Making (and saving) money with open data – ideas generation session

5 checkpoint badges, SpeedData form and stamp

Yesterday, Podnosh and Substrakt collaborated under the SpeedData banner to run the evening ideas session at Making (and Saving) Money With Open Data in Birmingham.

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.

To help the groups consider all aspects of an open data project, we provided five checkpoints staffed with experts:

  1. The idea – helping people refine their ideas or come up with an initial idea.
  2. The data – where to find data, how to get data and who to speak to get the data.
  3. The technology – refining the data into suitable forms, using tools and understanding how to build the project.
  4. The visual – design, visualisation and media to present the project to users.
  5. The pitch – preparing and delivering your open data project pitch.

So… come up with your idea. Get help refining it. Discover data sources. Understand the technological approach and tools available. See how the idea can be visually represented effectively. Practice a pitch in readiness for the panel of judges.


James Cattell from Birmingham City Council housing presented his anonymised heat map showing variance in rent arrears across social housing owned by the council. This looked promising as an internal tool to understand payment patterns in different areas of the city and to target efforts or different approaches appropriately to those areas.

Kevin Yuan Bin pitched his idea to combine data around construction product specifications, such as windows, doors and central heating, for building contractors to access online. His idea (this is my interpretation – the language barrier was a little difficult to cross) is that building constructors could use such a service to make smarter purchasing decisions and increase efficiency in new builds. Manufacturers’ specification data is currently available in weighty printed catalogues or as a PDF on the manufacturer’s website. Kevin envisaged a service pulling such data together from across manufacturers.

Stuart Parker – co-founder of Connect for Good and We Share Stuff – discussed his experimental work on mapping third places. Stuart has been using Foursquare to ‘check in’ to venues that he considers to be third places (places in community settings that are separate from the usual social environments of home and work). Stuart discussed his aim of building up a map of third places that isolated people can use to find comfortable, conversational and neutral places where they can interact with others in a local community.

Stuart already has a Google Map up and running. Mark Steadman of Substrakt, along with Rob Styles and Richard Wallis from Talis, talked about possible syntaxes for check-ins that could feed useful information into a spreadsheet or database. Venue title, address, postcode, some kind of category, satisfaction ratings and tips, if structured, could then be output to an application for people to use and make informed choices on what third places are near them and what to expect if they visited. Thinking of a structure now could also aid crowd-sourcing the third place venue data, by giving the hyperlocal community a means of using existing Foursquare check-ins to contribute to the third place database.

We were fortunate to be visited by a group of French students and their tutors. They came up with two interesting ideas and pitched each to the judges. The first was a portal to aid investment choices related to land and buildings in the EU. The portal would pull in demographic, economic and political data feeds, combining them to form an indicator of investment potential. One visualisation idea was a map of the 20 cities in the EU with the highest potential for industrial investment.

The second group of French students pitched a networking application to connect graduate entrepreneurs with startup incubators and industry-specific clusters.

The winning pitch came from Chris Waring, creative lead for Kasabi at Talis. He pitched an idea to help patients find their best hospital for treatment using an application based on open government data.

The helpers

Attendees and checkpoint helpers at Making (and Saving) Money With Open Data event

The session generated some great discussion and ideas for practical, useful applications. Thanks to all of the checkpoint experts and judges who helped to develop the ideas:

We were also supported by Andrew Mackenzie and Andy Mabbett (Andy collected bookmarks from the day too).

Lastly, thanks Dave Harte, organiser of the day and session facilitator extraordinaire for asking us to run the evening session.


  1. Andy Mabbett says:

    Thanks for the name-check – and for a very enjoyable and informative evening.

    James’ heatmap also has external uses; for example Citizens’ Advice Bureaux might use it to target their services.

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