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Open data – the zeitgest

Nirvana_by_31337157Open data [1] is becoming a brand – 61 countries are using the brand and many others are expressing interest. The week before last thousands of delegates from around the world descended on London for a host of open data events that ran throughout the week. There is something of the zeitgeist about open data at the moment and this is important as it is –

  • becoming a magnet for digital talent
  • a driver for a host of new start-ups
  • pressurising existing businesses to up their game
  • and engendering a positive feeling about what can be done with technology to make a difference to how citizens are served by government

Monday – Github in Government

@FutureGov is a business that provides ‘digital public service design’. Dominic Campbell (@dominiccampbell) hosted an excellent ‘Github in Government’ event at the trendy Shoreditch Works and which included a number of short presentations by Paul Downey (@psd), Chris Thorpe (@jaggeree), Sarah Kendrew (@sarahkendrew), and James Smith (@floppy) amongst others.  It was a community event that managed to attract a much wider audience from the local digital crowd.

ODI Summit 2013- thanks to Brendan Lea - used under CC SA

ODI Summit 2013- thanks to Brendan Lea – used under CC SA

Tuesday – ODI Annual Summit
On Tuesday @UKODI held its annual summit at the London Museum to celebrate its 1st birthday. Sir Tim Berners Lee, Sir Nigel Shadbolt and Gavin Starks were the main hosts and kept up the pace throughout the day with numerous talks and panels. The main theme was the use of open data to build and support business and a range of exemplars were used to enforce the theme. Placr’s Transport API, Mastadon C, and OpenCorporates were just a few of those mentioned. ScraperWiki is a proud ODI supporter.

Business is important in this context as open data needs to be used and reused to be sustainable in the longer term. It also needs to be embraced more broadly across corporate business. I recently heard a senior executive from a large US social media company propose that government organisations close what is ‘essential to close’ and publish everything else. His suggestion is daring and logical but likely politically unacceptable.

Kenneth Cukier (@kncukier) Data Editor at the Economist cited the UK as being the world leader in open data and emphasised the big opportunity that it presents for the country and its influence internationally. [2]Whilst we dined and networked informally with other delegates, a colourful curved aesthetic digital display hung over the main dining area and showed live data feeds and ODI acknowledgements.

Wednesday – OGP Civil Society Day
Organised by the OKFN – The Civil Society day provided an informal opportunity for over 400 civil society actors that are involved in OGP to connect, interact, learn and strategise.  It provided an opportunity to focus on the conversations that are needed between civil society in order to prepare for Thursday and Friday’s summit and to strengthen the national OGP processes for the future.

OGPSummitThursday and Friday – OGP Summit 2013
The Open Government Summit was the UK’s opportunity to showcase the work it has been doing around open data and its impact on transparency, business and civil society. A good friend suggested that the ‘metapoint’ e-Diplomacy initiative run largely by foreign offices of participating countries. Francis Maude was the main UK government host and he had a very professional team around him to ensure that the event was a success. We were in the ‘Festival’ area which was a showcase of companies providing technology that is supporting open government. The event also marked the UK’s handover of the biennial responsibility to Indonesia. We used the opportunity to show off our prototype of Table Xtract and we demonstrated it by converting energy prices tariffs from each of the energy companies EDF, British Gas and Scottish Power.

..and meanwhile back up on the 4th floor of the QEII centre
The US State Department ran a Tech Camp’. The purpose of a techcamp is to provide NGOs with training in low-cost or no-cost new and online technologies. ‘Speed geeking’ was used to introduce Ian Hopkinson from ScraperWiki to OGP delegates from participating countries every 5 mins – the objective was for him to give examples of successful open data projects – he showed the UN OCHA project. The US ambassador to London Mr Barzun was also treated to the 5 minute experience. We gave him a ScraperWiki sticker and found out he is a Liverpool fan.

I am frequently reminded that my start-up colleagues have been pushing the open data envelope for about 10 years – who says things happen quickly in our sector!Opengov

[1]Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.
[2] co-author of Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think with Viktor Mayer-Schönberger in 2013


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