Social Media Surgeries and Open data – a new thing.

Since 2008 our approach to social media surgeries has remained pretty much the same.  If we’ve done anything it’s seek to protect their simplicity and simplify them even further.

That is now changing – a little bit.

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.

Why do this?

  • It’s a gentle way to do a difficult thing. We’ve been approached many times by people saying ‘you should run open data surgeries –  it’s just what we need to get real people in real communities using open data.’ I respond in a couple of ways. The first is a bit defensive: we only started the social media surgeries by accident – I’m not sure I want to take on a whole new/different movement.   The other is practical.  I don’t actually think many of the community doers who come to a social media surgery would think to go to an open data surgery.  It’s taken years for some to decide it’s time to figure out social media.  So if finding ways for active citizens to use open data is tricky we think we can  start solving that by injecting some new learning into the social media surgery movement.
  • The open data community has been limited mainly to data savvy folk so far.  Whether they are the ones who can build things, or the ones who manipulate it in large organisations, those are the people we have tended to meet in the years since we started arguing for and evangelising about open data.  The social media surgeries attract the doers of a community.  They are often staring at practical problems where they live.
    We think we can help them use information better to solve those problems.
  • You can’t use open data if you can’t do any stuff with any data. Of course the holy grail is lots of small community groups using lots of open data shared by government to create new or improved forms of civic good.  That doesn’t start with open data – it starts with whether you can sort a spreadsheet, or make some simple decisions about what information is useful and why and for whom. To get there we have to start with some basics skills. I also suspect that much open data is cumbersome to use, and we’ll try and pick away at that as we work.
  • We are well placed to start with problems, not data sets. Again a common approach to trying to encourage the use of open data is to start with data sets.  the social media surgeries start with people trying to solve problems – and provides them with the helps they want, need and can cope with.  It’s a journey and it takes time.

If you want to know more about what we’re doing and how to sign up for help take a look here at a post on the brand new blog on the social media surgery website.

Our focus at the moment is in Birmingham, it will start to spread out later.

Other work going on in Birmingham.

This work is part of the Birmingham Data and Skills Hub which has been drawn together by Digital Birmingham and funded through the cabinet office from the breakthrough fund and release of data fund.  The work will “…act as a catalyst to encourage citizens, communities, third sector to understand the value of open data to help solve community issues that matter most to them.”

Working alongside us are…

  • Birmingham City Council/Digital Birmingham to launch the Birmingham Data Factory  – a big improvement to how open data gets shared from and in the city. There will also be a focus on solving issues of releasing data to do with housing in the city.  This is partly because…
  • Boilerhouse is a Birmingham digital business with experience of using open data to build tools and visualisations for public services.  They’ll be providing technical visualisations and or tools that will simplify the use or understanding of Birmignham open data – especially the housing data being released.
  • RAWM is focussing on supporting open data use in places.  Working with key community groups in Sparkbrook ward and Castle Vale they’ll focus on providing skills and support to help those groups use data and open data to “campaign, plan and influence commissioning of services and support service planning.”
  • Aston University is providing appraisal of the work.

So it’s the ability to release data more easily, understand it better and two prongs to improving skills: the social media surgery approach is to build up the knowledge in the network so that when people come to us with a problem we can help them use data to solve it – the RAWM approach is develop skills by focussing on a place and the needs in a place.

The idea of open data Surgeries had been included in the smart city plan for Birmingham – and is coming to fruition  and all by the end of March!

Wish us luck!


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