All posts by Mark Braggins

Announcing Open Data Camp 5

We are delighted to announce that Open Data Camp is returning once again. Open Data Camp 5 will be the weekend of 21/22 October at Queen’s University Belfast, in the Computer Science building

The Computer Science building at Queen’s University

We are really grateful to Queen’s University, and the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in particular,
for letting us use their magnificent Computer Science building, and to Suzanne and Cormac from OpenDataNI for making such a convincing case for Belfast to host our next event.

In case you’ve no idea what Open Data Camp is, here’s a quick recap:


‘Open’ means that data has made available with little or no restriction on its use, as set out in a licence.


‘Data’, refers to text, words, numbers, images, sound and video etc. (Hang on, what’s the difference between data and information? See this useful explanation.)


‘Camp’ is a term commonly used to refer to an ‘unconference’, which basically means it’s an event with no predefined agenda – instead, attendees ‘pitch’ session ideas to each other.

“Open data is data that anyone can access, use and share.”

More info to follow

We will let you have lots more information in the coming weeks, which will of course include details of ticketing, travel and accommodation.

Photo Credit

Cormac McConaghy

Open Data Camp 4: Weekend Arrangements

Open Data Camp is returning for a fourth time this coming weekend 25/26th February.

This purpose of this post is to provide details for attendees.


  • Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th February
  • 10am-4pm on Saturday
  • 10:30am – 4pm on Sunday
  • See session grid for more detailed timings on individual sessions


The National Assembly for Wales,
Cardiff Bay,
CF99 1NA

We are particularly grateful to the National Assembly for Wales, and Assembly Member Mark Drakeford for sponsoring our use of the fabulous Pierhead building

The Pierhead web site has full details on how to get to the venue, and there is more information in our Venue and Accommodation page.

View Larger Map


Pierhead is fully accessible, there is a lift as well as stairs connecting the public areas between the ground and first floors. A hearing loop is installed in the main hall and blue badge parking is available. Phone 0300 200 6565 with details of your blue badge to arrange.


Registration is from 10am on Saturday and 10:30am on Sunday. There’s no need to print your ticket, as we’ll check you in using Eventbrite.

We’ll be using “Hello. My name is….” sticky badges. Feel free to bring your own lanyard if you’d rather not stick it to yourself directly.

Who else will be there?

Around 150 people have registered to attend during the course of the weekend. Almost a hundred of those are on Twitter, and are included in the list: ODCamp_4

We have participants coming from India, America and across the British Isles.


It’s a weekend, and people are travelling from far-and-wide, so of course there’ll be tea and coffee – and pastries – for when you arrive.

Tea & coffee will be kept topped-up throughout the day,  and there will be cake in the afternoon.

Lunch: You’ll need to make your own arrangements for lunch, but don’t worry, as Pierhead is surrounded by cafes and restaurants. More info about that at:

Social activities

On Saturday evening we’ll be gathering at The Waterguard, which is about 5 mins walk from Pierhead [directions]. It’s a distinctive building – see Waterguard’s Facebook page for more info and photos.

Thanks to our sponsors, there will be some free drinks for Open Data Camp attendees (not inexhaustible!) and a snack buffet delivered in stages throughout the evening. Don’t expect a main meal.


There’s less public transport around on Sundays – and people like a bit of a lie-in – so sessions will be starting slightly later, the doors will open at 10:30am.

Never attended an Unconference before?

If you’ve never attended an unconference before, you may be wondering what on earth to expect. Unlike traditional conferences, unconferences have no pre-defined agenda, and instead attendees ‘pitch’ session ideas to each other at the beginning of the event. These ideas are then written on post-it notes, which are assigned to vacant slots on a session grid, and that becomes the agenda.

For a more detailed (and much better) explanation, and links to more information, take a look at Unconference in a Box, compiled by James Cattell.

Our Volunteers

If you need anything at the weekend, or have a question, look out for people wearing maroon hoodies emblazoned with the Open Data Camp logo. Maroon-hoodie-wearers (Volunteers) have all given up their time for free, and will do their best to help you.

If you are a volunteer and haven’t already seen it, please take a look at Pauline Roche’s recent blog post Volunteers and Open Data Camp.

A massive thank you to everyone who has volunteered to help plan and run Open Data Camp. I won’t list everyone in this post – you already know who you are.

