A Look Back at the First Open-data Cities Conference


On April 20 2012 the Open-data Cities Conference was held in Brighton and Hove at the Brighton Dome Corn Exchange. This was the conferences website.
Content is from the site's 2012 archived pages as well as from other outside sources.


The Open-data Cities Conference will take place in Brighton and Hove on Friday, April 20 2012, at the Brighton Dome Corn Exchange.

The high-profile conference – the first of its kind in the United Kingdom – will focus on how publicly-funded organisations can engage with citizens to build more creative, prosperous and accountable communities.

It will be attended by more than 200 people who believe the value of public data is greatest when it is freely and openly shared. They will be leaders from the public sector, arts and cultural organisations, and creative and digital industries.
The focus will be on the opportunities to improve the lives of more than 10 million citizens in the UK’s biggest cities.

Keynote speakers will inspire discussions about the potential impact of open data in four specific areas:
• improvement in democratically-accountable public services;
•enhancement of artistic and cultural experiences;
•development of new technologies, including the semantic web;
•innovation in media industries, including newspapers and television.

The one-day conference will also include workshops about issues relating to each of the areas.

A message to attendees of the Open-data Cities Conference

April 19 2012. Posted by Greg Hadfield
I just wanted to say how excited I am about tomorrow’s Open-data Cities Conference at Brighton Dome Corn Exchange.

And, of course, to thank you for your support.

We’ve got a great roster of speakers, all of whom have inspired me over recent months and years.

We’ve also got a great sponsor in Kasabi, the data marketplace – plus supporters such as GeoVation and the Open Knowledge Foundation.

But the most important ingredient of the success of the conference will be you…and more than 150 others, of course!

As you know, registration opens at 9.15am – with the conference kicking off promptly in the main auditorium at 9.55am (with something you won’t want to miss).

If you’re in Brighton tonight (Thursday), a group of enthusiastic attendees are having informal drinks in The Quadrant pub (near the Clock Tower) from 8pm.

Otherwise, I hope you enjoy tomorrow.

And, at this exciting moment, I hope it’s one of many bridges between words/conferences and actions/achievements. There’ll be others, too.

If you have any specific questions or expectations, please email me or tweet at @OpendataCities.

Thanks to the excellent Adam Tinworth (@adders) , there will be comprehensive live-blogging at One Man and His Blog.

Finally, please do tweet early and often; the hashtag is #ODCC.

Best wishes and thanks again,
Greg Hadfield

07801 569541


 Uptake 2020: My grandson is of the age where he is allowed to surf the web with some adult supervision. He's been learning about minerals in class and got very interested in a synthetic crystal called cubic zirconia because it looked so much like a diamond. He wanted to see my cz rings and was impressed with how prevalent cz designs are in modern jewelry. Anyway, while he was Facetiming with me today he told me about a school assignment regarding acronyms. He had randomly picked ODCC to see what this abbreviation stood for. I was wondering if the Open Data Cities Conference would show up in his list since that is one event that used that acronym I was familiar with, having attended the one and only Open-data Cities Conference in 2012 when I was living in the UK. LOL. There is was just below Orange/Durham Carolina Club (University of North Carolina). Actually I was pretty surprised at the number of ODCC acronyms.

His list:

  • ODCC   Oil Design and Construction Company (Iran)
  • ODCC   Out Door Country Club (York, PA)
  • ODCC   Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
  • ODCC   Open Doors Creative Communications (Germany)
  • ODCC   Open Door Christian Center (various locations)
  • ODCC   Organization Development Center of Cambodia
  • ODCC   Old Dominion Corvette Club (car club; Virginia)
  • ODCC   Office of Diversity and Cultural Competence (various schools)
  • ODCC   Option Danse Claire Comeau (Canadian dance school)
  • ODCC   Organization Development Certified Consultant (Institute of Organizational Development; Florida)
  • ODCC   Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission (Coos Bay, OR)
  • ODCC   Old Dominion Catfish Club (Virginia)
  • ODCC   Open Door Community Church
  • ODCC   Ontario Digital Cadastre Corporation (Ontario, Canada)
  • ODCC   Orange/Durham Carolina Club (University of North Carolina)
  • ODCC   Open Data Cities Conference
  • ODCC   Orangemen Development & Construction Corporation (est.1992; Florida)
  • ODCC   Open Door Crisis Cntre (South Africa)
  • ODCC   One-Design Class Council
  • ODCC   Oklahoma Department of Consumer Credit
  • ODCC   Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UN)
  • ODCC   Otterbein Deaf Culture Club (Ottebein University; Columbus, OH)
  • ODCC   Orillia and District Camera Club (est. 1957; Canada)
  • ODCC   On-Demand Call Centre (various locations)
  • ODCC   Ottawa Deaf Curling Club (Ottawa, Canada)
  • ODCC   Organisational Development through Competence Consulting (Lebanon)
  • ODCC   Oakland Drive Community Church (Oakland, MI)
  • ODCC   On Demand Collective Consulting (Miami, FL)


