Festival of Code 2015, 7th one: a synopsis… the legacy

I am going to try to cram 1200 kids, 400 mentors, 70 centre leads, 50 volunteers, 200 parents and five (yup only five) full time staff’s work at this year’s Festival write-up. A challenge – but not one as great as the one we set the 1200 kids: build something digital in a week (even if you have only just started learning to code) with only one rule: you *must* use open data. (The open data rule goes back to the origins of the Festival, where we set out to let young people know about the data government was opening on data.gov.uk back in 2009).

So please bear with me and grab a cuppa – this post will take a while to navigate, you may need to come back later.

Firstly, here is a medium post of what it is like during the week from one of our regular (and ace) centres: Lives not Knives, and how being a mentor this last week has helped her come to a decision about her career, post-Uni. How lucky the world is that this indecisive, brilliant lady has chosen a career working with young people.

Fun facts:

We were covered on BBC Breakfast, BBC lunchtime news at one, 5Live, BBC Bews at 6 and Newsnight at the beginning of the week. The finale was covered by ITV News on Sunday. And Mike Butcher (a semi-final judge) wrote this on TechCrunch.

1200 young people aged 7-18 took part

32% were female

The semi-finalists, finalists and winners are listed here and the finalists videos can be watched here (please like your favourite one as they will win a prize)

For all the different hashtags on Twitter and Instagram we had:

  • 11968 posts by 1804 users
  • Total reached: 4,299,775 people <- MILLIONS!
  • Total impressions: 25,909,753 <- MILLIONS!
  • 65% male users and 35% female users (32% of the Festival participants were female, so this reflects that)
  • The biggest surge of tweets was between 11am and 1pm on Sunday where we had around 2000 posts. (that’s the finale)
  • The most commonly used hashtag in addition to one associated with the festival was #watttheduck
  • The most tweeted centre was #FoCHighbury
  • We had tweets from all over the world, with the UK, US and Ireland being top of the list.
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Here is a link to all that was made: http://hacks.youngrewiredstate.org/events/festival-of-code-2015 The semi finalists and winners will be displayed in the hacks app shortly, but we had a small laptop incident that means we have not been able to have the smooth transition to the 2016 sign up and 2015 synopsis – this will come. (But you can still sign up through here for 2016 registration news, as a mentor, YRSer, volunteer or centre).

Paul Clarke, a photographer of huge renown, covered the Festival for us and captured every moment of joy and trepidation – you can see the photos here, they are available on CC license but obviously please don’t take the mick and if using for anything give Paul the appropriate props in the tags and attributions. It is testament to his talent that his tweet with the photographs is the top tweet on the #FoC2015 hashtag.

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For me there were three defining moments of this Festival:

The first was when I was sitting at the information desk on Friday afternoon. We have registration open for six hours (it takes that long to process 1200 young people, plus their parents, mentors and centre leads into the weekend venue) – but the numbers of people signing in comes in waves, always has – we have people coming from all over. However, there is always a 4-5pm surge. During that surge, all I saw from my slightly nondescript desk and chair to the right of the escalators, was kids going “ARRRGGHHH” *running hug* “I cannot believe you are here! It’s been a year!!!!!” *bouncing hugs*. At one point, a brilliant brilliant young developer: Michael Cullum, who was at school with my daughter, saw her at registration and similarly did the running hug. It was a Festival of Code bundle, and I was pinching my arm not to cry at every reunion I witnessed.

The second defining moment for me was when I was standing slightly off stage at the end, watching the YRS Festival alumni judges. These were young people I have watched grow up and who are now too old to take part (19+), but who we chose to be the judges for their younger peers. They get it, they know what it takes, they understand what to reward and what to feedback. I sat in the judging room with our compere, Dallas Campbell – chatting about the death of Cilla Black – when the alumni judges all decided that feedback to every finalist was vital. They worked it out between them and I tried not to get emotional then. But when I stood there watching as the winners they selected were called to the stage, as they shook their hands and congratulated them – alumni to current participants – I have to admit I totally nearly lost it. But it was also a calm moment. I now know, that whatever happens – these kids have got it. Whatever we do or don’t do – the community owns this. My heart is literally bursting with pride for them.

The third was after it was all over and everyone was slowly exiting the finale space in the ICC, already drifting into mourning for the week, and two Mums of YRSers (parents *have* to accompany their children to the weekend if the kids are 13 or under) and they suggested that the next time we give the parents a chance to hack something over the weekend for them to surprise the kids with – a parents’ race, if you like (a whole other blog post). What a genius thing that we had never thought of. But perfect, so yes, something we will work on.

I am going to leave this update with a Facebook post written by Harry Rickards for all YRSers. Harry is an alumnus who came to Young Rewired State (YRS) in 2012, and is now studying at MIT. I cannot say any more – over to you, Harry:

Words are hard, but now I’m finally out of the yearly YRS sleep coma I’ll give it a try. You all are awesome. Seriously. Most of your mates spent half the week sleeping and half the week drinking in parks, and you spent the week making amazing amazing things. I say it every year but I 100% promise it’s true: every year I’m amazed by how much better the hacks have got. Seeing you all, both young and old, up on stage presenting things most professional devs could only dream of making in a week is awe-inspiring.
At MIT you feel like you’re around future billionaires, future tech leaders, future everything-awesomes. YRS is this but better. Go change the world! To those who just graduated, don’t think your journey is over! Come back as a mentor/volunteer/judge, get scared at how good the kids are, and have an even more fun time partying the evenings away (because none of you have been doing that as participants ofc), watching Robert dance and Alexander use a knife like he’s from the North. Despite the road-rage journey from hell with James and Shad this weekend (I think we might get PTSD from the M40…) and Neena‘s apparent misundersanding of the concept of private property, this weekend was one of the most fun I’ve had in a while (and I’m not even gonna attempt to tag you all).
Just please please please don’t let the cool kids party be at a goddamn Spoons 3 nights in a row next year. To the YRS organizers you’re the most amazing people ever. I’m sure your jobs are a trillion times harder than I think they are, and I already have no idea how you manage. YRS changed my life in so many ways: it made me get into programming and set me off into a path leading to MIT, it let me meet the best friends, and it hella inspired me. Trying not to sound like a cliched US politician (after all, thanks to YRS there’s now an app for that…), seeing the presentations and the excitement and the atmosphere and everything this weekend gave me faith in humanity.
I’m by no means alone here, so keep changing lives! Now enough with the rambling and (well-deserved) superlatives and onwards to next year. I don’t see how it’s possible, but I’m sure it’ll end up being even bigger, better, more fun, world-changing, etc. And with any luck (pending the Administration’s bureaucracy) we’ll have an MIT centre over in Boston next year! ‪#‎FoC2015‬‪#‎BestHashtag‬‪#‎WorldDomination‬
The YRSers own it, this is about them, and the ambition for the Festival is that it is totally supported by them. We will be their backbone, their champions – but the alumni will smash this. This is the legacy.
Please help us fund 2016 with the donation links on the website: it costs a lot to make this a free event for every child, and the work starts now for 2016.

Rageh Omar in Iran: watch it

Rageh Omar has managed, after a year of trying, to film inside Iran.

My daughters will be watching this tomorrow. Astounding journalism and a wonderful insight into the other side of a country.

A pal of mine on Facebook has pointed out, quite rightly, that 90 minutes of YouTube could be a bit much. Here is it in BBC iPlayer and here it is in Google video. I hope that they put it on again.

Case study: social media and justice

The title might be a bit of a red herring actually, but I am a bit stuck as to what to call this post.

The challenge

A great friend of mine, Tom Cholmondeley, is imprisoned in Kamiti jail in Nairobi. His friends around the world were frustrated by an inability to get news of his welfare, other than through getting in touch with his – already frustrated – mother, Lady Delamere and girlfriend, Sally Dudmesh. Out of consideration most people left them alone, which caused a sense of isolation and more importantly, robbed Tom of the messages of support and good wishes that might help cheer him through his darkest days.

The solution

I spoke to Sally about how I might be able to help, and we decided that a website which gave Tom a voice and people an opportunity to get messages to him through the site would be a good idea. We came up with a plan using the following as our guideline:

  • To give a voice to Tom and those who know and love him
  • To publicise what is happening in the trial and Kamiti jail
  • To give hope and information to those concerned about Tom and his welfare

Using WordPress, I created a very basic site www.justicefortom.com that enabled Lady Delamere and Sally to post up their latest news of Tom, including details of visits, Tom occasionally sends messages through his mother when she visits him, friends and family could leave messages for Tom and/or his family and Sally or Lady D print and take the comments from the site to Tom.

Understandably there were nerves around publicising what was happening in the trial, so we asked Tom’s lawyer to draft a precis of the trial for the site, and we limit comments on trial days to ‘a mother’s view’, where Lady D just explains how Tom is, looks and feels. We do not post any personal opinions on what is being debated in court.

Team Tom is made up of Lady Delamere, Sally, some close friends of Tom who visit him and myself.

The result

We started receiving comments to the site straight away.

  • Friends old and new used it as a personal channel to Tom which made a huge difference to how everyone felt, not least of whom being Tom.
  • Lady Delamere and Sally had an avenue to update everyone on what was happening and so felt more supported.
  • People who read pieces in the press were being directed to it and were able to post their own opinions – some not in line with the feelings of the family – but enabled the family to respond to criticism or mis-conception.

Very quickly it got Press attention and was linked to by the Sunday Times and Channel 4. Most recently we received the following message from the BBC:

I realise this is not the best moment to send you a message, given that you will all no doubt be completely focused on the upcoming court date. But I wonder whether it might be a request you could think over at a more convenient time.

I develop documentaries for the BBC, and would be very interested in trying to make a film with Tom, and the Justice for Tom group.

This would not be a news report, but a long form 60-minute film in which we could communicate more fully what this experience has been like for all of you.

As I said, I realise this will not be something you’ll want to think about right now. But I would really appreciate it if you could give it some thought at an appropriate time for you. For the moment, really, I would value the opportunity just of establishing contact with a view perhaps of discussing the idea at a later date.

I believe that it has achieved everything that we wanted it to.

Note: I was especially touched when a great and talented friend of mine: Dave Briggs – who does not know Tom – offered to weave his magic on the site and give us a new look that helped people use it more easily. I think it looks amazing and you can now see it – the site you are looking at is a professional version of my amateur effort, as from 17th March 2008.

Ponderings

I believe that in this day and age of information availability, (both online and off: through social media and the Freedom of Information Act), everyone can benefit from using the right tools in the right way. This is just one example of how it has worked very well. I would love to hear of others, and I also wonder how sites like these will start to play a part in ensuring justice is done – with a jury of peers that are unselected.