Our Sponsors

As you will already be aware, Open Data Camp is free to attend. That wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of forward-thinking organisations who help cover the costs associated with holding a large event.

If you haven’t already, please take a few minutes to look at our sponsors’ web sites, and show your appreciation in person, or on Twitter.

Gold Sponsors

Government Digital Service @gdsteam

Silver Sponsors

Food Standards Agency Wales @foodgov
Food Standards Agency @foodgov
Fusion Data Science @FusionDataSci
The Open Data Institute @ODIHQ
Epimorphics @epimorphics
The Office of National Statistics @ONS
Ordnance Survey @OrdnanceSurvey
GeoVation Hub @Geovation
Safe Software @SafeSoftware
Valtech @Valtech

Bronze Sponsors

Networked Planet @nwplanet
UKgovcamp @UKGovCamp
AHA Digital Ltd @ahadigitalltd
Drawnalism @drawnalism
Swirrl @swirrl
nquiringminds @nqminds
ODI Cardiff @ODICardiff
Southampton Data Science Academy
Propolis @northernjamie
R n R Organisation @RnRworks
The Sensible Code Company @sensiblecodeio
SRS Shared Resource Service / Gwasanaeth Rhannu Adnoddau @SRSCOO

Open Data Camp 4 – festive update

This is a quick post to update you on preparations for Open Data Camp 4, and to wish you all a Merry Christmas.

Preparations underway

So far, we’ve released two batches of tickets, and they’ve been snapped-up really fast.

49 tickets have been issued so far, and there are another 71 remaining.

These will also be released in batches on the following dates:

  • Sunday 8th January at 8pm
  • Friday 13th January 2017 at 4pm
  • Thursday 19th January at 12noon

Who’s coming?

As you probably already know, Open Data Camp is free to attend, and is open to everyone. We often get asked who attends Open Data Camp. We obviously can’t divulge any personal information, and some people choose not to volunteer any additional information about themselves, but we can share a summary.

Sector theme

We suggested some sector themes for attendees, and those who responded selected the following themes:

Sector theme Number
Data Infrastructure 13
Open Cities (or Smart Cities) 13
Data as Culture 11
Agriculture and Nutrition 4
Global Development 2

Job titles

There’s a really wide range of job titles amongst attendees who chose to tell us their title, with students, researchers, policy people, founders, directors, CEOs, analysts, developers and technicians, and many more besides.

We’re starting to get all Christmassy, so here it is as a picture (click to see full size).


Here are some of the organisations attendees identify with. With three more ticket releases to go, there will be lots more yet to come.


At the moment, attendees are approximately ⅓ female and ⅔ male, which is remarkably similar to all three previous events. There are still several opportunities through the forthcoming ticket releases on Jan 8th, 13th and 19th to attract a diverse range of attendees. The Open Data Camp organising team currently comprises 10 men and 6 women, and for the previous Camp, we adopted a Code of Conduct to ensure that we continue to have an enjoyable event for everyone.

Practicalities and logistics

If you’ve managed to grab a ticket, you may have some questions about how to get to the venue, and where to stay. Take a look at the Venue and Accommodation page on the web site. We’ll be keeping it updated, and posting more information as we get it. If you’re stuck, let us know at @ODCamp on Twitter, or through the contact page on the web site, and we’ll try to help. We’d also welcome any other suggestions on good (and cheap!) places to stay, or any tips on local hostelries.

That’s it for now

Merry Christmas!

Picture credits

Word clouds thanks to Tagul

Announcing Open Data Camp 4

Open Data Camp is back!

Click to skip to this post in Welsh.

odc4-1We are delighted to announce that Open Data Camp is returning once again. Open Data Camp 4 will be the weekend of Saturday and Sunday 25/26th February 2017, at The Pierhead in Cardiff.

We are extremely grateful to Assembly Member Mark Drakeford, of the National Assembly for Wales, who has sponsored our use of the Pierhead building.

In case you’ve no idea what Open Data Camp is, here’s a quick recap:


‘Open’ means that data has made available with little or no restriction on its use, as set out in a licence.


‘Data’, refers to text, words, numbers, images, sound and video etc. (Hang on, what’s the difference between data and information? See this useful explanation.)


‘Camp’ is a term commonly used to refer to an ‘unconference’, which basically means it’s an event with no predefined agenda – instead, attendees ‘pitch’ session ideas to each other.

“Open data is data that anyone can access, use and share.”

