So… I think I might have solved half of Mike’s problems

Probably not, but quickly to explain the title: it is simply that my old boss Mike Bracken has just been announced as government’s new exec  digital director. So he has quite a big job on his hands – and as it happens, I was driving back from the docs and trying to solve an annoyance when this was announced so – although I had a bit of an inkling, I did miss the actual announcement. However, that’s beside the point…

Whilst I was missing the big news of the day I was irritated because the doctor’s surgery I belong to finally scraped itself into this Internet era by having a website that *does something*: lets you book your appointments and manage hospital stuff etc etc. However, you have to go into the surgery to get a code in order to go home and then sign up. This code was one of many printed out in advance, and when I asked for it I was just handed it by a mouthingly apologetic secretary who was on the phone.

On my slightly irritated way home I was trying to work out why they had such an annoying system. Surely it’s not really necessary to make people come into the surgery to get this code, especially as they are not doing anything to check that I am a patient when they give me said code. This was the only possible reason I could think of for making people do such a thing.

Then I thought, well actually, they probably didn’t know what they wanted when they commissioned the new shiny website that actually *does* something. Without sounding horribly, horribly -ist, the practice managers are all ladies of a certain age and the docs are so massively busy I doubt they had anything to do with it. I suspect that they told a web company a version of what they wanted and were sold something that would have been acceptable in the 90s.

This lead me to think, perhaps the NHS should centrally design a booking system for all surgeries and roll this out – before quickly remembering my decade in the public sector and realising the enormity and insanity of that proposal.

So instead, would a very clever thing be that the NHS/some government body (er Mike?) instead take the time to write up a requirements doc for a surgery website? This would not cost the earth to produce, could be posted on a central site and whenever a surgery in the UK decides that the time has come to have an online booking service, they simply print off the requirements doc and then they can select their web builders of choice from local talent.

I mean, surely the requirements are always going to be the same? Every surgery has patients, doctors and nurses and a finite number of things that can be achieved online that are common across the piece. Of course, a clever requirements doc would be written so that the site can have plug-ins and widgets that can be addded at very little cost for those occasional anomalies.

This may well create a small slew of businesses who become adept at finding and delivering against these requirements, prices would vary naturally, but would settle at somewhere reasonable, so that businesses can make a little profit and the public purse is not swindled.

Then I thought, I wonder how many other common businesses across government could benefit from this.

It’s one way isn’t it? I can’t see the down side, can you?

PS Mike Bracken’s appointment is extremely good for government people and for the digital dreams of the public sector. I hope you all look after him.

Too much information

On day two of my week of blogging every day on what is niggling and making me think (see yesterday’s post if you are confused) I am going to write about a topic of daily discussion with colleagues and people in the digital industry and see if there is any more light to be shared on all this.

We seem to find ourselves in a world of over-communication, over-sharing and in the battle cry of Open: too much information. I am not sure that there is anything wrong with this, but what feels iffy is the fact that – again – there seem to be not enough people out there on the horizon carving out the future for us all in the following areas:

  • personal data and rights management
  • developer fatigue

Personal data and rights management

Working as I do in the Open data world I know for a fact that we are very careful to keep the data we work with non-personal, and endeavour always to make sure that cross-referencing data will not enable identification of an individual. We also do not go anywhere near personal information. William Heath has long been *the* voice in my world for identity, a fully paid up member of the Open Rights Group and jointly owns the company Mydex. William is one of those people to whom I was referring yesterday – we need him out there on the edges of reality and I would love to hear a lot more from him about his future vision. Personal data is obviously the next big discussion, what is the personal decision making/prioritisation that happens sub-consciously when a person builds their facebook page and sets their privacy settings? Why do people say yes or no to a store card? What is the value metric for personal data? Why is everyone (almost) religiously determined to hold back personal information from government, or treat government requests for personal information with caution or even suspicion? I don’t know the answers to this – but I hope to find out more. Please do point me to people who are researching this publicly and with a horizon view (other than William!)

