderful, but why and what will happen to the information? Who is moderating it? Can I really just stick a pointer in this and say that in this area blue squirrels regularly admonish the badgers for discovering their hoards of cornflakes? If I can’t and I have a text box I can fill in, how long before someone is able to moderate and upload it? And what is the cost? And again in employee hours?

Let’s take an example. I am going to use user-generated content to crowdsource and rate pubs in GU1, (by crowdsourcing, I mean I am not going to provide details of the pubs, but enable anyone who finds their way to my map to identify where a pub is). Next I need to give my trusty crowdsource a text field to fill in the detail of the pub, and in true social media style, enable rating categories for other people to fill in once the pub has been plotted and identified. Handy information for someone new to the area, or passing through. However, unless I personally check that each pub exists, my raw data is potentially flawed; thereby the rating on each establishment is one step further away from flawed: flaw-flawed? Until and unless I personally guarantee the accuracy of dataset 1 my map is firstly annoying and secondly pointless. (Yes this can be applied to any crowdsourced based app, but my topic is maps :)).

Now assign the above example to, say, crime.

User generated content on maps is fabulous within online social communities, where the trust is implicit and anyone caught abusing the technology would be duly dealt with: crowdsourced public shaming takes no prisoners I imagine. It has no place in the public, nor in the private, sector.

I hear a collective gasp as everyone watches Emma’s career prospects disappear down the cartographically defined toilet… I am not saying that there is no explicit trust in the public or private sector, that is not the point. The point is that online social communities operate under very strict trust conditions, and I am assuming that those reading this post have already understood this, that’s Web 2.1.

The psychology around web communities aside, if you (the crowd) were providing data on a public sector map, for example, you would rightfully (possibly) expect something to happen with your bothering to plot your pin/piece of content. Therefore it should never be the case that a map is enabled for user-generated content UNLESS that map is plugged in to the geographically associated people who can respond or deal with the issue that has been raised.

Imagine every pin laid on a public/private sector map to be the same as a request for a duel at dawn. Unless you can guarantee that you will take each challenge and deal with it: don’t do it.

Publicly held data-driven map mash-ups

By this I mean you take a plain map and plug your APIs/other data sources into it. Now these are the rightful domain of public sector social map enthusiasts: taking proven data and plugging it into a geographically represented area is fine. But again, not willy nilly (ref Richard’s map above). These would provide informative pictures of an area: here is a great example of such a thing. A clear key and a text box that filters information, lovely.

The temptation to avoid with this one is simple: TMI (too much information). Web 2.0 technologies do not mean that we ignore the basic rules of web 1.0: who are you doing it for and why? If you are providing the mapping information for allotments in the UK, think before you add another dataset, just because you can include the location of the nearest post office, does not necessarily mean that you should.

Of course, these are far less risky map hacks than the UGC one detailed above; but they are utterly pointless, in equal value, if you are not clear about what information you are providing through the map, why you are choosing to do it using a map and where to stop.

A combination of the two is inevitable and the risk of pointlessness/being sued escalates with each step away from the original question: Why?

In response to Andrew Lewin (this should be a rap battle)

Andrew Lewin has written a superb post about what has happened recently in government 2.0 (I am doing it on purpose now) and the questions this raises with regard to innovation vs transformation. Do go and read it, I just wanted to address a couple of points, (and my comment on his blog became an essay so I deleted it and am writing it here instead!). Here’s the bit I want to talk about:

Maybe it’s time for Transformational Government to come up with its own version 2.0 to take into account how it should be working to promote open source, small inspirational and novel microsites? Behind the scenes it already is – coming up with ways of using the semantic web to deliver services while retaining the core commitment to Directgov, Businesslink and a small number of central websites and forbidding any new ones. But the evidence suggests this core line might be breaking in 2009 and that it needs to have a more fundamental root-and-branch rethink or risk becoming the sort of block to responsive, user-centred design of government services that it was created to promote and achieve.

I believe it already is. When you Google ‘transformational government’, which I have to do every time I am looking for that strategy document as I can never remember the CIO url, or even that it sits on the CIO website (:)), the first link you get is indeed the right one (hooray) and takes you straight to this:

CIOFollow the first link about Open Source, Open Standard and Re-use and  you get this, with a link to the PDF for the detail (wince) and a natty netvibes page for following the conversation. OK so this is not about website rationalisation, which is the bit in the Transformational Government policy to which I think you refer, but it is definitely a 2.0 thing, no?