More to follow

Tickets (free!) will be released in batches on the following dates & times (all times are GMT):

  • Wednesday 14th December at 3pm
  • Tuesday 20th December at 12noon
  • Sunday 8th January at 8pm
  • Friday 13th January 2017 at 4pm
  • Thursday 19th January at 12noon

We’ll be sharing lots more information – including how to book your ticket(s) – on the Open Data Camp blog, via @ODCamp on Twitter, and using hashtag #ODCamp in the coming weeks.


The Pierhead

Photo credit

The Pierhead building, by Nigel Bishop on Flickr:

Open Data Camp word cloud based on Pierhead building outline, created using Tagul

Yn datgan Gwersyll Data Agored 4

Mae Gwersyll Data Agored yn ol!

Rydym yn falch i ddatgan bod Gwersyll Data Agored yn dod yn ol unwaith eto. Bydd Gwersyll Data Agored 4 yn cael ei gynnal ar benwythnos dydd Sadwrn a dydd Sul y 25/26ain o Chwefror 2017, yn Adeilad y Pierhead yng Nghaerdydd.

Rydym yn hynod o ddiolchgar i Aelod Cynulliad Mark Drakeford, o Gynulliad Cenhedlaethol Cymru, sydd wedi noddi ein defnydd o adeilad y Pierhead.

Rhag ofn nad oes ganddoch syniad beth yw Gwersyll Data Agored, dyma crynodeb sydyn:


Mae ‘gwersyll’ yn cyfeirio yn aml i ‘anghynhadledd’ (‘unconference‘), sydd yn golygu bod yn ddigwyddiad yn dechrau heb agenda rhagosodol – yn hytrach, mae mynychwyr yn cynnig (‘pitch’) syniadau i’w gilydd ar gyfer sessiynnau.


Gall ‘Data’ cyfeirio at testun, geiriau, lluniau, swn, fideo, a.y.y.b. (Ond disgwyl.. beth yw’r gwahaniaeth rhwng data a gwybodaeth? Gwelwch yr esboniad defnyddiol yma.)


Golygai ‘Agored’ bod data ar gael hefo ychydig neu dim o rwystrau ar sut ellid ei defnyddio, fel a osodwyd allan mewn trwydded.

“Data agored yw data gall unrhyw un cyrchu, defnyddio a rhannu.”

Mwy i ddilyn

Mae ticedi (am ddim) yn cael eu rhyddhau mewn sypiau ar y dyddiadau & amseroedd canlynol (dengys yr amser yn GMT):

  • Dydd Mercher 14fed Rhagfyr am 3y.p.

  • Dydd Mawrth 20fed Rhagfyr am 12y.p.

  • Dydd Sul 8fed Ionawr am 8y.p.

  • Dydd Gwener 13fed Ionawr am 4y.p.

  • Dydd Iau 19fed Ionawr am 12 y.p.

Byddwn yn rhannu llawer mwy o wybodaeth – yn cynnwys sut i archebu eich ticed(i) – ar flog Gwersyll Data Agored, ar @ODCamp ar trydar, ac yn defnyddio hashnod #ODCamp yn yr wythnosau sy’n dilyn…

Credyd ffoto

Yr adeilad Pierhead, gan Nigel Bishop ar Flickr:

‘Cwmwl geiriau’ Gwersyll Data Agored ar amlinelliad o’r adeilad Pierhead, wedi’i greu yn defnyddio Tagul

After the Watershed

It’s several weeks since the third UK Open Data Camp. In case that means nothing to you:


‘Camp’ is a term commonly used to refer to an ‘unconference’, which basically means it’s an event with no predefined agenda – instead, attendees ‘pitch’ session ideas to each other.


‘Data’, refers to text, words, numbers, images, sound and video etc. (Hang on, what’s the difference between data and information? See this useful explanation.)


‘Open’ means that the publisher of the data has made it available with little or no restriction on its use, as set out in a licence. The most common licence for public sector in the UK, is the Open Government Licence, which is usually referred to by its acronym, OGL. There are lots of other licences. For a detailed overview, take a look at the Guide to Open Licensing.

“Open data is data that anyone can access, use and share.”

Open Data Campers

So, Open Data Camp is an event where people – from lots of different sectors, and with many different perspectives  – get together to discuss absolutely anything to do with open data. There’s also networking, socialising, and generally a good time is had by all.

