My FutureShift Festival reflections

FutureShift Day of Ideas
FutureShift Day of Ideas, Millennium Point, Birmingham

Note: This blog was written on April 26th 2014

I’ve felt a bit confused since I first heard it mentioned about who and what FutureShift is for/about. I’ve now spent a lot of today at their (our?) Day of Ideas at Millennium Point, and I have to say I’m still not completely clear about it.

But, and I’m glad there’s a ‘but’, I had a great day out, and I met some new and keen people I thought I’d like to see again, and maybe even do some work with. I also saw some old friends and it was good to see them also getting to grips with the ideas of FutureShift.

In my efforts to articulate my growing clarity, I wrote to a friend who wasn’t there today to say that, following today’s conversations and the presentations I’d seen, I’m looking forward to doing and seeing some more great collaborations coming out of the Midlands.

FutureShift people, thanks for the invitation!

6 Nations 2014 – where were you?

BOD_6nations2014_crop

Face of BOD (Brian O’Driscoll) on RTE at end of Ireland’s 2014 6 nations victory

I was one of the crowd in a packed Irish pub, The Spotted Dog, in Digbeth, Birmingham today, when Ireland beat France by 2 points to win the 2014 6 nations. I freely admit that I don’t know all the rules in rugby, and I’m happy to have them explained to me by my Welsh husband who played rugby while at school and at university.

What I do have are feelings about being Irish in Britain, and on St Patrick’s weekend, and the day before the Birmingham St Patrick’s Day Parade (some claim it’s the world’s 3rd largest St Patrick’s Day Parade after New York and Dublin), the victory was all the sweeter for the timing. My happiness was shared by everyone in the pub – old and young, women and men, Irish of all generations and none. I roared, clapped and cheered until I was hoarse with every Irish try, penalty and scrum. I groaned when France scored, especially when the score changed from 13-22 to 18-22 and then 20-22. My heart was in my mouth for the last 4 minutes – games we thought we won previously have been lost in the dying minutes.

But ‘we’ persevered, (you probably know that everyone wearing any kind of green, watching the game in any Irish pub around the world, is ready for the call, should the manager make it ), and victory was, is, ours, beating not only France, but also England, Wales (sorry, hubby), Scotland and Italy.

We will stride out tomorrow on our Parade in Birmingham, full of the usual joyfulness that comes of having the streets of Digbeth closed for our annual party, joined by our friends and neighbours from across Birmingham, the Black Country and beyond. The difference this year will be that the joyfulness will have an extra element of hard-won happiness, one that comes from having lived and died with each movement on the rugby field, and emerging triumphant, for another year, on this weekend of all weekends.

Happy St Patrick’s Day to one and all.

Good things come…

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Photo from NG Events Ltd

Ever since I was the CEO of The Digbeth Trust, meeting with the then-head of Digital Birmingham to discuss the ICT needs of voluntary organisations in Birmingham, I’ve been clear that many voluntary organisations, especially the smaller ones, really need financial and other support to get the ICT equipment to help them do their work better, and thus be able to help their beneficiaries in more efficient and effective ways.

So I am pleased to see that there is an event in Birmingham on April 10 2014 to launch a Connectivity vouchers scheme to help fund a new faster broadband connection for small and medium-sized businesses, charities, social enterprises and other not-for-profit organisations. It’s funded by the Government’s Urban Broadband Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, and managed by Digital Birmingham.

Digital Birmingham will cover up to £3,000 of the connection costs for eligible organisations (that’s usually enough to pay for all the work) and it’s a grant not a loan, so you don’t have to pay it back.

The voucher scheme is also available in Coventry, although there doesn’t seem to be an event, just a page where eligible organisations (SME (small or medium-sized enterprise) or are a third-sector (voluntary) organisation within the Coventry City Council area) can register their interest

So as vouchers are available on a first come, first served basis, I’ll be encouraging all the charities, social enterprises and other not-for-profit organisations that I know in Birmingham and Coventry to be registering their interest asap – and if you work with those organisations, can I ask you to do the same? Being better connected helps us all.

Steps on my road

 Kiental between Herrsching and Andechs, Germany
Kiental between Herrsching and Andechs, Germany

This blog was inspired by a post (‘Steps on the road’) from Jo Ivens, CEO of Brighton & Hove Impetus who, in a previous role, worked on a project called Databridge, which aimed to empower the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors to use Open Data

Hi Jo, Always good to read what you have to say so thanks for posting ‘Steps on the road’. In the post you say “Sad to say that not much seems to have changed [around the VCS and data/open data] in the last 3 years” but I feel a bit more hopeful.