Speakers and Schedule

The Open-data Cities Conference was organised in association with Kasabi, an online marketplace that brings developers and data publishers together to enable new business models for consumers and producers of data at all scales.

Schedule for the Open-data Cities Conference:

9.15am-9.55am: Registration

9.55am-10am: This is Brighton, a video by Caleb Yule

10am-10.30am: John Barradell, chief executive of Brighton and Hove City Council (Because of the illness of John Barradell, his presentation was given by Charlie Stewart, strategic director of resources, and John Shewell, head of communications)

10.30am-11am: Leigh Dodds, chief technology officer of Kasabi

11am-11.15am: Break

11.15am-11.45am: Jonathan Carr-West, director of Local Government Information Unit

11.45am-12.15pm: Tom Steinberg, founder and director of mySociety

12.15pm-1pm: Drew Hemment, founder and chief executive of FutureEverything, and Bill Thompson, head of partnership development, archive development at the BBC

1pm-2pm: Presentations and Q&A in Founders Room, including a showcase of the Map the Museum project

2pm-2.30pm: Lean Doody, associate at Arup

2.30pm-3pm: Emer Coleman, deputy director of digital engagement at the Government Digital Service

3pm-3.15pm: Break

3.15pm-3.45pm: Ian Holt, senior developer programme manager at Ordnance Survey

3.45pm-4.15pm: Laura James, foundation coordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation

4.15pm-4.45pm: ”Open mic”: lightning contributions from the floor

4.45pm-5.15pm: Greg Hadfield, founder of Open Brighton and Hove


Speakers at the Open-data Cities Conference:

Charlie Stewart (standing in for John Barradell)

rlie Stewart

Because of illness, John Barradell, chief executive officer of Brighton and Hove City Council, was unable to attend.

His presentation was made on his behalf by:
Charlie Stewart, strategic director of resources for Brighton and Hove City Council, with John Shewell, head of communications for Brighton and Hove City Council

John Barradell,  chief executive officer of Brighton and Hove City Council

John Barradell

John is passionate about public services and believes that councils should be at the heart of communities. He places great emphasis on excellent customer service and on serving residents with pride and professionalism.

He came to Brighton and Hove in 2009 from Westminster City Council, where he had been deputy chief executive since 2006. He was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours in January 2008.

His service in local government follows a 22-year career in various roles in the private sector before joining Westminster City Council in 2002.

John’s commercial experience has been in the information technology sector in various marketing management roles in companies such as Unisys and Hewlett Packard.


Leigh Dodds, chief technology officer of Kasabi

Leigh Dodds

Leigh is passionate about creating products that make a difference. “I love the web, working with data, code and a great team,” he says.

He has overseen product development and technical strategy for Kasabi’s core product and APIs.

In addition to data-acquisition strategy, Leigh has also contributed to business development, planning and modelling.Previously, he undertook consulting projects with the BBC and the UK government, contributing to the data.gov.uk effort with training and data conversions.


Jonathan Carr-West, director of Local Government Information Unit

Jonathan Carr-West

Jonathan leads the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) policy team, which seeks to strengthen local democracy by developing new thinking and practice on how local communities can have more influence over the areas they live in and the services they use and how local government can help them to do so.

Some of Jonathan’s particular interests are participative democracy, the evolving nature of communities and behaviour change.

