Big Society

Links to some interesting things from this week.

Posted on 14th March 2014 by



Sir Tim Berners-Lee: World wide web needs bill of rights

Join the fight for the web to be open for us all – see the BBC report.

Our laws not theirs:

Finland is crowdsourcing ideas for new laws and working with the security minded money world to verify the process…

“a non-profit group of Helsinki entrepreneurs started a website called Open Ministry to allow people of voting age to propose initiatives online. The website uses APIs from banks and mobile operators to confirm identities. Recently, the Finnish Parliament approved the platform after verifying that the electronic identification process is secure.”

Of course building a whole new one of these wouldn’t be so smart – borrowing from the one already built would probably be better

Futureshift:  civic innovation in Birmingham and the black Country:

I’ve mentioned Futureshift  elsewhere – but if you have ideas for civic innovation in Birmingham or the Black Country this is the time and place to share them.

Elliot review of food safety comes to Birmingham – and we’re working on it alongside New Optimists.

The Elliot Review comes to Birmingham for some practical help in finding ways to reduce food crime.

Dave Harte enjoying himself:


A new network for people in Local Government who make digital stuff.


My 10 Things about NHS Citizen – some reflections o a programme being pulled together by some of the best in the digital civic works – including our friends/collaborators  Demsoc and Public-i.   With encouragement from Tim Kelsey.

Digital Government Review

Labour launches a review of the relationship between digital and government.  Involved is sharp cookie Will Perrin.



Futureshift: A fabulous programme to encourage civic innovation in Birmingham and the Black Country:

Posted on 14th March 2014 by


I’m proud to be on the advisory board of Futureshift, which has evolved in a tiny part from some of the story gathering we did with the Community Lover’s Guide to Birmingham   It’s an “an invitation to design and build a new civic initiative” and  very potent and practical approach to support innovation on improving civic life Birmingham and the Black County.

We are seeing citizen-led ventures emerge and change the very systems of our economy: new ways of growing, distributing, sharing and learning about the food we eat; new ways of saving, producing, distributing, financing and owning the energy we use everyday; new ways of providing care, of sharing resources, new ways of running shops.

We call them ‘hybrid’ ventures because they frequently flourish by making unlikely combinations such as between care and fashion; energy and food; workspace and cinema.

These combinations work because they make sense locally, driven by the creativity, energy and drive of entrepreneurial citizens. These new ways of doing create collective and multiple value – economic as well as social; environmental as well as financial. They can create much-needed positive outcomes and better places across the region.

It is these kind of networks, shops, spaces and platforms we aim to originate, re-design, develop and support – both locally and at city and infrastructure level, to create tools which enable hybrid ventures to flourish.

Events if you want to get involved are listed here.   To understand how it will work start with the FAQ.  there will be 15 or more initiatives support with effort and money.

The Sprit of BCCDIY rides again – an open data platform in a day in Birmingham

Posted on 20th February 2014 by


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.

A group of people working on BCC DIY

BCC DIY taking shape in 2009 – image Dan Davies

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.