Here is my theory:

Douglas Carswell is a good man and a great politician. He has thought deeply about what he believes in and what the future might hold for democracy. He wrote his book: The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy after many years of thinking. He thought so deeply and could find no party to match his ideals exactly. In the end I believe that he wanted his own party and had a choice, influence a party, rebrand it and bring his own policies to bear; or start a new one. I think he is cuckooing UKIP. I think he may well be the sleeper we hope is out there.

How I came to this view tl:dr

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In the olden days when he was in opposition he came to the same fringe events Tom Watson MP (who was in power at the time) attended. He would chat to the civic tech community and shared his views on democracy. So it started there, I had a chat with him once, in about 2006 I think, next to an assembly stage in some school. I liked his rhetoric, even if I did not agree with all of it.

Then he wrote his book, I read it and then read lots more, but his book was one of the most interesting.

When I was a commissioner on the Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy, he came and gave evidence and he was very compelling, alongside Jim Knight – they were a dream team.


On my way to visit my Dad, I was listening to the radio and heard that he had defected from the Tories to UKIP. Now I am not a Tory, I am a died in the wool Labour woman, but this coming within weeks of his commission evidence. I was like…

Then on the way home I was thinking, what on earth would make a clever politician do this? And the ONLY reasonable explanation was that he was being a cuckoo. I have told few about this theory, but this news today backs up my theory.

Watch this space #carswellwatch

Open data explained through the medium of Blue trousers (and chickens)

“Yes but *why* is open data important?”

When acting as Commissioner on The Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy I was often asked what was the single most important recommendation we could make. I always replied “open data”, here is why:

You know how if you go online to buy a pair of blue trousers. You have a bit of a mooch around and regardless of whether you bought a pair or not, blue trousers will thereafter follow you around the Internet. In your Facebook page, your gmail, your online news channel, somewhere on those pages you will have blue trousers suggested to you.

We know this, we even expect it even though we used to find it creepy. These machine learned behaviours and smart algorithms are just something we accept, something we have come to assume as normal.

But this only happens because that blue trouser data is open to freely move about.

Now in Parliament, the information is not ready yet for this kind of movement around the web. It is *designed* to be destination data, you have to go to it, on the website.

Retro right?!

But way more importantly, more significantly, our learned behaviour pattern means that if something is not actively moved into our digital space, we are more than likely to miss it. When Parliamentary data is open you will find out about what is happening in Parliament that might interest you, using exactly the same voodoo that is used to serve you every variety of blue trouser.

Let’s say you are a lady who is totally nuts about chickens, you have hundreds of them as your pets. A Bill is going through Parliament that is going to make the ownership of chickens illegal. Until that data is open, you will only know about this by seeking out the information elsewhere – yet how could you realistically know about everything going through Parliament? Once the data is open, you will have the Ban the chickens Bill across all your online spaces, and you will be able to then do something to fight your chicken cause. And so it is important.

Kick the cat off the printer, Your coding country needs you!!

The Festival of Code is a week long event that starts on the 27th July this year in centres across the country and Europe. It is our 7th annual Festival and we are ridiculously happy that it is back.

It is free for any child aged 18 or under who has learned to code, mentors will be on hand to help where necessary and they can build whatever they like, so long as it uses open data and solves a real world problem. Show and tell will take place the following weekend in Birmingham, with overnight indoor camping, a maker fair, sprint challenges, photo booths, graffiti walls and spoken word artists all celebrating a week of geeky brilliance.

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Now the Festival started out being specifically for those young people who were teaching themselves to code, back in 2009 there were no Coder Dojos or clubs, and very little opportunity for this community, so learning was a very solitary experience. Luckily things are slowly changing but we remain focused on those young people driven to teach themselves programming for whatever reason.

These young people can be hard to reach, and quite often it is only the parents who will spot the Festival and realise the potential for their budding bedroom programmer, and so we run a poster campaign every year.

Here is how it works. You download and print (sorry – I know) the posters on this link. You then stick them up in your car, your school, your work place, your gym, your library, your local shop (but only if they will do it for free!) with the single aim of ensuring that every child who would benefit from being at the festival knows about it.

