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!

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