Just a few of the many who attended Open Data Camp 3
Just a few of many who attended the third UK Open Data Camp.

On tour

There’s a widely held view that national events favour London. As the nation’s capital, and most densely populated city in the UK,  that’s perfectly understandable, but there’s a risk that other cities across the UK might be overlooked. From the outset, therefore, Open Data Camp has (so far) deliberately avoided the metropolis.

That’s not to say we don’t love London too – we do – it’s just that there’s loads of open data activity right across the UK, not in just one place.

Previously, Open Data Camp has pitched-up in Winchester (South-East), and Manchester (North West). This time, we were in Bristol, in the beautiful South West of England.*


There’s  masses going on in Bristol , and it’s a leading light in the UK Smart City scene with Bristol is Open – a joint venture between Bristol City Council and University of Bristol:

Using data sensors, smart city technologies will be able to respond in real-time to everyday events including congestion, waste management, entertainment events, e-democracy, energy supply and more. Together we are creating an open programmable city region.

Amongst (many) other things going on, there’s Bristol Girl Geeks and a very active South West Data Meetup. And, of course, Bath: Hacked is just down the road as well.

Digital Bristol Week
Digital Bristol Week

The timing for Open Data Camp was perfect for it to be featured as part of Digital Bristol Week – a week-long  series of workshops, masterclasses and other events, coordinated by the BBC Academy.


Our venue was the lovely Watershed – ‘Cultural cinema and digital creativity centre’ – right by the Harbourside. We were also really fortunate to have access to the adjoining Pervasive Media Studio, which meant that we had a large and really versatile space available.

Harbourside in Bristol (Watershed is the blue building on the right)

Capturing what happened

The introduction and session pitches were livestreamed both days, and are embedded below for your viewing pleasure. The pitches from both days were used as the basis for the session grid, which became the agenda for the weekend.

The list of sessions is also included to give you a flavour of what was discussed. Most of the sessions have notes taken by volunteers. N.B. The notes are blank for a small number of sessions. If you led or attended Open Data Camp and can add anything to the notes, please do.

Session pitches were livestreamed
Julian Tait livestreaming session pitches
Some people had *lots* of session ideas
Some people had *lots* of session ideas


Welcome / introduction & session pitching PT1


I don’t have room here to go into detail about individual sessions. Fortunately, that’s not a problem because…


Open Data Camp 3
Two of the team from Drawnalism

Drawnalism were on-hand, with 2 artists AND 2 writers. Their output was phenomenal, with LOTS of drawings and blog posts published ‘live’ as the weekend progressed.

18 ODCamp Session - hacking the hack
‘Hacking the hack’
‘Data standards: sampling chickens in an open data way’
Capturing the essence of GODAN (Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition)

Blogs and bloggers

Many people have already blogged about their own experience of Open Data Camp, or have continued to build on themes identified during the weekend. Here’s a list of posts (so far):

Sometimes, nothing beats a great big sheet of paper and lots of post-its
Sometimes, nothing beats a big sheet of paper, with lots of post-its

There’s also a great Storify put together by Pauline Roche, and photos:

          • here by Nigel Bishop
          • here by Neil Ford
          • here by Mark Braggins (inc some videos recoded by Angharad Stone)
          • here by Adam Tinworth

Thank you

Open Data Camp 3 keywords (1)So, that’s it for this post. I’d just like to finish off by thanking everyone involved in making the third Open Data Camp such a success. This includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Watershed and Pervasive Media Studio for being superb hosts
  • Bristol Packet for a fab boat trip, and Angharad Stone for organising it
  • All our sponsors, who are magnificent, forward-thinking, and undemanding. If you haven’t already done so, please take a look at their web sites, and show ’em some love on Twitter.
  • All the volunteers and co-organisers
  • EVERYONE who participated
Open data Camp 3 (some of) the organisers and volunteers

Pictured left to right, from the back:


  • We are very aware that all three camps so far have been in England, whereas it’s ‘UK’ Open Data Camp. Don’t worry, we are on the case. Open Data Camp 4 will return towards the end of 2016, somewhere in the UK.

Picture credits


Open Data Camp: Hitting the road again

We’re back

First, there was Open Data Camp, in Winchester (Feb 2015).

ODCamp1 screenshot

Then, came Open Data Camp 2, in Manchester (Oct 2015).

ODCamp2 screenshot

Guess what’s coming next….


