In which I hold forth about the situation in a country where I’ve spent a mere three months over five years. So this is tube-written opinionising not in depth, on the ground knowledge.
Sierra Leone is holding elections very soon and I was alerted to a fund raising campaign by the Canadian NGO Journalists for Human Rights via Anthony Zacharzewski‘s post on the Demsoc blog. That’s an appeal to raise a not insignificant amount of money with the aim of supporting local media in order to prevent a return to violence.
Yesterday I was at 2012′s LocalGovCamp at Maple House, Birmingham.
I started the day on the wrong foot – way too near the start of introductions line. Even though I knew it was coming I couldn’t marshall my thoughts into giving my single word about why I was there. All I could think of was Nick’s (@psfnick) profane suggestion from the previous night.
The words I should have chosen
Relapse. I didn’t go to UKGovCamp because I’d begun to feel like a fraud. As much as I’d contributed beyond my job title in Hull my roles had never gone hand in glove with unconference conversations. So I’d go along and hear great things, maybe contribute an opinion or two of my own but then return to work and be unable to execute anything. When the next event rolled round I wouldn’t have anything to share, or any progress to report.
There is something recharging about being exposed to a collection of brilliant minds with a blank canvas invited to share and think and plan and do but as much as sectoral camaraderie is a great thing there’s little point if it ends up as talking and not doing. And that’s all my contribution felt like.
After six month stints looking at early years funding, Streetscene process improvement and the council website I hadn’t seen much of the people of Hull during the first 18 months of the graduate scheme.
My final six months put that right. I got to work in a team on the front line of service provision – the private housing team. They’re the people responsible for protecting the interests of private tenants and challenging unscrupulous landlords. It’s an important job.
Quite often tenants don’t know their rights and won’t realise that their landlord can be held to account. Equally they might not understand how their behaviour might be impacting their home (causing damp for example). And that’s particularly acute when English isn’t a tenant’s first language, or Britain their first home.
I recently wrote a series on Open Data. In those posts I mentioned Adam Jennison and the work he has been doing. He’s written up the talk he gave to the Hull Digital Developer Group and added in his hopes for what he thinks could be possible if Hull City Council and the digital talent in the city invest in working together. So, over to Adam.
‘Geek meet and greet’
Underneath the Bridge by Vaidas M
I attend the regular geek meets run by Hull Digital as often as I can, not only to be able to geek out without the usual look of disdain but also to see how people on the ‘outside’ are working, how they are managing and what they see as the future..
Did I not mention that I am on what the media portray as the ‘darkside’? I am a public sector worker.. and worse than that I am a back office public sector worker, I work in ICT supporting front office workers… Yes I know I am lower than a snakes belly etc.. but hear me out for I feel, nay I believe that we can do good and also help local businesses lead the way.
When opportunity first came knocking this wasn’t the plan – that was to take a career break and return to Hull City Council when the offer came to an end. But because the work has nothing to do with my day job and coincided with the busiest period in Hull’s BSF programme it caused headaches.
So despite my love for local government, and despite being conscious of how hard it might be to return, I’m walking away. I’m ditching the security of a contract with 16 months left to run and my ‘gold-plated’ pension. I’m leaving the relationships I’ve built over the last 3.5 years. I’m even choosing to spend part of every week in #thatLondon.
And I’m doing all of that for six months’ work. Risky? Cavalier? Unwise? Perhaps, but I think the opportunity is worth it.
So three weeks ago I took a day off work and travelled south. I’d asked Louise Kidney (who has swapped localgov for GDS herself) what I should expect from her new colleagues. Nothing she’d said prepared me to finish the day using a wall as my canvas to present back work I’d been set a couple of hours to complete.
Prepared or not my scrawl did the trick and I start as a Business Analyst on May 28th.
Over the last week I’ve been thinking about my experience of seeing an understanding of open data emerge within Hull City Council. Having considered ‘open data’ in part 1; the need to start internally in part 2; the importance of magicians in part 3 and recent developments in Hull in part 4 this concluding post hopes to tie those threads together.
The quantity of data which we have within local government is vast. In Adam’s pitch to the developers of Hull he mentions 150-300 disparate systems within our council, most of which will produce some kind of metrics. Whilst we all want an approach to open data which means the public sector is more transparent and active citizens are able to access that data the National Audit Office has said that attempts so far have been expensive, and haven’t engaged. Continue reading →
This is part 4 in a series thinking about whether the magic of open data in local government might be found from the inside out. Part 1 considered the phrase ‘open data’ and pointed to thoughts elsewhere; part 2 suggested we prioritise internal data over external engagement; part 3 spoke of the need for magicians and now in part 4 I’d like to share why I’ve said those things
In order for the engagement around data to be meaningful we need an internal appreciation for that to be understood as more than the Tax Payers’ Alliance rifling through our accounts. It might have taken some time but it seems that within Hull City Council we’ve hit a tipping point and for us open spending data has been the catalyst. Continue reading →
This is part 3 in a series thinking about whether the magic of open data in local government might be found from the inside out. In part 1, I considered the phrase ‘open data’ and pointed to thoughts elsewhere and part 2 suggested we needed to start from inside our organisations. In today’s third part I’m thinking about those who make magic.
Of illusions and conjuring tricks
In the last post I said that thinking about open data needed to start with how it improves what we do within our organisations because then we might understand it, recognise the value people might add to it and therefore properly champion the concept of ‘open data’.
It’s all very well saying that but if the narrative about exposing public data is difficult then an internal conversation which talks about what data could do for us is perhaps going to be thwarted before it gets off the ground anyway.
Part of the issue is that without concrete examples conversations can tend far too often towards the technicalities. The most helpful conversations aren’t comparing SOAP and RESTful APIs or talking about integration, nor will they bring up open standards or this protocol or that data format with the layman. Phil Jewitt recently wrote a couple of blog posts (1, 2) about how those beyond the project team didn’t need to know about SCRUM they just needed to know what was necessary. The most helpful conversations have at their heart somebody enthusiastically committed to sharing the secret of what’s possible.
Arthur C Clarke’s third law of prediction says that
In Part 1 of this series, I considered the phrase ‘open data’ and pointed to thoughts elsewhere about whether it’s an unhelpful phrase, how communities are engaged to use it and how the government approach has been judged thus far. Today, I’m wondering about Square One.
It is great that the focus around ‘open data’ may be shifting away from simply getting us compliant and pushing data out to instead think about how engagement can be structured around its use. It’s also brilliant to see twitter buzzing about Saturday’s National Hack The Government Day which wouldn’t have been possible without the data that is there already.
I have no doubt at all that the public sector as a whole is sitting on a goldmine of information that can help make democracy flow and services perform better. But I think there’s a danger of being excited about the cart to the forgetting of its horses.
My time at Hull City Council has coincided with an emerging Open Data movement leading calls for greater transparency in the public sector. That has raised questions for my organisation and led to a lot of circular conversations. Recently things have started to change in a way that has got me thinking that perhaps the magic of open data is found from the inside out. Hopefully this series of posts will explain what I mean.
In some circles these two little words ‘open’ and ‘data’ have prompted much debate and discussion. Touted as making the public sector more accountable. Seen as an opportunity that excites because of tools it might make possible. But in other circles it’s an alien subject and a phrase that can be a little bit obtuse to those outside the choir.