“I’m interested in how to make change happen and in how big new ideas translate into practical policies that deliver real progress for organisations, communities and individuals,” he says.

“Professionally, that means designing and delivering research and public policy projects that find creative but practical responses to complex social or organisational problems.”

Before joining the LGiU, Jonathan was deputy programme director at the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Commerce and Manufactures). At the RSA, he developed and managed more than a dozen major action research projects in areas including personal carbon trading, water and sanitation provision in the developing world and the economics of migration.

He has published on topics as diverse as cognitive and behavioural science, water provision and the politics of cultural memory.


Tom Steinberg, founder and director of mySociety

Tom Steinberg

An international non-profit group that aims at helping people become more powerful in the civic and democratic parts of their lives through digital means, mySociety runs the popular UK transparency websites, TheyWorkForYou and WhatDoTheyKnow, and the problem-fixing sites, FixMyStreet and FixMyTransport. It also builds open source software to enable international re-use of mySociety’sprojects.

Tom’s job is to help ensure that mySociety’s UK sites are as helpful as possible to the people who need them, to enable and encourage overseas groups to deploy their own versions, and to supply products and consulting services to media companies, campaign groups and public sector clients.

Tom’s interest in technology and government comes from an unusual background in both fields. Having worked as a sysadmin and junior think-tank researcher, he became a policy analyst at the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit from 2001 to 2003.

Outside of mySociety, Tom is frequently asked by governments to help formulate policy advice relating to digital issues. Tom has also advised governments and parties across a spectrum of countries, and a range of ideological positions. He believes that good digital government services, usable community tools and powerful transparency sites are not the preserve of any one political ideology.


Bill Thompson, head of partnership development, archive development at the BBC

Bill Thompson

Bill Thompson has been working in, on and around the internet since 1984. He spends his time thinking, writing and speaking about the digital world we are in the midst of building.

He appears weekly on Click on the BBC World Service, writes a regular column for Focus magazine; he is an advisor to a range of arts and cultural organisations on their digital strategies and a member of the board of Writers’ Centre Norwich.

He is currently working in the Archive Development team at the BBC building relationships with museums, galleries and institutions.


Dr Drew Hemment, founder and chief executive officer of FutureEverything

Drew Hemment

Drew Hemment is founder and chief executive officer of FutureEverything, the UK’s award-winning digital culture festival and innovation lab; he is also associate director of ImaginationLancaster at Lancaster University.

Over 20 years, his work around the world at the leading edge of digital culture has been been covered by New York Times, Guardian, Wall Street Journal, BBC and NBC. His achievements have been recognised by awards from the arts, technology and business sectors, including the Lever Prize 2010 (winner) and Prix Ars Electronica 2008 (honorary mention).

Drew directs a Data Art programme and was commissioned to scope the potential for data-visualisation at London 2012 Olympics. He has contributed to open-data policy in Greater Manchester and DataGM (Greater Manchester Datastore). Current projects include The Creative Exchange, a £4m Knowledge Hub in the Creative Economy (AHRC) and £1.9m Catalyst tools for social change (EPSRC).


Lean Doody, Associate at Arup

Lean Doody

Lean concentrates on the application of information and communications technology (ICT) in urban developments.

She leads Arup’s work in Smart Cities, looking at how information technology and data in cities can impact how people use cities, with an emphasis on supporting sustainable cities.

Recent project work has been in developing ICT strategies for new urban developments and cities in the United Kingdom, Finland, China and Qatar.


Emer Coleman, Deputy Director of Digital Engagement at the Government Digital Service

Emer Coleman

Emer, whose background includes communications and journalism, is former director of digital projects for the Greater London Authority.

She holds a BA in History and Sociology from University College Cork and an MPA from Warwick Business School. She was named in Wired’s Top 100 Digital Power Influencers List 2011

When appointed to her current role in December 2011, she said: “I have been fortunate to have been working in the field of open data and open governance for the past two years in my role as Director of Digital Projects in the Greater London Authority.

“In that time my focus has been on London as a city and how collaboration between technologists and the state can create conditions where innovation flourishes to the benefit of the citizen. I hope my experience in London will benefit GDS as it continues its journey to embed digital by default across the whole of Government.”