Open Data Camp 3 teaser

Back on the road again

We’re absolutely thrilled to announce that the Open Data Camp unconference charabanc is hitting the road again, and will be coming to Bristol the weekend of 14th & 15th May 2016.

5356584351_5237a99a93_z (1)
Bristol Charabanc No 173 Operated By Bristol Tramways & Carriage Co. Ltd.

Three = Free

As usual, Open Data Camp 3 will be free to attend. This is possible because:

  • the organisers are unpaid volunteers. This time, we’re also collaborating with South West Data and the ODI Bristol.
  • the generosity of sponsors, who are prepared to stump-up some cash to cover costs like venue, refreshments, merchandise, pre & post-event drinks, stationery, live drawing etc. Without sponsorship, we simply wouldn’t be able to hold these events.
Matthew Buck of Drawnalism 'In the Moment' at ODCamp1
Matthew Buck of Drawnalism ‘In the Moment’ at ODCamp1

Thank you already

We are delighted to announce that we already have two major sponsors:

We are hugely grateful. Networked Planet and Bristol City Council: You are, quite simply, marvellous.

Can you support ODC3?

There will of course be all sorts of other costs to cover, and we are therefore seeking other sponsors to help us make the event go with a whizz and a bang.

If you are interested in becoming a sponsor, please get in touch.

Watch this space

We’ll share more details on the Open Data Camp web site in the next couple of weeks, including the ticket release schedule, and information about travel & accommodation.

That’s it for now.

Picture credits


A Shed load of ideas – Open Data Camp 2

ODCamp 2 Clean copies_2It’s nearly two weeks since the second UK Open Data Camp – the unconference devoted entirely to open data.

The first Open Data Camp was held ‘down South’ in Winchester, and this time headed ‘up North’ to Manchester.

The hosts – Digital Innovation (part of the Manchester Metropolitan University) – have a brilliant venue called The Shed, which is just a few minutes walk from Manchester Oxford Street and Piccadilly stations.

Up against it

Dave Mee and Sian Thomas greeting participants
Dave Mee and Sian Thomas greeting participants

Having encountered some travel problems with the first event, when planning the dates for ODC2, we carefully avoided Manchester’s regular football fixtures.

Our cunning planning had a flaw, however, as we found ourselves up-against TWO major rugby events AND a boxing match which we hadn’t known about earlier in the year.

Despite the clash – and resulting traffic, transport, and accommodation chaos – there was a good turnout on both days, albeit after a bit of a slow start, particularly on Sunday*.

The choice of dates, combined with lurgies, also meant that several of the organising team couldn’t make it, and we sorely missed James Cattell, Lucy Knight, Hendrik Grothuis and Pauline Roche.

Been there, done that, got the T shirt

T shirts designed by Sasha Taylor
T shirts designed by Sasha Taylor

We were fortunate to have Julian Tait on the organising team this time, who worked tirelessly with Jamie Whyte to make all the local arrangements, including sorting out discounts at nearby eateries.

Julian also organised super-speedy printing of the T shirts, which he collected on Friday, and ran an excellent session on crowdsourced Internet of Things.

Jamie Whyte, who facilitated, and pitched a session
Jamie Whyte facilitated & pitched

Having been local lead for the first event, I rather enjoyed being in the background this time.

Jamie Whyte wasn’t so lucky, and ‘was volunteered’ to step into James Cattell’s shoes as facilitator. I must say, Jamie did a marvellous job, at very short notice. 

I did have a half-baked idea I’d dreamt up during GovCamp Cymru (which was held right next door to the Doctor Who Exhibition in Cardiff) about pitching a session on using open data for time travel, but in the end decided not to, as there were already lots of really interesting pitches, including:

The Sessions

Title Session lead
West Midlands Fire Open Data Risk.  Jason Davies
Edible giving Gregory Marler
Government data programme Paul Maltby
Open data ideas for young people Jag Goroya
Food open data Sian Thomas
Open Street Map (Missing maps and humanitarian) Gregory Marler
Linked data #nerds Ric Roberts
Greater Manchester Poverty Action Steven Flower
#Open Defra Andrew Newman
Making open data suck a bit less Christopher Gutteridge
Crowdsourced #iot Julian Tait
Supply chain management in open data Glyn Jones
Open Addresses John Murray
Let go of the O – it is just data Andrew Newman
Help the Isle of Man do it right Kirsty Hemsley
Data visualisation Jamie Whyte
Lidar 4 3D – What would you do with it Christopher Gutteridge
Realtime Open Data James Moulding
Open Data + Health Care (Discussion)  John @kellasj
Open Data for culture and heritage SK53
Open Refine CSV > RDF Jen at NetworkedPlanet
Address Wars Bob Barr
Feedback Open Data Camp