I also am a bit surprised that the Open Rights Group are not being clasped to the bosom of every organisation opening their data – rights management, believe you me, is the conversation du jour; and getting it right for both data owners, developers and organisations has to be one of the highest priorities. Open data and an open society needs clearly defined and refreshed rules and perhaps it is time to start Rights camp or somesuch – it seems to me that it requires the heads of many specialists to get it right, not just one group – and that is always interesting to me.

Developer fatigue

This could well deserve a post of its own, I am not sure yet, we will see. In my (slightly controversial sorry about that) post I wrote last year about developers I touched on the risk of developers turning away from publicly released data if there was an eternal demand on their free time and expertise. To an extent this is beginning to happen now and I would hope that those who are trying to solve the problem of:

We released our data but no one is playing with it, where are all the developers?

… can recognise that there is a very real requirement to engage with developers in smarter ways and to honour their work ethic and abilities. There is no need for me to re-write the developer post from last year, but developer fatigue is very real, is very much here and should be (along with rights management) something that open organisations and industries are addressing with fresh minds. I know it is my utmost priority and is not easily solved, certainly not by simply throwing cash at the problem – although that never goes amiss; but also:

  • working with their schedules and optimal way of working, this may not be 9-5
  • finding a variety of very real challenges and apparently unsolvable problems
  • realising the relevance and value of geek work and utilising that

Looking at the future landscape of a professional relationship between Open organisations and the developer community in a sustainable and respectful fashion is the main focus for me really, and I really, REALLY would love some suggestions if you have them for who is scoping this work – again the edge of reality and future world stuff – not the immediate environment.

So that’s it for today. See you tomorrow!

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

Small essay on Rewired State, Open Data and future of public service

So I have been out of government now for over two months… seems a lot longer. It has been incredibly good to focus on Rewired State properly and to try to grab hold of and contain what we started, so that it does not spiral into something useless. The Guardian have been utterly generous and supportive in this move and I have been working with them as well – which continues to be fun.

Some of you may have noticed that we are talking quite a bit with the dev community and our friends about the future of Rewired State; these discussions have been lively and brain aching – but very good. We are running one in Manchester on the 22nd October, as there is a large and engaged RS dev community there.

So, I thought I would do a very small update (that escalated) on what seems to be coming out of this time of looking at RS’s future.

The data goldmine

Firstly, there is still a great need for people and businesses to centre themselves around the trojan work of the Cabinet Office in opening government data through data.gov.uk and legislation.gov.uk. Those of you who have been fans of Rewired State may remember that when we ran National Hack the Government Day in March 2009, there was no such thing; Richard Pope scraped all the data he could lay his hands on in the days and weeks before the event and the potential for what could happen with open data was laid bare for all to see.

Within no time Cabinet Office were working up data.gov.uk and brought in all manner of luminaries, futurologists and geeks – as well as a small number of us already working in departments across Whitehall – we set to work: teasing, coaxing and cajoling the data out of startled officials, who had no idea of the value their spreadsheet/database or even micro fiche (on one occasion). It was an incredible achievement and one that we should be proud of; it was speedy, open and a bit messy – but how fabulous and refreshing, and what superb grounding for creating a crude base that works for everyone – something that we can build together as well as tailor to individual needs. (I would like to rally people back to this cause now – it needs to be worked at and supported as a community, we can do that – there is no *way* of doing this, but I know that Thayer Prime @thayer, Richard Stirling @rchards and James Forrester (sorry have forgotten yr twitter handle, James!) would gladly tell you how you might help).

Data.gov.uk provides us with a rich seam of sustainable information, information that could be the building blocks of the revitalisation of enterprise in this country. Right now, the people who are realising the benefits are developers with defined and respected skill sets – either for worthy social causes that have always bugged them, or perhaps more commercial use – like timetric.com <- those boys were always years ahead of the market and I am so pleased to see them growing steadily and continuing their extraordinary business. Yet still, even though there are mobile app developers out there making stuff that we all find useful, it is still really the preserve of the geek – this data wash – and in order for government to really see the value of this, it needs to translate into value for the general public, a circular feed of data that washes through the community bringing information, perhaps income  and brings communities together – as is the wont of this digital age.