Ian Holt, senior developer programme manager at Ordnance Survey

Ian Holt

Ian is responsible for encouraging and stimulating the use of OS OpenData and OS OpenSpace. In addition, he is a member of the GeoVation team, promoting innovation through the use of geography.

He has more than 15 years’ experience in the geospatial industry and has spent a good part of his career developing enterprise geospatial solutions for the utilities, communications, and public organisations.

More recently, at Ordnance Survey, Ian founded and managed the “Skunkworks” innovation lab and, as a senior research scientist, worked on the early ontology and linked-data implementations.

Ian volunteers for MapAction, an in-field NGO dedicated to provide mapping services to help support disaster-relief efforts.


Dr Laura James, foundation coordinator of Open Knowledge Foundation

Dr Laura James

Dr Laura James leads operations and strategic development of the Open Knowledge Foundation, which has established itself as a leading organisation working on open data and open access to knowledge both nationally and internationally.

It has more than two dozen active projects and working groups organising activities around the world, building open source tools, platforms and communities to enable data and other kinds of content to be open, shared, discovered, used and reused.

Laura is also co-founder and director of Makespace, a non-profit creating and inventing shed in the city centre of Cambridge: a workshop with a wide range of manufacturing tools from 3D printing to electronics assembly, a space where people can meet, learn, build and play.



Greg Hadfield, founder of Open-data Brighton and Hove 

Greg Hadfield

Greg was the first national newspaper journalist to leave Fleet Street for the internet in the mid-1990s. A former news editor of The Sunday Times, he and his son, Tom – then aged 12 – created Soccernet, the world’s most popular football website, in 1995.

Four years later, after Soccernet was sold to ESPN for $40m, Greg created Schoolsnet, an education website, which he sold to a company co-owned by Jeremy Hunt, now Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport.

Most recently, he was head of digital development and Telegraph Media Group and director of strategic projects at Cogapp, a leading digital agency.







April 25, 2012, by Mark Wainwright / blog.okfn.org

Brighton was buzzing with wise, whacky and innovative ideas for Open Data on Friday – even more than usual – as about 150 people converged on the city for the first Open Data Cities Conference. So passionate was the organiser, Greg Hadfield, about the potential of Open Data in cities that he gave up his job at the start of the year to work full time on the ODCC, and the fruits of his labours were apparent in the seemingly endless roster of first-rate speakers.

The conference was supported by the Open Knowledge Foundation, and Laura James, a Foundation Co-ordinator, spoke in the afternoon about the emerging need for Data Management Systems. She made the case that Open Source DMS’s like the OKF’s CKAN are a good fit for open data: by freeing data publishers from reliance on one provider, they ensure sustainable open data in the long term.

Dr Laura James speaking at the conference

With such a hectic succession of speakers there was a lot to digest, but looking back, some themes emerge from the day. One thread that emerged repeatedly was that, for both data and cities, collaboration is key. Charlie Stewart and John Shewell of Brighton and Hove City Council first struck up this theme, saying the aim of Brighton’s Open Data policy is to enable more active involvement from citizens. Lean Doody of Arup praised cities as spaces that increase the potential for collaboration and hence for innovation and productivity. Leigh Dodds, CTO of the lead sponsor Kasabi, in a historical tour-de-force covering Robert Hooke’s part in the piecemeal surveying and rebuilding London after the Great Fire of 1666, argued that the present-day tidal wave of data is a modern counterpart of the Great Fire. Now as then, grand top-down solutions are doomed to fail, and data hubs must become collaborative enterprises where anyone can bring as well as use data – like the CKAN-powered DataHub or indeed Kasabi‘s own offering.

Information is power, and another theme that emerged was that of self-determination – of giving people control. Drew Hemment founded FutureEverything, the techo-art festival in Manchester that was part of the drive behind the brilliant (and CKAN-powered) datagm.org.uk. Drew told us he’s suspicious of arguments for Open Data based on transparency. (It’s interesting that transparency was not noticeably a theme of the day.) His interest in Open Data is in giving people control. John and Charlie had hit exactly the same note earlier, noting that that millions of people want more control over decisions that affect them, and asking, ‘How do we unlock data so citizens can influence decisions before they’re made?’