We were fortunate to have Matthew Buck of Drawnalism on-hand, who brilliantly captured the essence of the session pitches:

ODCamp 2 Clean copies_3

All the classical elements

Fotothek Theosophie PhilosophieGlancing through the list, I was reminded of the elements as imagined by ancient philosophers: Earth, Water, Air and Fire.

There were sessions about three of those – Earth, Air and Fire. As a slight aside, it’s interesting to see the classical elements visualised as layers as early as 1617 in this copper engraving on paper

The other classical element – Water – is rather conveniently the topic of new latest Geovation Challenge, which seeks to tackle the global issues around water.

Real issues

As with the first Open Data Camp, I was really pleased to note that this wasn’t ‘just’ people ‘talking-up’ open data (although, there was some of that), or talking tech (although there was some of that, too) – it was also people finding and showcasing ways to use open data and associated technologies to overcome real-world issues like poverty, educationfood banks, and health care.

There were also some open data publishers, keen to engage with users and potential users of their data. DEFRA and Environment Agency were on-hand, as were Ordnance Survey OS was also one of our fab sponsors, speaking of which…

Our Fab sponsors

Ric from Swirrl (one of our sponsors) running a session on linked data
Ric from Swirrl (one of our sponsors) running a session on linked data for nerds

If you were at Open Data Camp 2, you may have noticed the complete lack of hard sell (in fact any selling) by the sponsors, all of whom just wanted to help make Open Data Camp happen, and do their bit for the open data movement.

Open Data Camp wouldn’t be ‘a thing’ if it wasn’t for organisations who are prepared to help cover the costs of free events.

On behalf of the organising team, I’d* like to express our huge and sincere thanks to the sponsors, particularly our hosts Digital Innovation, and main sponsor the DaPaaS Project.

The usual quandary

As usual, I was torn between which sessions to go to, as they were all really interesting. I don’t have time to go into detail in this post, but I was particularly impressed that Minister John Shimmin and Kirsty Hemsley from the Isle of Man Government was prepared to attend to seek advice from the open data community on ‘how to do open data right’. I was only present for part of that session, and I hope that someone will blog about it in detail.

ODCamp 2 Clean copies_6I was also impressed that Paul Maltby – the UK Government’s newly appointed Director of Data – pitched a session on what’s happening in the UK Government around data (including open data).

There was lots of interest in that session, which ended up being held in the main space with no parallel sessions, thereby becoming known as an ‘unkeynote’.

The term stuck, as the (nearly) final session on Sunday was a fascinating and highly entertaining talk from Dr Bob Barr about the ongoing battle for UK Addresses, now known as the Address Wars.

Looking back, looking forwards

I’m enjoying reading the blog posts and other output – including photos from Giuseppe Sollazzo and Sasha Taylor – from Open Data Camp, which we’re signposting to from the Open Data Camp home page. It’s really useful to have a record of what was discussed. So often, it’s these stories which become valuable resources to call upon in the future. On which note, I’ll also be including them in the mix over on Open Data Aha!

We’re also just beginning to think about the next Open Data Camp…


* We are soaking up the feedback – including the difficulty getting early morning trains on a Sunday – and will be incorporating it into planning for Open Data Camp 3, which will (probably) be in around 6 months

** I confess, I’m a little conflicted here, as the company I founded recently, AHA Digital, is also one of the sponsors

Photo credits

Drawnalism images drawn and photographed by Matthew Buck

T shirts by Sasha Taylor on Flickr

Jamie Whyte by Giuseppe Sollazzo on Flickr

Classical elements Deutsche Fotothek on Wikimedia Commons

If you open stuff up, good stuff happens

This is a slightly edited version of a post originally published on DATA.GOV.UK

I rather like the phrase: “Engineering Serendipity” which – as I choose to interpret it – means something like ‘creating conditions which maximise the chances of good stuff happening’. If you’re interested in a fuller discussion of Engineering Serendipity, there’s the excellent article written by Greg Lindsay over on Aspen Ideas.

