Running a very experimental hack day for start-ups

This is nothing to do with my work in government, therefore I am blogging about it! (Ref previous purdah post)

The idea is to gather together a number of business start-ups, owned by members of Adam Street club, identify the ones with interesting data and information, pull together a number of developers/hackers, some of whom are already working with the businesses concerned, some of whom are nothing to do with it (including some Rewired State developers) – and run a one-day hack event with the intention of creating a number of mash-ups. The mash-ups can take many forms: websites, web applications, i-phone apps, other data phone apps, i-pad apps, games, maps – endless possibilities.

The aim is to see where there might be connections and collaborations between businesses not yet explored, and inevitably see what, if any, new products there are hiding amongst that information. I have no idea what will happen, it could be simple things like more effective ways to exploit the data or better ways to store and serve the information. However, I think it is worth doing, as we all know that one of the best ways to re-generate the economy is through enterprise and entrepreneurship – so why not see if we can be pro-active about this with start-ups.

How will the day work?

The day will start with the owners of the selected businesses standing up and speaking about what they do, what data they have put into the pot, any ideas or issues that have that they would like solved, inspiration etc (this will be very time-limited!). A Rewired State developer will have been working with me to get the data sorted for re-use, and we will explain how to access the data and any APIs we may have.

Planning and coding will start as soon as possible, and will continue through the day – fuelled by delicious food and beverages in a variety of forms. At 6pm there will be a show and tell, where the developers will show what they have made, with the traditional beer and pizza accompaniment, to their peers, the business and data owners, and a selection of interested people.

What happens next?

Collaborations between start-ups, initiated by the mash-ups, are the primary outcome we want to focus on. Where this goes depends entirely on the people involved and the nature of the product. Perhaps products will be created that are completely new and therefore further discussions will take place about how that might be taken forward either by the business owners, or by the developers themselves. We will see, but we will be making sure that whatever support needed going forward is provided and will be looking for sponsors and investors to help us do that.

This first one will hopefully begin a series of start-up hack days, I hope that it does work, it may not.

How to get involved

Well, in order to see if this works we will be hand-picking businesses, but if you are an Adam Street member and have a business that you think should be involved, let me know. If you are a developer and really want to be involved, then get in touch – I have enough signed up, but we are not really squeezed on space so we can take more if you are good.

We could do with a bit of sponsorship for beer and pizza in the evening, but all we can offer in return for sponsorship, is attendance at the show and tell and a first dibs at next-step talks with the business owners and hackers – plus inclusion in any Press we do around this event (although we are not yet decided on whether we will invite Press – thoughts?). Also, all of the developers do this on a voluntary basis, so if we get sponsorship we will try to give them something in return for their work, usually in the form of prizes – you can help us judge these.

We need a server… please…

I think it would be quite good if there was a group of people wanting to run an eye over this, and act as a bit of an advisory panel, so that this does not become just a pointless, but fun, exercise. There are a few involved already, but if you feel that you could bring something to this particular party – please do let me know.

Want to come to the show and tell? Just let me know and let me know why and I will see, we are limited on space for that – so it will be first come first served and relevancy.

Why Adam Street member businesses only?

Adam Street is a club that offers seriously affordable membership to entrepreneurs and start-ups (I made that up from my own experience, it’s not their official line I don’t think!). Most people that belong to it are serious about their business and are looking for good networking opportunities, but perhaps cannot afford to invest in expensive business clubs. These are the people we think would most benefit and appreciate this form of innovation. I am a member and it seems a sensible place to start – apart from the fact that I am not a member of anywhere else. (From the Adam Street side, they started out wanting to provide an affordable space for entrepreneurs, offering them collaboration opportunities – and they are keen to deliver on this, above and beyond the Mojito).

I approached the club about this idea as I thought it would be a good idea for their members and they were enthusiastic, embracing the ethos of hack days as much as me and happy to go with the ‘suck it and see’ attitude <- do not insert crude joke here.

When?

*probably* the first Saturday in June. It has to be a Saturday as we need the best developers, and they are busy all week. Also, Adam Street is shut until 6pm on a Saturday, so we get the run of the club throughout the day when the developers need peace to work.