The Festival is a free event for the young programmers, and will become the highlight of their year once they have been – I am pretty sure the YRSers will testify! Thank you for your help, and here is a video from last year:

How to get teens voting (and itching to vote) in 5 minutes flat

Here is a story:

My daughter, Jess, is 17 and has had no interest in politics, politicians or government at all, ever. Even more vehemently so because I am her Mum and it is something I am passionate about!

Last week I was mooching around the ‘how should I vote’ apps, of which there are many, just testing them to see what questions they were asking and to see if my politics still chimed with the party I vote for.

Anyway, I said to Jess, “Just come over here and let’s see who you would vote for”, so she did and worked her way through the questions, getting more and more engaged.

After five minutes of answering questions and thinking about her views  she pressed ‘go’ and got ‘her’ party she was ecstatic!

“I am [redacted party name :)] Mum!” she exclaimed.

The next night the leader’s debate was on, and she wanted to know who ‘her’ politician was. She cheered his words and was skeptical about others. She can now take part in conversations that were wholly irrelevant before, where she felt she had no knowledge or right, therefore interest in, taking part. She is interested in who others support, and why but in a normal way, not a total politics geek way. What’s more, she has the loyalty of a teenager who has found their group, their gang.

And it took five minutes.

She can’t vote until later this year, so will miss this general election, but you can bet your bottom dollar she is voting in all and every election she can from now on.

And she cares.

Five minutes, that’s all it took.

A list of voting choice apps are provided here by My Society have a go, it might work for you! I do wonder whether the political parties are aware of this…

Festival of Code 2015: call for centres

The Festival of Code is a UK based (but open to all countries) event, run by Young Rewired State (YRS) that happens every year in late July/early August. This year it starts on the 27th July with the finale weekend happening the first weekend in August.

It is for every child aged 18 and under who has learned how to programme, to whatever degree of skill, it is free to attend and all are welcome. Really it is the graduation programme for those who have learned how to do it, but need to put their coding skills to test against real world problems, and learn how to take the next steps.

We run it with a host of voluntary people who manage local centres during the week, then the centre lead brings their YRS team to the Festival weekend, and corals them through the showcases, flash hacks and maker fair – before everyone attending the finale showcase on the Sunday with the top YRS talent presenting what they built to a panel of judges and peers.

Here is a taste of the event, recorded in our Manchester centre in 2013, probably easier to watch than read!

Our centres are the lifeblood of the event. They can be businesses, civic spaces, schools, Universities, basically anywhere with wifi and power, mentors and a person willing to be a centre lead.

This year we have already stormed away with 29 centres already signed up across the UK and Northern Ireland, have a look at the map and list here: http://festival.yrs.io/centres but with an expected 1800 young people signing up we need more and we need to cover the white bits with red Ruby bugs!

We need more centres across the UK, we will celebrate you, support you, help you and find you your local coding geniuses – but it is not a light commitment. I cannot pretend that all you need do is unlock a room and let kids in and out. Over the seven years we have been running the Festival we have learned a great number of lessons, one of which is to make sure that we have centres everywhere, but also centres who totally understand what the commitment is before they jump in.

The only thing worse than having to tell a child that they have no local centre, is telling them that their allocated centre has dropped out just before the Festival and so they cannot attend.

As a result we have published this page of information, and written up this MOU. This may seem a bit over the top for a voluntary thing, but we do not take your role lightly, and we know that the success of this depends on the willing collaboration of a huge network of centres and centre leads as partners and primaries.

But if you register to be a centre we promise you the following:

  • we will find your local coding youth
  • we will support you every step of the way
  • you will be able to build on the community of young people we find for you
  • you will be pro-actively helping the mission to give our young people a supported digital future
  • your mentors will be inspired by the Festival and the young people they meet through it
  • you will want to come back

This call, therefore, is for those who really are serious about helping this movement, who want to engage with their local coding youth and who want to be a part of the future of Digital.

To everyone, I say, please can you point people you know at these post, especially those who may be able to host kids in the areas where we currently do not have centres (the map is everything!!), thank you!

And of course, if you know of a child or group in the UK who would want to come and be a part of this, then they can sign up here, international participants can register here (it costs nothing to attend).

Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?