The work now needs to focus on how we interpret the information on data.gov.uk into something of value to everyone, not just in the way they can receive it, the ‘cut’ of the data that might perhaps give them a differing view of a school, rather than just Ofsted and their data, for example – but how can everyone have a go.

Efforts like Landshare really grab my attention. If you go and have a look at what they do, then imagine that local councils work with Landshare, and use the data they have to perhaps build a view of their community – perhaps the elderly lady who has given her garden to Landshare, has a drive that she would also like to rent out as she is no longer driving and has no car. Now she can create an income and join a new community. If she is encouraged to do this online, perhaps she would be willing to add to an information drive to map – say – all the disused land in the UK, and provide feedback online to build such a data set; or post boxes in her area, or anything really – you see where I am going with this? So from the open data drive, there is potential for a person who would be the last person you would expect to derive direct financial and community benefit – is that not the whole Big Idea?

We are not far off this, but we are drifting a bit, I feel, and very fragmented. With the retirement of Andrew Stott – who is a great and, when necessary, brutal champion of open data – and an absence of an obvious figure-head – it has crossed my mind that the Coalition may not see this as a focus for their agenda. If this is the case then I think we need to build our own head of steam, and drive this movement to the tipping point we need to enable the explosion of innovation and potential revenue.

It’s tricky at the moment because we are in the inevitable chaos stage, with data not exactly pouring but stumbling and limping from departments into data.gov.uk – Martha working to get people online with raceonline.org, Helen working with UK Online centres, Open Knowledge Foundation, My Society and us working on a variety of challenges that err on the side of the geeky as well as the Guardian Open Platform and their more commercial work with government and industry. The emergence of initiatives such as linkedgov.org – a dev community based effort to make the data make sense shows the tiny shift outwards from the information trough that has been feeding the data-hungry devs – if I remember one thing from every single Rewired State event, it has been the constant cry for more data (so much so that on many occasions the audience has joined in as the developers end their presentations with pleas for data) – well luckily, there is always more, and always will be: lovely sustainable stuff that it is :)

But taking the big vision, the proper head above the parapet moment, what has to happen as a big leap into translating this stream of data and tables into a valuable source of information and commerce to everyone who is not blessed with binary brilliance. This is unlikely to be one thing, or enabled by any one person, but it will be a steady rise in the number of initiatives that realise value of this information for many communities, that weave themselves into the heart of every day life that will bring us to this epiphany.

So… please can we all rally back around data.gov.uk and start having a look over our shoulders as we work the code, and see where we can sling something of value out there, the more we sling, the more likely we are to build value for everyone.

To this end, these are the events Rewired State is running over the next few months. We will create many prototypes from the public sector data, some will go on to great things, some may become parts of other things and others will just slumber on until they may be useful in the future. In the mean time, we have found some brilliantly fun ways of playing!

Very important point to note here is that Rewired State will work with everyone if they are looking to do things better, are asking for our help in order to do things better – you will definitely see a rise in a number of events that are sponsored by companies that may seem to be from ‘the past’, we always look at the ethics and drivers for working with such bodies, so please trust that we are not just taking any buck we get. We work on a 50:50 balance. 50% of the work we do we try to be fun/creative/worthy and 50% is commissioned, paid help. This way, certainly for the next 6 months, we should be able to move forward and bring value, whilst remaining true to our original plan of showing government what is possible, whilst they show us what is needed.

So, here goes – in date order:

6th October sees the start of a very exciting few months, with developers in the community in and around Rewired State working with NHS Choices data and digital signage boards in UK train stations and bus stops http://rewiredstate.org/events/nhs-big-screens. The idea here is to set a challenge to see what can be done with raw public data, using a slightly different medium. These boards can play such a great part in games, mobile and interactive web applications and we are very excited about what will come of this developer challenge. We still have places, do sign up, it is for glory not pay – but will definitely inspire the old creative developer juices. You will be able to see what we did, live, on these screens between the 13th and 31st December across the UK.