Rewired State

I am a founder director of Rewired State, but that is really all that is relevant here. This is not a Rewired State hack day – we are über busy with government work, and our only focus is public sector information and hack days. However, I have opened the offer to work on this hack day to our developers as they really are the best; and am really pleased to say that ten of them are joining us to work on this, including two of the Young Rewired State hackers, one aged 15 the other 16 (and mind-blowingly good).

Rewired State: Justice and Home Affairs Hack day

On Thursday, 11th March 2010, ten Rewired State developers (including two of our young rewired staters) hacked Home Office and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data for a few increasingly panicked hours (panicked because of time restraints 10am until 4pm).

The lovely people at Osmosoft hosted the day and we presented the 9 final apps in the Home Office to Home Office Chief Information Officer: Annette Vernon, the Cabinet Office Director of Digital Egagement: Andrew Stott, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Nigel Shadbolt, and roughly 80 Home Office and MoJ policy, statisticians, ecomms and Press Officers.

Here are the hacks:

Better Crime Maps Richard Pope created the application he has always wanted to, whereby he took away the fear created by crime maps that made people aware of crime in their area, but perhaps could not afford to move away from – by creating a ‘not the crime map, crime map’ – here is the true detail of crime in your area, and here are the contact details of people who can help affect where the police focus their efforts… ’nuff said

Crime Stats facebook quiz A real life facebook quiz of only six questions that enables you to guess about the crime stats in your area based on your conception vs the reality – not only is this an unobtrusive way of you finding out the real stats, but it is also a great way of offering the Home Office a feel for how people are feeling about crime in their local area. Valuable to both department and society

Police complaints data A new visualisation of police complaints data that shows a different view other than text for police complaints in an area, per type of complaint, rank and so on. The only thing borking this is that there is no data that gives the number of police in each ward – so it could look skewed if there are high complaints in an area with few police etc etc. However, after the hack day, the CIO for the Home Office is determined to get that data made available for the application to work properly  – WIN

BBC Data.gov.uk this was really exciting for me. Ben Griffiths (who always comes through with the most insightful hack at any event we run) started work on an application that works a bit like sidewiki – whereby any BBC news article (and of course this could be syndicated out) is marked up to link to the relevant data set that informs the story it is telling. I have been following Ben Hammersley’s work on how the publishing industry needs to change the way they are creating content, thereby data, online. Ben Griffith’s hack plays beautifully into this, news industry take note.

Safer journeys this is a simple principle hack from one of the Osmosoft guys, Simon McManus, who created an idea for a hack that gives information on crime in an area per underground station. useful as it is time lead, however, not so good as it is per area not station – we need to get the station crime data – a set that is not yet created, but hopefully we can get it made.

How’s my Town was one of the creations of Josh (Young Rewired Stater) that called up all information on an area and gives it a percentage rating  – as he says ‘for the ultimate snob value’. Currently it seems to be a bit broken but he assures me it will be working again soon!

Two other apps: Met Complaints (an iphone app) and Helicoptr (lovely vis of where the police helicopters are and have been over set periods of time – by Stephen – the other Young Rewired Stater there) have not yet been loaded but will be.

Paul Clarke took some great photos (which I have liberally reused in this post):

Photos of the hacking here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/sets/72157623477510033/show/
Photos of the presentations here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/sets/72157623602064232/

There was no wifi or reception in the conference room so no tweeting, but actually the point was to enthuse and inspire the Home Office and MoJ officials, not everyone else. And it worked – we will see what happens next but everyone was very buzzy afterwards. The Q&A was challenging at points, but the usual subjects were well-debated: you don’t understand the data, how will people know what we mean, loss of control etc as well as the shiny, bouncy, happy people wanting more and wanting to race back to their office to tell their colleagues.

Then we all went to the pub.

Next up: National Hack the Government Day if you are a dev sign up, sign up, if you want to come and watch – sign up

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

Developers are great but…

Doing wonderful things with data: creating apps that everyone can use to seamlessly skip through their lives, or educate/reveal information through linking the data is always going to be awe-inspiring and useful/needed. We know this, hence there is a real revolution in the way the developer community is being trusted to help government open data in a useful and appropriate way.

