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

Parly Hack 2012

On the 24th and 25th November 2012 we are running a hack weekend for Parliament http://rewiredstate.org/hacks/parliament-2012. This is our second “Parly hack” and we have over 100 of the UK’s top developers (including 20% aged 18 or under from Young Rewired State) joining us.

Hack events in the UK have always played a vital role in helping government be open and transparent about what it is doing, and it is essential that this extends to what Parliament is doing too. Many people roll Government and Parliament up into one big ball of responsibility, and whilst it is right that this is so, there are also fundamental differences between the two bodies. Parliament has a video that explains this very clearly (ignore the target age group)

How Parliament works

For those not familiar with the hack day format, it is an event usually held over two days, where developers, designers and experts work with digital information to create prototype web or mobile apps, infographics, websites or widgets with a view to making that information more understandable by everyone. They are important because the people involved are working with facts, statistics and published information – there is no opportunity for spin or mis-direction. In these days of mistrust of anyone in power, these events and communities underpin democracy and have a big role to play in rebuilding trust between citizens of a country and its elected populus.

If you watched the video you will understand the major differences between Government and Parliament, if you didn’t the highlights are thus:

  • Government is made up of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and is responsible for running public sector departments – choosing how to raise and spend money from the taxpayer
  • Parliament is made up of the House of Lords, The House of Commons and the Monarch – so Government is a part of Parliament
  • Crucially, Parliament is the highest legislative authority of the land, making and revising most the laws in the UK
  • Parliament also scrutinises Government and its actions

Consider your Member of Parliament (MP), they can raise questions on your behalf and get answers, they can also ask difficult questions of Government Ministers in their capacity as an MP. As can the House of Lords.

So if the communities of people who attend open data hack events only focused on the Government in the UK, they risk only getting half the answer, and providing easy access to information that is only made available through Government – and miss the information that Parliament holds on any given topic. Needless to say, scrutiny of those in Parliament is as important as that levelled at Number Ten and the Cabinet.

This year Parliament has been enthusiastic about joining in on this hack day, to the point that not only are they ensuring we have access to as much information as they can release, they are also opening access to the Annunciator data.

The annunciator service gives information about parliamentary proceedings, including live feeds from the Commons and Lords Chambers and Westminster Hall, on television screens throughout the parliamentary estate.

We have been keen on getting this for a while, simply because we can not only help open up Parliamentary procedure more easily with this access, but we can also create assets for MPs and Parliamentarians, to make their lives more easy too. Making pages such as this more alive http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/business/divisions/

And so we begin our plans for Parly hack 2012, hand in hand with Parliament and the developer community; with a view to continuing the trend for transparency – and making information relevant and understandable for everyone. At the same time we are supporting the (continuously cut) public sector employees who struggle to have the time and resources to do it on their own, however committed they are to openness.

If you would like to attend the Show and Tell to see what is made at Parly hack, sign up here http://rewiredstate.org/hacks/rsparly-2012-show-and-tell

Parliament Hack is taking place as a part of Parliament Week.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 134 other followers