Backside-covering-note: these are personal views, not necessarily those of my employer! I think it’s worth anyone attending events like this putting their thoughts “out there”.
I attended an event for local authorities today, hosted by Sue Bruce of Edinburgh City Council along with Jackie McKenzie of NESTA. Presentations were given by OpenlyLocal‘s Chris Taggart (@countculture) on the importance of opening up council data sets; and by Kirklees Council’s Diane Sims and Andrew Wilson on how they used open data to enable an local online venture called Who Owns My Neighbourhood. This latter project has resulted in an online map-driven database of information co-operatively contributed by local people on places in the Kirklees area, particularly aimed at collating data on ownership or stewardship of land areas, but expanding into a hyperlocal resource containing photos, stories, memories and facts about the area’s places. The council have opened up their datasets to enable this initiative and local groups are using the data to make better use of ‘spare’ land – green or redundant spaces – which they may not have otherwise realised was council-owned. Examples included using spare land for local fetes or sporting events and the possibility of converting land surrounding an old railway track to a cycle track. The same principle is applied to privately owned land. BTW, I got a chuckle at one of the Kirklees attractions : a “junk-modelling” activity for kids which sounds incredible fun!
The Who Owns my Neighbourhood site is mobile enabled, allowing on-the-ground lookups. An interesting way of engaging the local community was the use of a physical map and flag-stick-pins which could be used to attach stories to places, allowing contributions in the real world as opposed to solely the virtual.
Another idea of note came from Sue Bruce, who described how creating a database of local young people and their skill-sets has drawn praise from the business sector. This is a great initiative that would be transferable to any area. Sue reported that Edinburgh CC are now in contact with Nial Grant the creator of recruitwork.co.uk with the hope of partnering.
Chief Executive Niall Grant, a previous winner of the 'Young Scot of the Year for Enterprise' and a graduate of Sir Tom Hunter’s 'Leadership Programme'. Whilst seeking summer employment as a student it became obvious to Niall that there was a disconnect between businesses and talented young people. His desire was to develop a vehicle to simplify and streamline employment opportunities for young adults.
Chris described how councils are opening up data sets on their spending , available via the openlylocal website. Councils are being encouraged to open up as much data as possible, if not all! The data sets should be exposed using malleable standards like xml, JSON, etc so that local people can manipulate it and build innovative developments that are of use to the community. The Who Owns My Neighbourhood initiative showed how opening up data on land ownership enabled the creation of a new community-led service that encourages greater participation in leisure, environmental and economic development opportunities.
In response to my question about how the use of open data might lead to service demand reductions instead of just allowing completely new initiatives that councils may see as an additional burden, Sue pointed out that the ePlanning agenda is a prime example of moving the effort of the planning process away from councils while improving service. Chris also pointed out that it is often impossible to predict the future benefits from initiatives until we try – a case in point being the establishment of libraries by philanthropists at a time when most people could not read. The mood is one of “build it and they will come”.
Another idea discussed was to draw inspiration from the Birmingham Civic Society.
I admit to being a little sceptical about entering into brand new initiatives that take time our hard-pressed council staff have little enough of, most especially since times are tough and getting tougher, yet no-one can fail to be inspired by the achievements from working outwith the bounds of council-only possibilities.
The Radical Scotland report produced in 2010 by NESTA addressed how services could be transformed to be delivered by radical means, for example the application of co-production in the social care services. Leaving aside the buzzwords and political frippery of Big Society, there might be areas where services can be delivered (or produced co-operatively) better by opening up to a more innovative mindset – as advocated in the report. One example cited is the use of Local Area Coordinators to mediate health and social service provision – a decentralising idea successfully applied to the navigation of services for complex needs involving individuals with mental or physical disabilities in Ayrshire, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire through Partners for Inclusion.
Janet rounded up by describing NESTA‘s aim to inspire and promote innovation through a new initiative to be launched in Scotland later this year. I won’t put down dates or funds here in case it steps on anyone’s toes.
Councils will be able to bid for support for innovative schemes that make use of data sets held by local authorities, encouraging re-use and re-purposing the data by involving the community and local enterprise. The initial idea is that 4 winning councils will be awarded the grants and support necessary to take the schemes forward, however the approach taken by NESTA is flexible and open to other suggestions. Assistance might include funding – either a local supplier; or a fund-a-teccie to work inhouse; or a hackday – also facilitation of promoting the scheme to ensure community involvement and other non-cash support.
In conclusion, a useful event, if just to hear the ideas. Shame it was limited to 2 hours. Perhaps more such events can take place. One such is the ScotGovCamp! Hosted this year by Ian Watt (@watty62), of Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeen University, it takes place this Saturday – 24th Sept and is well worth a visit. See my previous post on last years event. This year they are including a hackday attended by the regulars of the Aberdeen Tech Meetup. Much kudos to Ian for organising this.
And another important but often overlooked point about the meeting today – they included a separate table of veggie sandwiches and snacks. Not only that – they included the superbly plain cheese and cucumber option, free of all that slimy gunk so beloved of business lunches, and it was a tomato-free zone. Well done Edinburgh CC!