But equally there are other benefits to having people freely playing with data – what are they doing with it and why?

Take for example the fact that two of the apps developed independently from each other at Young Rewired State were for finding safe routes to school. This tells us more than just: oh there’s a clever app, let’s talk to the IT people and data people to get this live as a government service. It tells us that young people do not feel safe going to school and in a group of 50 people aged under 18, two groups have chosen to give up their weekend to try to develop a solution to this. (That’s quite a high margin).

To any business, organisation or government, this is extremely useful information. The solution is not the app, that might form part of it, but what the development of such an app tells us is that there is a fundamental problem, a very clearly defined one, that needs some attention.

I could go on to give countless examples, but I know that you are all brilliant enough to think through the implications of this for yourselves. And why I think that it is important that those beyond the geek community keep a very close eye on what comes out of making data available.

On that note, I am hoping to get some of the gen on the apps being created behind the closed Beta at data.gov.uk as I suspect that there some early lessons we can all take from this. And when they do open it all up, please take time to look through what has been done, and see what clues you can find to making your own businesses better – in and outside of government.

Opening up the non-personal data in the Home Office

Over the last couple of months I have been working on getting some non-personal data sets published in re-usable form (as recommended in the Power of Information report here). This all a part of the digital engagement strategy, but something close to my heart because of Rewired State and Young Rewired State. I have already seen the huge potential of making this data available: the Rewired State creations page showcases what can be made for next to no money over the course of 12 – 24 hours – imagine the potential?

Not only does it mean that awesome web and mobile apps are created – but it also means that the people who actually need to use this information, can create what they need, in a way that answers the problem they are trying to solve – traditionally this would have taken weeks/months of customer insight, and the solution then developed by industry experts. I really like the approach of looking to the digital community, to find the people facing whichever problem an organisation is trying to solve – and then finding those who also have the ability to create solutions, the geeks, the coders. Young people are an obvious example, and we have proved the success of that; but it can also be applied to say those with long term illness – a group that I know the Scottish government is trying to reach and help.

I thought that it might be useful to explain how we in the Home Office have been approaching responding to the recommendation:  ‘The government should ensure that public information data sets are easy to find and use’, and what we plan to do next.

Taking the simple remit to locate the non-personal data, find the original source and publish that, we began by looking at all of our publications. Most roads led to the Research Development and Statistics unit. So we – in communications and the Office of the Chief Information Office (OCIO) – started to talk to the statisticians about getting access to the raw data. Because we did not really know what we were asking, and RDS did not really know why or what we were asking either, we had a series of telephone conversations, email conversations and finally a good old coffee and a chat. (I tell you what, this is what I love about this work – you get to meet the most incredible people. I had not any idea of the work of the statisticians and I am in awe, and a little bit in love, with what they do). At the end of that, we had a clear understanding of the process of data being analysed and released, the varying degrees of complexity and statistical implications of disclosure (which basically means if we go to too much granular detail, there can be a chance that individuals or locations could be identified <- that’s very bad). Now we all knew what we were asking for, we had an idea of what we wanted to do and so we began to do it.

We have separated data into two high level categories: data that is currently published, and data that is yet to be created.

For data that is currently published we are working closely with the statisticians to get the raw data and we are now publishing it here www.homeoffice.gov.uk/data (published by the rather wonderful Carly Moore in e-comms). (You will see that we also link to PDFs that have data in, just so that you can see what will be coming up). It is working, and we are looking at how we can make this all better: easier to sort and find datasets.

For data that is yet to be created, we are talking to the relevant parts of the Home Office about the data that is required, and will be publishing this on an ongoing basis. We are also preparing guidance to enable officials to produce future data in a format and to standards that will facilitate its reuse. In the longer term we aim to establish a process whereby data is published in reusable form as a matter of course, and is made available promptly, whilst maintaining appropriate controls regarding the security of personal or sensitive data (in accordance with the Hannigan report).

So that’s how we are handling this. Does that help? I hope you will keep an eye on how this progresses. If you do anything with any of the reusable data, do tag it #honpdata and then we will be able to see what you do.

I would seriously love to have a developer session where the statisticians and coders work together – that would be alchemy.