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.

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

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

Young Rewired State

It’s this weekend and I will be blogging about it next week. But if you want to follow the action then the hashtag is #youngrewiredstate (so tweets will be short!) also #yrs, for the bleeding edge amongst you the identica link is here http://identi.ca/group/youngrewiredstate and one of our young developers is live blogging here http://www.scribblelive.com/Event/Rewired_State

Homework

There have been two publications this week that have caught my attention, and I have been a bit surprised by the lack of reaction to them. The first was from the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit, entitled Power in people’s hands: learning from the world’s best public services and the second from the Lords Information Committee on creating connections between people and Parliament.

Power in people’s hands

This is a very interesting report, driven by the fact that there is just not a great deal of money about and a recognition that the way out of any recession is innovation. This is good news for everyone, it means we are going to get creative. Liam Byrne MP writes the foreword and says that ‘in the next decade we need to be radical about power; realistic about money; and relentless on innovation’. The report has shown that there is a worldwide shift of power from the State to the citizen, but what excites me most is that Mr Byrne has picked out freedom of information and data to be the UK’s pièce de résistance : ‘We aim to be world leaders in making information on services accessible’. OK his words are not quite so dramatic, but in Ministerial speak that is quite a statement, the stall he has set out is the information one – and that is a huge win for the UK. We have a wealth of entrepreneurial and geek talent ready and willing to take such information and help create services that work at hyper-local and individual level. (You might just have to trust me on this one).

I suggest you skim read the whole report, but I am just going to cut and paste the bits that jumped out for me below if you need further convincing:

Overall, the importance of public services is likely to grow rather than diminish. For example, sources of increasing wealth creation – such as the emerging low-carbon, life science and pharmaceutical, and digital industries – will create new opportunities. But every person, and the country as a whole, will only have the potential to benefit fully if they have access to excellent schools, training and employment services.

… stepping up the drive to improve value for money by taking hard decisions on priorities as needs change, redesigning services, sharing assets better and cutting bureaucracy.

And for you working in local government and devolved: more exciting news, this does recognise you are the front-liners:

In considering lessons, it is also important to recognise that the public services that are covered in this study are delivered by the Devolved Administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and by local authorities. It will be for these bodies to consider the most appropriate insights. At a time of necessary innovation, however, the best organisations look outward – for practices which can be replicated and to spark new ideas and challenge existing ways of thinking.

Here is the bit that interests me most, Chapter Two expands and I recommend that you read all of it if the following interests you slightly:

Empowering citizens in the information age

A revolution in the use and re-use of information on public services is being stimulated by new online technologies, giving the potential to empower citizens to hold services to account far more easily than in the past. The leading-edge systems, such as StateoftheUSA.org and data.gov, are not only disseminating information rapidly. They are also breaking down government monopolies on information presentation and use by making it easy for people to analyse information themselves. At the same time, blogs, wikis and other web 2.0 tools are enabling citizens to get more deeply involved in validating information and collectively making decisions. In Cologne, for example, participatory budgeting uses new technology to give citizens a stronger voice over how public money is spent.

The shift required for governments to enable such changes is cultural as much as technical. It is no coincidence that American public services have been at the forefront of these changes,  for they already had an understanding that all government information should be in the public domain. Government should, however, do more than just liberate information. The global leaders will be those who invest in ensuring that information is high-quality and balanced, can be shared through common standards and facilitates joint working by professionals and citizens.

Fascinated yet? Whole report here.

So Cabinet Office is saying it needs to get revolutionary on us… and now Parliament, specifically the House of Lords, agrees. For those of you not clear about the role of Parliament and the role of the Cabinet, let me grab some explanations for you: can’t use my own words as I may explain it wrong, so forgive the use of even more quotes.

The Cabinet Office aims to ensure that the Government delivers its priorities. It does this by supporting collective consideration of key issues by Cabinet and its Ministerial Committees, and by working with departments to modernise and co-ordinate government, aiming at excellence in policy making and responsive, high quality public services.

Parliament is an essential part of UK politics. Its main roles are:

  • Examining and challenging the work of the government (scrutiny)
  • Debating and passing all laws (legislation)
  • Enabling the government to raise taxes

*more detail on Parliament here

And so the fact that the House of Lords has come to a similar conclusion about its own work is equally as important.

Creating connections between people and Parliament

The report has been written by the Information Committee which ‘considers the House’s information and communications services’. The report has the tagline: are the Lords listening; and if you read my explanation of the difference between Parliament and Cabinet then perhaps it is important to us that they are. The report is in such an easy to use format that it negates the need for me to pull out the interesting bits. Go and read it here it seriously is a very important report. You could just read Chapters 3 and 4 if like me you are most interested in communication and data, but I don’t recommend it (read it all!).