Last night Martha Lane Fox gave a knee trembler of a talk in the Science Museum. This was her Dimbleby Lecture and was her latest opportunity to use her position to put the clappers up the Establishment. If you have not seen it – do watch it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05p9tvt/the-richard-dimbleby-lecture-30032015

There is an article about it by the BBC and this is the petition she is asking everyone to sign to demand that DOT EVERYONE happens. Now I will not waste more words telling you my version of what she says – because she says it brilliantly. But what I am going to do is jump on the opportunity she very definitely gave me last night.

Let me explain.

I have known Martha for a few years now, and she has been a fearless and brilliant person relentless in her support of what I do, but not afraid to bark at me if I screw up. I got to know her when she started following me on twitter about six or seven years ago and I told her not to because it was terrifying, we have been friends ever since.

In advance of the lecture last night she asked me and a few of her brilliant friends look over what she was planning on saying. This began with a meeting at the House of Lords – she had me in the room with my heroes: Tony Ageh and Bill Thomson and I was ridiculously happy.

I have since had the tab on my computer open day and night with the google doc transcript of what she was going to say. Every now and again I would go in and have a look at how it was shaping up and see Rusbridger also reading it, or Tom Steinberg, and moments when I would watch her typing and hesitating, deleting and then genius words would flow.  Even her cats got in on the editing.


It was magical. And moving. But also funny. She sent me a text a few days ago saying: “You seem to be spending a lot of time looking at my lecture…” Poor MLF must have thought I was some silent judge-y teacher type, frowning at her work in silence. I wasn’t at all, I just kept the tab open to remind me to read every few days.

Thanks to her, and to the BBC Make it Digital team, the Managing Director of Young Rewired State (and my sister) Ruth Nicholls were also invited to the lecture. I was asked to attend the dinner afterwards (guestlist ridiculous, how on earth I got on there…) and then we retired for a final celebratory cocktail – and it was done. The lecture that is.

But what’s this noise in my inbox?

Today I have had a slew of people getting in touch. One of the reasons for this is that when Martha talks about women in technology, and how they need to be supported and showcased more, there is a cutaway to my face! I mean… yes cringe-making because I did not know, lucky I was not picking my teeth or yawning, but also, what a flipping gift! As Rory says:

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I have no idea how that happened, but thank God it did. People are wanting to be in touch, people are reaching out to ME to see what they can do to help and be a part of what I am trying to do. This is completely new, and refreshing and overwhelming and … exactly what Martha wants to happen for every woman working against the odds in technology, indeed civic technology (worst of both worlds for funding!). So, thank you, Martha – I am going to Carpe Diem and take absolute advantage of the opportunity you have afforded me, and every other woman like me out there today.

Here is how you can help me right now


1. In Rewired State we have just launched a programme called the Data Citizen Project. Here is what we are going to do:

We propose to run a programme which will be implemented over the next five years, from 2015 to 2020. Its aim is to significantly increase the understanding and confidence of citizens in the UK with regards to use of personal data, ultimately leading to everyone being able to make better decisions about that data.

This will involve partners across health, education, finance, politics, travel and social sectors working with representative personas, developers, designers, universities, social anthropologists and partners who specialise in measurement and statistics. We aim to help citizens be in complete control of their data, give permission to all parties who wish to access it and know what they are doing with it.

We need more partners and sponsors for this five year programme. Follow the link, get a pack and see how you might be able to help.

2. In Young Rewired State we are running our 7th annual Festival of Code. This costs a BOMB as we do not charge the kids to attend, they have taught themselves how to code, why should we make them pay to meet each other and work on some cool stuff? Supporting young programmers should be a line in everyone’s CSR budget. We need more of them to fill our jobs, and we need to find and look after them, so that they can teach each other – there is no other way we are going to fill this critical skills gap. We need these kids. If you want to support the digital sector and civic action/”for good” things, then your name should be on this page – in lights.


I get asked at least four times a day to go and speak at en event, or be on a panel, or turn up to something interesting. All of which I totally love doing. But realistically, I am a single parent Mum, I have had several times in the last year where I have hit the bottom of my overdraft (such is the life of a Founder of an – intentionally – unfunded organisation). Doing these talks and panels and stuff costs more than just travel – it is the opportunity cost. I appreciate that the platform is an opportunity, but so many platforms and the opportunity is lost because I am not actually getting any work done, or supporting the CEO and the Managing Director of Rewired and Young Rewired State: Ruth Nicholls and Julia Higginbottom (both women – yes).

