We are working with Digital Birmingham and the Cabinet Office transparency team to introduce (in some cases release) a new set of knowledge and skills into the social media surgery movement – skills that will help community groups make better use of data, including open data.
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…
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.
It is often very helpful for local community groups or hyperlocal blogs to be able to record what happens at council meetings. It allows them to capture and share a record of what was agreed – and hold politicians to account in the future. It can also help them celebrate success and show good local government in practice.
many councils across the country are still refusing to allow people to film public council meetings. In some episodes of TV programme Grand Designs, viewers have been perplexed at cameras being stopped from filming meetings of the planning committee considering the self-build projects.
The new guidance explicitly states that councillors and council officers can be filmed at council meetings, and corrects misconceptions that the Data Protection Act somehow prohibits this.
The Health and Safety Executive has also shot down the suggestion that ‘health and safety ‘regulations’ also bar filming, which Wirral Council used to justify a filming ban last year.
The new rules do not apply to Wales, as they have not been introduced by the Welsh government who have devolved responsibility. This led to the situation of a blogger being arrested and handcuffed by the police for filming a council meeting in Carmarthenshire. Wrexham council also banned a journalist from the Daily Post from tweeting a council meeting. Eric Pickles has today challenged Welsh ministers to introduce the new rights in Wales too.
Here’s the document and any and all active citizens and local bloggers should keep this in their back pocket.
Small groups and individuals worked together to develop their ideas for useful, commercial and social open data projects. At the end, each group pitched their idea to a judging panel: Dave Harte, Award Leader, MA Social Media at Birmingham City University and Simon Jenner of Adventures in Business and founder of Urban Coffee Company.