I’ll come back to engineering serendipity a bit later. Please bear with me in the meantime, however, as I veer off-course to talk briefly about TV chefs.

Don’t watch, just cook

I love good food, and also enjoy cooking, but I never watch cookery programmes on television. I totally ‘get’ why people find the genre entertaining and informative, it just doesn’t do-it for me personally. My view is: if I have enough time to watch someone else cooking, then I might as well spend the time preparing a meal.

TV Chefery

When I say I “never” watch cookery programmes, it isn’t strictly true – I did watch some TV chefery a couple of weeks ago, as an episode of the “Hairy Bikers” was on in the background during a family get-together. In this particular episode – filmed in Bangkok during a recent tour of Asia – the Hairy Bikers were seeking the perfect recipe for Thai Green Curry.

Big break

They visited Aunty Daeng, a self-taught cook with an international reputation. Apparently, Aunty’s big break came when she prepared a meal for a royal visit to the government department where she was working at the time. The royals were so impressed, they invited her to become their private chef.  Had the royals not had the opportunity to taste Aunty Daeng’s food, she might still be working in a government department.

For all I know, Aunty Daeng’s old job may have been hugely worthwhile, and I’m not knocking working in a government department. My point is that a set of circumstances were created which led to Aunty Daeng’s career taking off.

What’s this got to do with Open Data?

I’m glad you asked.

Several times recently, I’ve noticed a combination of ‘chance’ and open data leading to good things that weren’t anticipated by the publishers of the data. Here are a few examples:

Blue Lights and severe weather events

BluelightCamp is a free annual unconference and open data hack which brings together people with some sort of interest in emergency services. In previous years, BlueLightCamp has been linked with British APCO’s annual exhibition in Manchester, and in 2013 we introduced an open data hack element.

In 2014 we held BluelightCamp in Hampshire instead, which meant that, for the first time, BlueLightCamp ‘met’ Hampshire Hub. This led to the birth of a new initiative: WUDOWUD. I won’t go into the detail here, as there’s an article about it on British APCO’s web site, co-written with Chris Cooper of Know Now Information.

Food, pubs and bus stops

food hygiene pubs tweetLast November, we held the latest in a series of ‘Informing Hampshire’ events which are pitched at (mostly) people who help inform public service decision-making in-and-around Hampshire.

One of the presenters was Chris Gutteridge from the University of Southampton who mentioned during his presentation that he’d taken Food Hygiene Certificates open data (published by the Food Standards Agency), together with Public Transport open data, and presented it (along with lots of other useful stuff) on a map for students and staff.

That could be handy for anyone looking for a pub which serves food, and is near to a bus stop (for the correct bus to get home again later). From a public safety perspective, people finding decent pubs with good public transport links are probably less likely to be tempted to drink-and-drive. From a bus company perspective, that’s more bums on seats. From an open data publisher’s perspective, it’s positive proof that it’s worthwhile releasing useful data like Food Hygiene ratings, as they’re actually being used.

University of Southampton open data map screenshot


Open data up in the air

st-catherinesIn 2014 we released aerial photography for the whole of the county of Hampshire. This includes high resolution imagery, together with height data, near infrared, and the routes flown.

As we were focusing on introducing the new Hampshire Hub, we didn’t have time or resources to provide a delivery mechanism for the aerial photography as a separate project, so we just made the data available under the Open Government Licence (OGL).

A couple of months ago we were approached out of the blue by the Geodata team at the University of Southampton who have obtained funding to create an online portal to let users explore and download 3D representations of the aerial open data. Geodata have obtained funding to do the development at no cost to the Hampshire Hub, and will make their site available to the public for free. In the words of Jason Sadler who leads the Geodata team: “If you open stuff up, good stuff happens.”

A fair wind

wind map screenshotThe next example isn’t Hampshire-specific, it’s global. I first heard about it during a presentation given at The Graphical Web, an event run by Alan Smith, who leads the Data Visualisation team at the Office for National Statistics (ONS). If you haven’t seen The Graphical Web before, I heartily recommend it, and all of the presentations were recorded and are available through the site.

Cameron Beccario gave a talk about The Wind Map: a ‘visualization of global weather conditions forecast by supercomputers updated every three hours’. Actually, it’s not ‘just’ that, and amongst other things includes ocean temperatures and waves, regularly updated. It’s a superb undertaking, and is the result of many hundreds of hours of effort.