The process of opening data also came under scrutiny, with speakers emphasising that it is never a once-for-all affair. The advice from Tom Steinberg, founder of MySociety, is to pay close attention to incoming requests for data so that you know what people want – even if those requests are coming to somebody else in the organisation. Emer Coleman of the Government Digital Service – and former Open Data champion at the Greater London Authority – told data publishers to ‘get ugly early’: release early and iterate, improving the data as you go. And Ian Holt of Ordnance Survey spoke about OS’s experience of releasing mapping data: they have an ongoing engagement with users such as the Geovation Challenge, though they would still like to know more about how people use their data. I’d met Ian before, on one of the excellent Open Data Masterclasses that are another part of OS’s ongoing user engagement.

Tom and Emer also both touched on the resistance to getting data out in the open. Emer pointed out that this often comes from officials fearful of the consequences – rather than from any considerations of the public weal – even though politicians, who have more to be fearful of, are often in favour. Tom gave some helpful tips on overcoming resistance to releasing data: officials are more receptive to the argument that open data will reduce their workload, for example, than that it will shine a light in dark corners, which may be just what they fear.

Tom knew whereof he spoke, having found himself unexpectedly at the head of a criminal organisation simply by trying to build useful stuff – which back then meant stealing data that now is freely available, partly thanks to his efforts. The creative power of Open Data was of course another theme that reoccurred throughout the day. As Laura James reminded us, the best use of your data will be made by someone else – when the OKF’s site wheredoesmymoneygo.org was experimental, it was often down, leading to enquiries from HM Treasury who found it the most useful way to look at their own data! Lean Doody gave examples in the area of smart cities, including a bus app in Sydney so wildly successful it had to be withdrawn after a couple of weeks because the data provider couldn’t cope with the web traffic. Bill Thompson gave a glimpse of where the ongoing work on the BBC archives might lead. (Are you visible in a pushchair in a street shot from a soap opera when you were 2? Imagine if you could search and find out.) And Jonathan Carr-West of the Local Government Information Unit, quoting the French theorist Bordieu for extra street-cred, said that data is a major new field of exchange – a role the city has traditionally filled – and that Open Data must permeate our habitus and doxa if we are to find solutions together to such existential human problems as world hunger, climate change, resource shortage, ageing and war.

The last word, fittingly, went to Greg Hadfield, who recalled the early days of the internet – 1995, in fact, when he and his teenage son launched Soccernet, to general derision (‘would why anyone get football results from a computer when they can use Ceefax?’) Four years later it was sold for £40 million – ‘We didn’t get the money’, he lamented in an aside (not that he’s done too badly since). As then with the internet, so now with Open Data, Greg sees whole new possibilities open up – and he is determined that communities and cities, and Brighton in particular, should be in the lead.

For other perspectives on the ODCC, see here, here or the amazing live blogging from the day here.



The Guardian: Data that can build a better society

April 26 2012. Posted by Greg Hadfield

What do most people think of when they hear the word “data”?

Everybody knows what it means, I guess: “Facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.” That’s the dictionary definition.

When people talk about data, they are likely to think about numbers and spreadsheets, a lot of “1″s and “0″s, or decimal points.

The chances are they will also feel a little uncomfortable.

Data, they sense, is cold and calculating, distant, and a little bit dangerous. At best, it’s boring; at worst, it’s Big Brother.

So what is the thinking behind the United Kingdom’s first Open-data Cities Conferencein Brighton and Hove?

Like it or not, data is everywhere.

It defines, describes and determines the world we live in. Usually, you can’t see it; you definitely can’t touch it. And yet, data is literally the “stuff” of everyday life.

Occasionally, it is openly and freely accessible; mostly, it is locked away in databases controlled by big business or big government.

Of course, we are not talking about personal data relating to identifiable individuals.

The civic data we are talking about is data about schools, catchment areas, and property prices; about bus times and bus-stops, taxi ranks, car parks, and traffic congestion; about energy use, CO2 emissions, and carbon footprints.

It is not just about transparency and accountability, important though they are; nor is it about data-visualisations and infographics, no matter how dazzlingly beautiful.