Some of the reasons for this: I’ve been to my first CommsCamp (“unconference for communicators”) and first UKGovCamp (“for people interested in how the public sector does digital stuff”) in the last 12 months, and I led sessions at both on the public sector and voluntary sector working together.

I’m not saying the sessions were packed out, but some people from each sector came, and we communicated about commissioning, procurement, asset transfer and data, and I think that’s where some of the hope is – with the people from both sectors who are willing to build relationships and who have access to contacts, tools, data and information which we can share and make changes with. I’ve also attended my first BrewCamp and SocialCareCurry – again places where people from both sectors are meeting to talk and to listen, and hopefully, maybe sooner, maybe later, to collaborate to make the kind of changes we talk about.

Locally and in my region (West Midlands), there’s Open Mercia (@OpenMercia), a group of developers, data analysts and policy advisors interested in encouraging the release and use of open data for social, economic and environmental benefit. Our members come from the public sector, voluntary sector, academia and technology SMEs. With Open Mercia colleagues I organised an Open Knowledge Foundation Open Data event last year where some local developers, VCS colleagues and a few other interested people (about 20 people) came together to share and learn from each other, and make a case for opening up Charity Commission data.  We’re now organising another event for Open Data Day 2014 (Feb 22nd) and hope to attract more of the same people, and some new people have also said they want to be involved – small acorns, but I think we will grow.

Elsewhere in the sector, 4 of us from the voluntary sector in the Midlands organised the first VCSSCamp (unconference for people connected with (staff, volunteers, trustees) voluntary and community sector infrastructure organisations) last June, attracting about 40 colleagues from the sector, interested in using digital tools (and data) more and better. We’re now starting to plan the second one, and VCS colleagues in the North have said they want to organise their own VCSS Camp.

In September 2013 I delivered a presentation on the VCS and Open data at Birmingham Science City Digital Working Group, a cross-sector group organised by Aston University, where I quoted from your Databridge final  report. The VCS perspective was news to most of the attendees, but it was not unwelcome.

A well-attended ‘Data and charities’ roundtable for members of Charitable Trusts West Midlands (which I co-Chair) in September, with Nick Booth, founder of Podnosh (business which understands and helps people use social media for social good), and Andrew Mackenzie, a member of the Cabinet’s Open Data User Group 2012-13, as speakers. Members lapped up the information, and we are now looking at the possibility of doing some simple visualisations of members data.

You  probably know that Datakind UK (“community of data scientists and non-profits working together to better collect, analyze, and visualize data in the service of humanity”) organised their first UK datadive (“weekend events that bring the data science community together with the non-profit community to tackle tough data problems”) in September 2013. This event looked at the data of some of the larger UK charities, which is fine, but I believe this model could also be scaled down.

I hope you (and anyone else who reads this) will find it hopeful, in that this kind of work is happening around the country. Once I started to understand your work on open data and the voluntary sector (although I’ve worked in the sector since 1990s and I’m a qualified librarian/community worker, it took me a while), I thought your Databridge UK work was ground-breaking and inspirational, and yes, I think it’s time has come!

Celebrating Nollaig na MBan 2014

Nollaig na mBan

Suzzanne, Siobhan, Kath, Caroline, Noreen, Irene, Ann, Pauline, Maureen, Geraldine and I got together tonight in The White Swan in Digbeth, Birmingham to celebrate the annual Irishwomen’s celebration, Nollaig na mBan, also known as Little Christmas. We told each other a bit about ourselves, mentioned our various connections to Ireland, talked a little about our families and friends, had a few sandwiches and sausage rolls and then we sang songs – The Fields of Athenry, Slievenamon, The Mountains of Mourne, The Wild Rover, I’ll Tell Me Ma, The Galway Shawl, The Connemara Cradle Song, Hear My Song and an old favourite, Make me an island (Joe Dolan). Suzzanne provided some accompaniment, improvising some drumbeats with a few teaspoons and Maureen also gave us a spoons demo, this time with 2 dessert spoons.

I’ve been friends with Caroline and Kath for years, and Pauline and I have become friends more recently, but all the other women were new faces to me and each other. I’d only met Noreen before on Twitter, and I have recently befriended Siobhan that way, so it could have been an awkward evening. It wasn’t. It’s amazing what can happen from a bit of friendliness and some shared cultural background. Irene, Ann and Geraldine had heard about the event on the Bob Brolly show on BBCWM yesterday, and they came along on the strength of that and a small mention in the Evening Mail.

I think it’s true to say that a great night was had by all, and the spot prizes were won (more ‘awarded’) to Noreen who had travelled the farthest to get to the event, and Maureen who had encouraged us to start the singing.

We’ve agreed to get together again for St Brigid’s Day on Sat Feb 1st – we’re going to Tamworth to shop at the Dunnes Stores there – that’ll be another blog post!