The Wind Map is an excellent example of really good stuff happening when data is opened up. It wouldn’t have been possible had the data not been made freely available by the U.S. National Weather Service and others.

Open Data Camp – Engineering Serendipity

Ok, I confess, there’s a sub-plot here. Part of the reason for writing this post is to plug an event I’m co-organising. It’s Open Data Camp, which is in Winchester on the 21-22nd February 2015. Yes, that’s a weekend.

As far as I’m aware, it’s a UK-first, combining the ‘unconference’ format with a theme of open data. There will also be opportunities to ‘make stuff’ with open data over the weekend.

Tickets are being released in batches through Eventbrite. You’ll have to be quick, though, as they’re going fast.

Thank you sponsors

The organisers* are really grateful to Hampshire County Council for letting us use their fabulous HQ venue free of charge, and Matthew Buck of Drawnalism who donated the artwork and branding we’re using for the event.

Several others have offered their support and we’re following-up on the detail. We still seeking additional sponsors to help make the event go with a bang, so if you’re interested, please get in touch.

It’s a kinda magic

I’m convinced magic will take place at Open Data Camp, just like it does at other unconferences like UKGovCamp. Open Data Camp is open to the public, is free to attend, and spans all sectors. I’m hoping that new initiatives, ideas and collaborations will ‘pop-out’ from Open Data Camp – even though I’ve no idea what they might be. As event organisers we’re just trying to create the conditions which maximise the chances of good stuff happening.


* There are a bunch of people on the organising team for Open Data Camp, ranging from as far North as Manchester, and as far south as Devon:



Data Tube

Coming Soon: Open Data Camp UK

Just over a week ago we held the latest in a series of (invitation-only) “Informing Hampshire” events, aimed (mostly) at people working in the public sector in-and-around Hampshire.

Open Data: Fuel for Decision-Making

The theme this time was “Open Data: Fuel for Decision-Making”, and there was a marvellous line-up of speakers bringing their perspective on open data. I’ll blog separately about that on the ‘new’ Hampshire Hub (as Protohub will shortly be retiring).

Not many of the people who attend Informing Hampshire are active tweeters, so we don’t usually bother with a hashtag. This time, however – as it was open data-related – we did a bit of tweeting using the #InfoHants hashtag. It was surprisingly popular, and a few people expressed interest in future events.

A big Camping fan

I’m a big fan of unconferences, particularly the GovCamp movement, with its various spin-offs and variants like:

I’ve blogged a bunch of times about unconferences, so I won’t repeat that here.

Wot, no Open Data Camp?

Last Saturday – still fizzing from the talks the previous day – I posted a speculative tweet asking if there was any appetite to bring together lots of people to talk (and possibly make stuff) with open data. It seemed so obvious it was difficult to believe that there hadn’t already been an open data and unconference mash-up (see what I did there?)

@ODCamp (UK) is born

Despite it being Saturday lunchtime, loads of people replied, many offering to help. Later the same afternoon, Sasha Taylor created a Twitter account @ODCamp, giving us an initial focal point.

James Cattell pitched in suggesting we get a Trello Board going to manage activities, and Ben Proctor pointed out that February 21st 2015 just happens to beInternational Open Data Day...

On Monday evening we – Sasha Taylor, James Cattell, Giuseppe Sollazzo – held a small Google Hangout to pool ideas.

We held another hangout on Wednesday with a larger group: @MartinHowitt,@drsiant, @NorthernJamie, @Jargonautical, @HendrikG, @Sasha_Taylor@NeilFord, @jaCattell.

A plan coming together

Over the next few days several potential sponsors** got in touch, and we began to look at potential venues in a bit more detail. Realistically it’ll take a few weeks to sort everything out and confirm details, but it’s really looking like Open Data Camp will happen, probably in February (hopefully the weekend of 21/22 Feb).

There will be a web site soon, and we’ll*** keep you posted with progress.


* I confess to bias on this one, as I’m one of the organisers, along with Sasha Taylor

** We need more sponsors to help the event go with a bang, so please get in touch if you’re interested

*** I keep hearing talk about the need to break down barriers, work in partnership, collaborate more etc. The people involved in organising Open Data Camp are from across the UK (furthest North so far = Manchester, furthest South = Devon), from various sectors (Central Gov, Academia, Emergency Services, Local Gov, and Private Sector). All are volunteers, working in their own time.