CHAPTER 3: ONLINE COMMUNICATION AND ENGAGEMENT

CHAPTER 4: SETTING PARLIAMENTARY DATA FREE

And of course, always the best bit, the list of recommendations:

CHAPTER 11: SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS AND ACTIONS

Especially good is this one:

We recommend that information and documentation related to the core work of the House of Lords (including Bills, Hansard, transcripts of public committee meetings, evidence submitted to committees, committee reports, records of divisions, expenses and the register of Lords’ interests) should be produced and made available online in an open standardised electronic format that enables people outside Parliament to analyse and re-use the data.

I am not sure that I need to conclude this post other than to say I hope that I have helped you find two very interesting reports! And apologies if I bored you…

Does this mean we have now clarified the formula for change?

Willingness of public sector + free public data + revised procurement rules + brilliant talent + global sharing = 21st century way of being a part of our community and engaging with our government?

Willingness of public sector

Well, we have just had the brilliant ’09 UKGovBarCamp (I was not there but all of my mates and colleagues were, so I received updates constantly and have seen some of the outcomes). There was the announcement of the Directgov innovations site, pledged support for the Rewired State: National Hack the Government Day and announcement of another event in April around public engagement online, (by the fabulous Mitch Sava from Polywonk).

None of this is done without integral support and co-operation from the public sector, with civil servants and Ministers engaging at every level: essential to make any of this have any point. So I can safely say that this is not just a nod in the right direction: this is a movement.

Free public data

No I don’t mean details about you and I, I mean stats and the like. Facts and figures that are available as APIs and then we can all make our own minds up. Many people have been campaigning to free our data for years, most publicly The Guardian (for some reason I cannot make this link, just Google ‘free our data’). Now a report is due out, here in Beta for your comment for two weeks. Here are the pages most interesting to the data bit: geospatial data and general data.

I have had many conversations recently about data, and how it will ultimately be the tripping point for everything that we all want to happen. The fear seems to really be that nothing will happen because the risk that by freeing the data and people mashing it up will embarrass some and highlight what is happening in certain areas: for us I guess this really means what might it do to the value of our houses? Well… I have no argument for that, except that if that is what is really happening, then we need to know about it and we need to do something about it: government and community alike to change those figures.

Recommendation 9 and recommendation 13 are the ones to watch for this one.

Revised procurement rules

*sigh* anyone who has seen me so far this year will no doubt have been met by my current rage-inducing rant: procurement/HR/head count – driving me nuts. We need to get some stuff done quickly, with the right people at very little, sometimes no, cost. But we can’t – because of procurement. I know that this was discussed at UKGovBarCamp, and boy wonder has set up a google group to start a conversation about this: but nothing else has happened: this MUST be dealt with, and is missed entirely in the Power of Information report.

Growl

Brilliant talent

I don’t need to say anything about this, there are so many superbly talented people, engaging for free and giving as much as they can to help push this on. These people are essential to making this formula work, but stymied by the procurement issue, often, or a perceived ignorance on the part of the public sector to listen to them. This is changing, but needs some proper attention.

H/T to Tom Watson MP for going out of his way to recognise and support this community.

Global sharing

I am delighted to see that over the past year there has been much International engagement and sharing of ideas, concurrent events and the like. Not enough. But this is where the work of futuregov and their competition is so vital. The Obama messiah-like effect has opened up the global awareness of what it means to have transparent governance, from online to the story of Michelle Obama encouraging people to ask anything they liked about her and her husband, their finances, beliefs – everything (never before seen true transparency).

Although I am not so interested in the political opportunities here, but the lessons we can learn – as we are all breaking new ground. The standards have been set high: once again quoting Obama’s inaugural speech:

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Now a commitment to do everything in the light of day is something that all of our politicians say, but I believe that Obama means it: and the people he has appointed to work with him seem to show that he means it. (Macon Phillips and Katie Jacobs Stanton for example).

Conclusion

I *believe* that this is the formula needed, I cannot think of anything else really. I know that Mitch is running his event on online public consultation which will be great – but I think in order to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s we need to do one on procurement rules: this would not be unconference style: this would need to be much more formal. But actually the trend seems to be moving in that direction, the freedom of the barcamp, through the practicality of the Hack Day, through Mitch’s semi-formal event to one aching with bureaucracy (procurement rules) – we need them all to make change happen.

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