So please don’t stop offering me platforms, or inviting me to attend stuff, but if you are needing me to speak as a part of your event, and you are charging people an entry fee, or raising sponsorship, please can you pay me?


I really want to do this:

The challenge

The brand of technology/geeks is too remote and uninviting for most girls to want to be classed as a technologist – even if they are drawn to the career. Ada Lovelace days in schools exacerbates this remoteness – there is no relevance for your average school girl

The solution

Rebrand technology

But what can we realistically do right now?

I propose to build a small cohort of young, accessible, relevant and exciting women in technology. Schools will be able to ask us to run an assembly and careers workshop for them, and will pay to do so, unless I manage to get this funded by someone.

The speakers will be given a clothing allowance to buy a fabulous outfit and incredible cars will be hired for them to be driven to the schools. They will also be paid a speaker fee. They will then stand on stage (I propose four speakers per school) tell their story followed by speed dating style careers advice. It would be a maximum of three hours.

I need someone to help me, to take it, and drive it. This can be an organisation as well as an individual, I don’t mind – but I need help

In Martha’s own words:

The values of the internet have always been a dialogue between private companies and public bodies. And right now the civic, public, non-commercial side of the equation needs a boost. It needs more weight.

We have an opportunity to make Britain brilliant at digital. We’ve been going too slow, being too incremental – in skills, in infrastructure, in public services. We need to be bolder.

I am being bolder. I am asking for help. I am asking for money. Traditional funding models don’t work for businesses like mine, because the money comes with ties that always and eventually force historic business models, analogue models, ill-fitting models down the unwilling but hungry throat of the civic tech company. We cannot compromise what we are doing. The business model is solid, but it will take time – there is no quick win, but it is a solid one. The impact of both Rewired and Young Rewired State over the next twenty years worldwide will be huge, and visible, and noticeable.

We run great projects and programmes, eminently sponsorable, with benefit for both of us: US so that we can do what we need to do (and still eat and afford train tickets) with your money; and YOU because we will ensure that what we do, delivers value in return. A trade. The oldest trade in the world: money exchanged for something of value.

Thank you, Martha! Here’s a cheeky shot…


“I have a nightmare…”

Tonight Martha Lane-Fox will give her Dimbleby lecture at the Science Museum in London. I was privileged enough to have seen early versions of it as she grappled with how best to use this platform to address the growing urgency for some kind of body to attend to the moral and ethical challenges thrown up by the digital renaissance. You can read a write-up in The Guardian that gives more detail on what she is going to say.

In her words, Martin Luther King did not inspire generations of people by starting his speech with: “I have a nightmare…”. That focuses on the bad stuff, the scary things – basically the Daily Mail approach to informing and inspiring change. Indeed, the Daily Mail has been running no less than four horrible stories on data as I type. Here is one headline:

We know everything about you: Sinister boast of data boss who says he has 5,000 pieces of personal information on EVERY British family – from your salary to your health products and ages of your children…

I shan’t link to it, but feel free to google.

Education has not kept up with the information age, not just our children’s education, but us adults too. I know some but not all, and spend my life keeping up with change, reading and learning – but I am lucky enough that I am able to do this because it lies at the heart of what I do every day. But most people have neither the time nor the opportunity to do so, therefore tales in the media drive their knowledge, often built on half-truths and misinformation.

Ignorance breeds fear.

Fear breeds censorship and defensiveness.

This does not help people make better, more-informed decisions.

I am also announcing the launch of Rewired State’s DATA CITIZEN PROJECT. Our premise is to help people make better decisions by running a five-year long, deeply researched programme looking at how we all interact with data, what it means to us and how we can all be given the knowledge we need to feel like we have control over the information we knowingly provide. Right now there is naff all information on the website, but I have a nice little information pack that can tell you more about what, where, who, when and how (email me emma@rewiredstate.org if you want a copy or want to be a part of it not just sponsorship, natch).

Standing ovation for Martha tonight, do watch it and watch out for what happens when she steps down from her podium – thank goodness people like her use her platforms for the benefit of everyone else. Kudos, my friend.

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