The data we are talking about is the “straw” that creates the bricks, which build the walls of the palaces and mansions of the future – the architects of which are still in our schools and universities.

It is this rising generation who will be the innovators, the creators of data-driven applications and services – as yet unimaginable – that will make communities more prosperous, more inclusive, and more democratic.

Humankind has been on the planet for about 160,000 years; cities have existed for, say, 6,000 years; the internet has existed for less than 50 years.

By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in cities.

As a result, our generation is at a singular juncture in human history and technological development.

Data generated in – and by, or for – cities is particularly potent.

The crucibles for global change will be “open-data” cities – cities which self-consciously and collectively decide to make available unbounded quantities of data, openly and freely.

Imagine a city where your car tells you the location of the nearest vacant parking space. Or a city where you are notified as soon as a neighbour submits a planning application. Where up-to-the-minute listings of every cultural event and venue are available – all the time, wherever you happen to be.

Imagine if you could discover the asking price of the cheapest two-bedroom home that has just gone on sale, in the catchment area that will guarantee your child a place at the best-performing school.

It’s not technology that is holding us up. Although the rate of change will be greater as we progress towards ubiquitous, free, high-speed internet access available to everybody via a myriad devices.

For open-data cities to become reality, we don’t have to wait until connectivity – and the “connectedness” it engenders – is the air we breathe.

Nor do we have to wait for the “internet of things”, of which all kinds of objects – not just computers, tablets and phones – will be a part.

Emerging technologies associated with a semantic web of data are already sufficient to power innovative applications, services, and enterprises that will compete and combine to meet the needs of communities in the 21st century.

It is lack of data at a local level that will limit our ambitions. It is a dearth of data that risks keeping our cities in the slow lane to the future.

In a post-digital era – when the differentiation between analogue and digital, between “real” and “virtual”, will finally be blurred beyond relevance – we will truly live in the age of data.

The more data that is released – without strings attached, in machine-readable and non-proprietary “open” formats – the more likely it is that businesses and developers will use it to build the applications and services that world-class cities need.

The Open-data Cities Conference addresses profound questions facing such cities and their citizens.

What do we mean by a “networked” city? And how do we ensure UK cities are at the forefront of what is a global transformation?

How do we use emerging technology to create the cities we want, rather than wait passively for “The Next Big Thing” and a take-it-or-leave-it future that continually descends on us, apparently out of thin air?

Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and their ilk are going to be a large part of the future for some time to come. Online social networks are the arteries and veins of a world that appears to be getting smaller all the time.

Crucially, though, the lifeblood that flows through our increasingly-networked world is data.

And like it or not, it is the word that will define an era.




20 cities: the open-data landscape

March 9 2012. Posted by Greg Hadfield

Much of the Open-data Cities Conference on Friday, April 20, will focus on what is happening in 20 English cities: unitary authorities or metropolitan district councils; with populations of about 250,000 or more that provide sustainable local economies; cities in line for “local TV” under government plans for digital terrestrial television.

Kasabi blog: Data is the lifeblood

February 20 2012. Posted by Greg Hadfield

Living in a city in the 21st century is a truly remarkable experience. Without exaggeration, it presents an historic opportunity.

Humankind has been on the planet for about 160,000 years; cities have existed for, say, 6,000 years; we have used the internet for barely 50 years. We do indeed live in interesting times – at a singular juncture in human history and technological development.

The Argus: Article about the conference

February 17 2012. Posted by Greg Hadfield

Living today in a city like Brighton and Hove is a remarkable experience.

Humankind has been on the planet for about 160,000 years; cities have existed for, say, 6,000 years; the internet was created barely 50 years ago.

As a result, our generation of city-dwellers has unprecedented opportunities to shape the way we live our lives.

Open-data cities: an historic opportunity

February 5 2012. Posted by Greg Hadfield

Living today in a city like Brighton and Hove is a remarkable experience.

Humankind has been on the planet for about 160,000 years; cities have existed for, say, 6,000 years; the internet was created barely 50 years ago.

How open data has changed journalism

January 25 2012. Posted by Greg Hadfield

Data – whether open or not – has always fuelled journalism. Data that is increasingly “open” (in the fullest sense of the term) will transform journalism.