On the weekend of the 30th and 31st of October we are running a Carbon and Energy hack event with 10:10, Carbon Culture and the Guardian http://rewiredstate.org/events/carbon-and-energy. This is a true hack weekend. There is so much that everyone would love to do, but so little time, so this is a bit of a playground event for developers of all creeds. It is not paid, we do need sponsors for this, however – as we need to cover some costs – but it will be fun.

On the 13th and 14th November we are running a developer weekend on behalf of DotGovLabs http://rewiredstate.org/events/dotgovlabs_weekender. They are going to be launching a platform to bring together Big Society challenges and it is a massive experiment. From the beginning they have asked for Rewired State to be involved, after we ran an event with them last year, and we are very happy to throw our hat in to see if this is a potential way to match data and real need – using agile development as one of the potential solutions, or a part of the solution at least. It is an experiment. It is paid and we can accomodate a few more developers (as I write this).

There are a few more events lined up for this year, including a postponed one for the Technology Strategy Board in November, but we won’t recruit again until we have signed everything up properly.

Next year we will be running National Hack the Government Day as ever in March, Young Rewired State is currently billed for May, and we are testing the waters to see if there is any interest in Rewired Stately: an event aimed at developers aged 50+. We will also run events that we are asked to run, and we will maintain the balance between paid/sponsored/free.

Currently we are an incorporated Limited Company, needs must to work with government – but we are working right now as a not for profit, we don’t have shareholders who wait for dividends – well right now the only shareholders are myself, James Darling and Richard Pope, and we are not taking dividend payments. Any profit we make goes back into running the unpaid RS events; (in the past we put our profit into the community, such as HackSpace, but that is getting a bit more tricky as everyone has less cash to spend). But we are growing, and we will need help to grow, so it may well be that in the next year or so the basis of our funding may change, but we won’t hide this if and when it happens.

Rewired State’s massive March

Those of you who know me, or follow me on twitter (@hubmum), can’t have failed to notice that we (Rewired State) are putting on quite a few events in March. Also, the more eagle-eyed will have noticed that we have also turned ourselves into a grown up Limited Company.

Why?

As James Darling observed on our blog post about this – we were ready to hang up our collective boots and move aside after the launch of data.gov.uk and the apparent very public commitments to opening all data and enabling transparency. But then there began a series of conversations and online discussions about how the value of data.gov.uk could be explored, departments were asking for help unlocking some of the stories their data could tell; this, alongside the unsettling assumption that developers would carry on playing with this for free and would eventually come up with the *big* one (other than THE newspaper – a defining moment in data realisation), meant that we thought we still had a point.

We decided to reconvene and see how we could help government departments get to grips with the untold value of the data they were releasing, whilst showcasing the talents of the Rewired State developers in not only creating exciting applications, but also in problem solving using Agile methodologies. And so Rewired State was reborn – with more of an organic message (as you will see when our brand new site is launched next week!) <- we are all about Agile.

Why a proper limited company? So that we can be paid, it was achingly difficult getting sponsorship and past procurement issues for the other hackdays without a formal company; also, it seemed the right thing to do. We are forging ahead with the view that what we are doing is right, and we will see what value we can provide for developers, and for government. It may be nothing, it may be something – we’ll see.

What’s on in March?

11th March Rewired State: Justice and Home Affairs – Ten developers are going to play with data from the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office. It is an open hack day with a presentation at the end of it to senior officials, comms teams, Press office and the CIO’s office. Statisticians will be invited to go and have a look at what is happening during the course of the day.

After the presentation, each ‘hack’ will be written up with details of what data was used, whether it was available (or scraped), how long it would take to create a fully operational version and an idea of how much. This is not to say that Rewired State would then take on the full development, but to give the department a realistic starting point, should they want to develop it themselves. (The IPR remains with the geek, of course, as with anything we do).

I have to say that everyone within the departments that I speak to, is very excited about this (as are we).

