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.
QR codes are prolific but it doesn’t seem as though people are actually using them, or convinced by their value. I like them but I can understand that agnosticism because they seem to be added for the sake of it rather than because they add any value for the person doing the scanning.
The code on this post is just like that but it was two things I saw today that prompted me to write this. Firstly, via the quite excellent WTFQRcodes.comContinue reading →
Last night I was at an event hosted by the University of York called ‘Professional Connect’. This was a great idea – a chance for current students to find out more from alumni who are already on the inside. There were three streams – finance, management and law; media, journalism and publishing; and government, public and charity sector.
Amongst the gov/pub/3rd sector alumni was a wide array of different organisations and careers. Continue reading →
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.
Last weekend I was asked by @WeLoveLocalGov if I could send them a sentence or two about why I love Local Gov for this post.
Absolutely, I thought; I know I love local government so surely I can send them 140 characters easily enough? Apparently not.
Whenever I sat down to muse and fire some letters in their direction it was really hard. And it wasn’t because I’d had one of those days where you’re reminded about the reasons why Local Gov is a frustrating place to work. No, it was because every time I sat down I remembered something else about why I love Local Gov.
And as the list got longer I thought the only way to do this justice is to blog.