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.
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
Two years ago I researched and wrote a business case to replace our content management system (CMS). This was shortly after BCCDIY and I argued that we should explore the opportunity to coopt partner with Hull’s excellent local talent to build something in the open that encouraged challenge and invited contribution. I lost (“we don’t want to be leaders”) and we picked a safer option. It was approved but something killed the project after I’d moved on in the graduate scheme rotation.
The need hasn’t gone away and on Tuesday I was invited to a meeting to identify tangible benefits for replacing the current CMS that would justify spending some money. Happily there’s talk of open standards and open source so that whilst buying something off a shelf wasn’t out of the question it might not be the automatic choice it once was.
I started this post at the start of April, returned to it with the demise of Flip but finally finished it after Andrew Beeken shared his own thoughts yesterday.
April saw the demise of Flip. Despite being the leading camcorder brand in the US, parent company Cisco judged the marketplace to be unsustainable in the face of the competition posed by our mobile phones.
Given that they paid $590m for the technology two years ago it’s a bold move. Equally, their quitting from a position at the top is shrewd because of the inevitable future of hand-held video recording.
I really like my Flip camera and when the product was first introduced it disrupted the market but I expect to get similar functionality from my next mobile phone without having to carry something else in my pocket. Whilst convergence is not good for the 550 employees at Flip, the rest of us benefit – we get one thing where once we might have had to use more.
It’s that sort of approach which lies behind Martha Lane Fox’s vision for a single government domain and over the last three months it has been brought to life by 11 people somewhere in London. There had been glimpses of what they were working on and The Telegraph had featured a couple of screenshots as well as some interviews but this week we were able to get our grubby mitts on this “proof of concept prototype“.