19th and 20th March Rewired State: DotGovLabs – 30 developers will work over the course of two days solving some of the more specific challenges faced by Directgov, businesslink.gov.uk and NHS Choices: including localisation, personalisation and a cross-site(s) topic of pregnancy. (We are hunting pregnant (or young parent) developers for this – so please do spread the word).

The event will start with developers working with key people from the three super-sites, as well as policy/departmental bods. Challenges and issues will be explored then the developers will be left alone to work on some technical solutions. The following afternoon the groups will meet again and see how the applications are coming along, ready for mass-presentation at 4.30pm on the Saturday to invited people from the three super-sites and across government.

Beautifully, we have decided to hold the National Hack the Government Day on the 20th, so there will be an almighty powerhouse of development going on in The Guardian offices, with the 30 developers from the dotgovlabs hack, cheered along by the wave of random Hack day developers – who may themselves come up with some interesting things for the dotgovlabs people (but the presentations from the National Hack day will be later – and over beer and pizza as opposed to tea and biscuits!) and will be completely random.

Last but not least, we have the much evangelised Rewired State: Culture event on the 27th March. Mark O’Neill, CIO for DCMS and brilliant blogger, wrote this about what is known as ‘Rewired Culture':

Britain is a creative culture. We have a vibrant developer community, a growing and active entrepreneurial base and a vast, rich array of culture assets. How can we bring these together to create new opportunities for data owners and developers? How do we encourage links between data repositories such as museums, broadcasters and the wider community like data.gov.uk or the “London Datastore”? How do we ensure that the exciting work already underway in a number of organizations is shared more generally, so even smaller bodies and SMEs can learn from best practice and find workable routes to market? What are the cultural content business models for the 21st century? How do creators, curators, developers and entrepreneurs work together?

Rewired Culture is a day long event on 27th March 2010 organized by DCMS and Rewired State which is intended to explore these issues and more besides.

Rewired Culture has two strands – the first is a hackday bringing together data owners, data users, developers and people with ideas to see what they can create in a day. This builds on the very successful Rewired State events held in 2009.

The second strand is a halfday unconference style event starting at midday and running in parallel with the hackday for data owners, entrepreneurs, data users and communites to discuss business models, funding mechanisms and challenges.

We will be encouraging constant communication between the two strands because by the end of the day we want the event to have come up with a number of projects that people want to take foreward on technical or business grounds, preferably both!

As you can see: four very different events

And we are wanting to work up our offer back to departments/organisations around these four – plus a few other one off events during the year. Please bear with us, we won’t be able to answer too detailed questions about our future right now – but we are going to carry on, and yes, we are definitely doing another Young Rewired State (we are also pretty chuffed that some of the younger devs are rocking up to some of our other events).

This has all happened rather fast, and as with anything, the last thing we have focused on is our own website – we are working all the hours to get everything sorted, in the mean time, if you want to come to any of the days, either signing up as a developer or as a voyeur, here’s the rather haphazard sign up:

Rewired State: Justice and Home Affairs http://rewiredstate.org/home (As there is such limited space, this will be invite only)

Rewired State: DotGovLabs email info@rewiredstate.org with the subject line ‘dotgovlabs’

National Hack the Government Day email info@rewiredstate.org with ‘National Hack’ in the subject, who you are, whether you have been to a Rewired State event before, and if not – an example of something you have created

Rewired State: Culture Sign up at: http://rewiredstate.org/culture but everyone wants to come, so you have to beg

Want us to do one for you? So long as it’s not March – I’m sure we can, just email info@rewiredstate.org with the subject line: ‘It’s OK, it’s not in March’

Otherwise – we will keep you posted

*I get asked quite a bit who the Rewired State team is, here goes: James Darling (boy wonder), Richard Pope (super clever), me and a new addition Rob Carter (@hubdad) the sensible money/business man. But the extended family is definitely The Guardian who host many of our hackdays and Harry Metcalfe, founder of the Dextrous Web, who has been extremely generous with his time, thoughts and brilliance. And, of course, the team behind data.gov.uk – who we won’t individually name as we know they are a little bit busy!

