I often talk to people about BCCDIY.
In 2009 a group of local developers and bloggers got together and built an alternative to Birmingham City Council’s website. They called it BCCDIY.
They wanted to demonstrate that information could be better organised and more easily accessed. They did it in a day (with some preparation) (you can see a version here) . The council’s new website had taken one of the countries largest consultancy firms four years and they had charged £2.8 million pounds.
When I tell public servants and residents about the cost of the council website they gasp. They’re not surprised, but they are angry. When I tell them about BCCDIY they also gasp – with a sort of mischievous happiness. They are delighted to see people taking things into their own hands and showing where bad decisions lead to wasted money and effort. A councillor involved in spending the £2.8 million pounds response to BCCDIY – when I explained it to them – was “we didn’t have the knowledge.”
Now you do, or you can (come and talk to any local developer – they’ll help you learn).
And now is not the time to repeat the mistake of just doing what the big consultancies tell local government is right.
The lesson of BCCDIY was not learnt when the Library of Birmingham website was built (by the same contractor) for £1.2 million pounds. I don’t know how much it should have cost – but I’m confident I know local agencies who would have been delighted to deliver it at a sixth of the price and to maintain it for much less than the current annual cost.
So let’s not make a similar mistake a third time, when the council eventually creates a place to put and share Open Data .
On Saturday Simon Whitehouse and some others will be building an Open Data platform for the West Midlands – in a day. You can join in, if you like. In effect he’ll be doing the equivalent of BCCDIY before a silly sum of money is spent by the public sector…
This is what Simon says about the plan for Saturday:
In Birmingham we are holding an event at Birmingham City University where we are going to set up a West Midlands “Open DataStore In A Day”. The idea is quite simple. Over the day we will set up a website that can hold open datasets and publish what we can find to it. You don’t have to be a technical whizz to take part. Enthusiasm and curiosity are enough to make it worth your while coming along.
We’ll spend the day finding and collecting the data that people are interested in and we’ll put it all together in one place online, in the West Midlands Open Datastore. Once we’ve done that, it makes it all a lot easier to do something useful with.
If somebody can’t find the data that they are interested in then we will help them to write a Freedom Of Information request to ask for it. When those are answered we will add them to the Open Datastore.
I’m really pleased that Data Unlocked, the co-operative venture that I’ve recently helped to co-found, are providing the website for people to work on during the day, and that we will continue supporting it afterwards. We’ve helped to organise the day along with Open Mercia and RnROrganisation.
In Emer Coleman’s recent post about the City as a Platform she says that she has seen quotes of up to £200,000 for Data Platforms. We think that we can do a lot with some free open source software and the goodwill of people volunteering their time and skills.
Emer Coleman goes on to add that any datastore should be deliverable well within a developer budget of £20k. It seems that Saturday might get local authorities in the West mids off to a flying start.