Aristotle and an open-data Brighton and Hove

January 25 2012. Posted by Greg Hadfield

Aristotle got it right.

“Man is a political animal,” the ancient Greek philosopher wrote nearly 2,500 years ago.

He believed human beings were suited to living in a “polis” [πόλις] or city-state – large enough to be self-sustaining, but small enough for lives to be lived on a human scale.

The Argus: Putting open data into action

May 14 2012. Posted by Greg Hadfield
I wrote this column for The Argus newspaper after the conference:

More than 150 people attended the Open-data Cities Conference at Brighton Dome Corn Exchange

The conference, I hope, helped put Brighton and Hove at the forefront of an historic shift – fuelled by emerging internet technologies – that will transform the lives of millions of citizens in a global network of “networked” cities.

So what is an open-data city?

In simple terms, it is a city where democratically-accountable and publicly-funded organisations take the lead in the widespread release of data – with no licensing strings attached – that can be interpreted or manipulated by computers.

As a result, such data can then be used to create innovative applications and services for the public good.

To emphasise: open data is not about personal data relating to identifiable individuals. Neither is it yet another expensive IT project to be funded by taxpayers. Nor is it just about transparency and the public’s right to know (important, though, these are).

When I gave up my job to organise the conference, I was determined that it should not only generate discussion, but also inspire action. Not least action on my part, as I prepare to raise investment for a new business venture.

For more than three years, I have evangelised the benefits of open data; frequently, I have confessed that it requires a leap of faith to see how data – such a boring word for such a powerful concept! – can deliver benefits that, quite literally, are unimaginable.

Repeatedly, I recall what was said in 1995, when I and my son – then aged 12 –created Soccernet, which became the world’s most popular football website and sold four years later for $40million. “Why on earth will anyone want to get their football scores off a computer,” incredulous friends used to say, ”when they can get them from Ceefax.”

In those days, nobody could have imagined that “geeky” talk of HTML (hypertext mark-up language) and FTP (file transfer protocol) could lead to a Google, a Facebook, an Amazon, or an Ebay

Understandably, we are impressed only when technology makes our day-to-day lives easier, better, more enjoyable, and more fulfilling. In that sense, it’s not about the technology. And it’s not about the data. It’s about the citizen, in cities such as Brighton and Hove.

What will drive change? What will be the catalyst for innovation?

Central government definitely has a key responsibility and much is being done. Much more, however, has to be done by local authorities, even in austere economic circumstances.

It was encouraging to see at the conference a significant number of senior officers of Brighton and Hove City Council. John Barradell, the council’s chief executive officer, and his leadership team recognise the advantages of an open and collaborative approach to data, as a means to a greater common good.

I am convinced the impact of making a mass of data freely available will be greatest in cities such as ours. Equally, I am certain that fundamental, sustainable progress will be made only if individual entrepreneurs and companies use open data to build profitable businesses and useful products or services.

And that is what I plan to do with the creation of a Brighton and Hove “data store”, a resource for the city out of which will be built things that are unimaginably beneficial.

Because of the conference, I am now ready to take that personal leap of faith. I hope others in Brighton and Hove will join me.



Open-data Cities Conference

The Open-data Cities Conference took place in Brighton and Hove on Friday, April 20 2012.
The high-profile conference – the first of its kind in the United Kingdom – was attended by more than 150 people and focused on how publicly-funded organisations can engage with citizens to build more creative, prosperous and accountable communities.
In a busy schedule, speakers were:

  • Charlie Stewart and John Shewell (standing in for John Barradell);
  • Leigh Dodds;
  • Jonathan Carr-West;
  • Tom Steinberg;
  • Drew Hemment;
  • Bill Thompson;
  • Lean Doody;
  • Emer Coleman;
  • Ian Holt;
  • Laura James;
  • Greg Hadfield.

There are pictures of all the speakers – thanks to Andrew Hasson - plus pictures in the auditorium and outside.
You can also read about their contributions, thanks to Adam Tinworth (@adders), who has written about it comprehensively on One Man and His Blog.
Catch up with the conversation on #ODCC.
Links to other coverage and my own reflections will be published over the next few days.