** we need sponsors for The National Hack the Government Day: only beer/pizza/lunch money for the 100 geeks and the show and tell guests email us info@rewiredstate.org with ‘sponsor’ as the subject line

*** next you will hear of us will be specific hack day deets and the launch of the new website

Why? Why not?

I get asked why a lot. Why should we do a Facebook fan page? Why should we get on twitter?

There are many sites, if you Google these questions, that will give you compelling reasons for doing so. The simple answer really has to be why not?

If people are getting information from these sources, if online journalists are reaching audiences you need to engage with through their blog posts, twitter streams and Facebook information pages, then – if you are in an organisation that can afford to be there too – then why would you not?

The question is, can you afford to be there, as much as it is can you afford not to be there?

Young Rewired State – it happened

Young Rewired State is now over. The good news: 16 applications/websites were developed enough for presentation (within a weekend, with roughly 12 real time hours of dedicated work) <- that is pretty impressive. The projects will be uploaded here: http://www.rewiredstate.org/projects (and most are, the apps developed by the 15 to 18 year olds are from ‘how’s my train‘ onwards, no need to separate them on the site yet).

We diverged the Rewired State *thing* into a second event for young people, simply because we were curious, what would a different age group do? This curiosity built into something else when we found, through talking about the concept, that there were a few useful things that could happen:

  1. government wants to bridge the gap with young people, (by ‘government’ I mean both civil service and politicians)
  2. there are some scarily good coders, scientists and statisticians out there – and they are aged 15 – 18
  3. someone needs to boot someone else in order to make the connection

We’re quite good at that.

The event happened – and you can follow #youngrewiredstate on twitter or !yrs on identi.ca to catch the tweets over the weekend (and prob after) or google *young rewired state* for the blog/tech press coverage.

Lessons learned

  1. the society that we live in does not start at 18
  2. we had a grand aim to *get young people to engage each other*, simply meaning give the tools and information and see what happens – in fact, the frustrations addressed the basic frustrations of life that government could solve (*for example* by giving up the data and letting the talented/passionate make it less horrendous to *for example* wait for a bus)

Interesting things and the most important things to note

  • our message is harsh but the reality is that government departments, ministers and civil servants took time (Sunday afternoon) out to come and see what young people were taking their own weekends doing to try to help/make better things
  • this event happened, as in we could afford to do it, because we were sponsored <- and a greater percentage of our sponsors were government (costs were food, travel, accommodation <- for the 15 to 18 yr olds outside London, server, printing)
  • there were three girls (out of 50) this was not for lack of trying, Dan Morris and I spent a painful three weeks on the hunt for more girl geeks aged 15 to 18 (something needs to be looked at there, but…)
  • Directgov are brave – we got funding from Directgov, and they sent a judge: Mike Hoban, and their directgov Innovate man: Brian Hoadley, proving their support and proving that they are listening <- this is good. We dedicated our one donated prize (an X-Box) to a recasting of the Directgov homepage, just to see what young people did with it. The reality was that they had little exposure and we have a raft of free feedback plus a few redesigns (here’s the winning one http://twitpic.com/f09io)
  • the catalyst effect of #youngrewiredstate means that all we do is chuck a rock in the pool; but we do it with friends, colleagues, communities, Ministers and civil servants and see what happens
  • we can inspire, Julia Chander from DFID (who already is doing awesome stuff in the social innovation space but really struggling with data, as in ‘what do you need?’) blogged her first post <- super chuffed about that

We can all see the 15-18 yr olds did what they signed up to do <- so much so that they were up and working, ahead of their mentors, on day #2 and perhaps ahead of the RS and Google people.

Government and the industry signed up also and has to be applauded for stepping wholly up to the plate.

It’s super hard to make these practical connections. Everyone is there for differing reasons, but the same goal: let’s make stuff better (we can worry about the *how* afterwards). A fact that is pondered in the Public Strategy blog.

Update: two blog posts that really round the weekend up for me are: from one of our *rather clever* mentors: Christian Heilmann’s and one of the 15-18 year olds who was involved in the dev: TFHell Jordan Hatch.

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