To my mind, most people think that transformational government is just website rationalisation: it’s not, it’s just that that bit has had quite a bit of Press. Here is an explanation of all the areas covered by the TG agenda.

Yes there is the bit about reducing lots of websites and utilising Directgov and businesslink.gov.uk, but there is also the following:

  • empowering individuals to influence their services, with greater opportunities and direct involvement to influence the way they are designed and delivered

I say that this, alongside the opensource, open data commitment is the backbone to what you are proposing happens: without it being done in a brand new announcement that includes the words 2.0 :) Of course, this could be interpreted many different ways, but I would like to think that everything that has happened, has actually ALL been a part of transformational government: it is far bigger than website rationalisation (that did need to happen).

Steph Gray points out on Andrew’s blog that perhaps the measurement of website convergence success should not be urls, enabling WordPress sites to be thrown up wherever and whenever. I am not sure… I don’t know that rapid response to customer need, and engaging with people where they are already conversing necessitates MORE websites. The one site being pointed to is the much heralded Real Help Now: I think that this should have been done in Directgov, all it does in any case for the actual advice bit is deep link to Directgov and businesslink.gov.uk information; it should have been a Directgov campaign and I see no reason for it to have been otherwise under the TG rules. I don’t buy the argument that DG cannot do it because of tech, it can do maps and it can deep link… I think that in this case it was a Political decision.

Going back to the report by David Varney: Service transformation, a better service for citizens and business, a better deal for the tax payer (flipping difficult to find, but readily available as a PDF, prob because it is sold by TSO for £18!) upon which the TG strategy is based: it does look dated now.

Update: and would you take a look at this?! http://blog.helpfultechnology.com/2009/02/consultationxml-goes-open-source/ Now that’s exciting… and great

geeKyoto – aftermath

Well, Saturday’s event was really quite stonking. I was not sure really what to expect, Mark and Ben had been a bit vague in their list of speakers, so I rocked up not knowing what the day held, apart from being surrounded by super-cool people.

What we did know was the theme: We broke the world, how can we fix it? A variety of speakers addressed this directly or indirectly, and over the past 24 hours of random reflection on the day, the answers seem to be (for me):

1. Rediscovering the simple joys of being with friends and of being in our natural environment. Adrian Hon & Naomi Alderman, talking up the Secular Sabbath (brilliant, brilliant idea – if a bit daunting), were the most compelling proponents of this. The basic objective being:

Turn off your mobile phone, stay away from the computer, ignore the TV, and settle back with a good book or a conversation with friends.

Those of you who know me, or have followed my recent de-cluttering exercise on this blog, will appreciate how much this idea intrigues me – but I need to work out how exactly I will do it and when – rubbish, hey?!

2. Determination and resolution to continue, even when it gets difficult: the keynote was Ben Saunders… a brilliant and eloquent speaker, inspirational and the rest, I am sure you can imagine. The challenge he set himself – to walk solo and unsupported to the North Pole – was really an exploration of his own ability: How far could he push himself? (And of course, the age-old knee-jerk reaction to being told that something is ‘impossible’).

Read his blog, it does a far better job than I ever could in explaining what he did and why, but his words were inspiring and he challenged us to test our own boundaries, take charge of the hours of life we had been given and to do something with them that pushed our comfort zone. I like that, I am not sure what it means for me – yet – but I will.

3. Collaboration – this is not news, but it seems to be gathering strength in practical ways: Open Source clearly being one, cross promotion of good ideas, events that are run specifically to encourage collaboration between all sectors. I cannot pick out a specific speaker to represent this, it was just a running theme.

4. Money – cool toys can be made, but they are expensive to make and therefore cost a lot to buy. Some people are already sharing some of their secret ingredients on Open Source, but others were not.

This created a bit of a stir, but quite frankly, it is all very well being noble and doing all of this great stuff to help improve the legacy of the world for our children, but you can’t do it for free. People need money to live, so that they can afford the time to spend designing, creating and selling all of this great stuff. You don’t have to be a martyr to the cause, if you have a great idea, do it, make money if you can, but find ways to give back/share as well, whether that be through Open Source, or reducing the carbon footprint in manufacture/delivery of said cool toy, having a pricing plan that brings down the cost over the years and enables everyone to benefit, regardless of financial status. Collaborate with other people in your field, or related to it.

Making money is fine, but best done with a fully operational social conscience.

I think that is it, well for me this is what I took from the day. As soon as Mark and Ben put up the video and other links from speakers I will ping back from here so that you can share the joy.

Come next year, you will like it.

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