Event


My fifth govcamp, and a new venue south of the river. This year our hosts were IBM, and despite the grey weather outside, the meeting space was bright and shiny, and filled with about 150 people.
The has been a lot of talk in digital/tech circles about the lack of women at events like this, so it was good to see this broke the pattern, with almost equal numbers of men and women standing up to pitch for sessions. I pitched two, and was almost on the chart to run both at the same time…… but this was spotted last minute. After that potential clash, the grid worked well for me this year, and I found something interesting in each slot, with not too many unbearable choices to make.
Steph had set up a live blogging platform: http://live.ukgovcamp.com/ which worked excellently well for me during my first two sessions, but then there was a wifi glitch. Resorted to offline note taking, which hopefully makes for a more succinct and reflective blog now.

My five sessions were on personal/professional identity in a digital age, the evolution of digital teams, how to discuss failing fast and lesson learning, the successes of govcamp and what might come next, and finally an overview of the Open Government Partnership.

I liveblogged the first session here – a packed hour, some of my highlights were:
– Having a name that is a “google unique” raises all sorts of questions. Examples of linking between blog, twitter account etc, whether this is explicit or implicit, accidental or deliberate.
– Question – how we know when we are interacting with someone that it really is the person we think?
– When making links between data stores, how to make sure that John Smith in one is the same as Johnny Smith, or J Smith?
– Is identity some thing we have, and choose to project, or is it something that is accumulated around us and reflected back?
– Discussion around the difference between assertion, and validation.
– Even if you want to keep identities separate, it’s becoming increasingly hard to do – even for those with a certain level of technical know how.
– Back to big data question, the big providers who are joining up and using the masses of data they have about you. Surely a point will be reached (soon?) when something big happens that will make it real to people and cause mass concern, but by then, will it have gone too far to do anything about it?
– Issue that traces in the real world may linger, but fade in relatively short time. – Digital traces hang around indefinitely and are findable in all sorts of ways.
– Digital makes it so much easier to triangulate.
– Back to public sector, low levels of clarity as to what levels of identity are genuinely required, needs to be more discussion about this as services are designed. [ Absolutely agree]
– Civil servant example, distinction between barriers, and what people are allowed to do or say, and the right of freedom of speech.

Next up was the session I pitched on digital teams – what peoples experience was now as to the skills and activities covered, and how they saw things evolving in the future. Again, live blogging worked so my full notes are here. There is fuel for a full blog post from the session, and its something I’ll continue to think about, but for now, my edited highlights were:
– Look at digital team as a consultancy, go the team for advice on how to use it, and to keep an eye on innovation and change.
– Reputation is a significant issue, it’s different when you are in a self selecting group eg on Facebook, but within an organisation, there do have to be rules. Digital teams can have oversight of this and share best practice.
– Is delivery fragmenting across government – after web rat will we need twit rat? No sense of coordination and anyone looking across the whole picture, or a department, let alone the whole of government.
Comment: some departments do have that as part of the role of their digital team.
Further comment on reflection – does this matter if people have the skills and licence, and are engaging with the communities they need to, and both sides are aware of the relationship – why worry that there is no central control?
– Lot of people still say “I’m not technical” need to challenge what that means.
Is this a dilemma for now, and in a certain amount of time, digital skills and tools will be commonplace?
– What might teams do in the future? Good at building relationships, identifying local forums, finding connections, working with marketing teams (or whatever they evolve into). Goes way beyond broadcast model.
– Comment: recent digital strategies contain a lot around upskilling and creating capacity. Lot of talk about setting up digital teams, but these are actually a different beast from what we in the room may mean when we talk about a digital team, these new ones are about developing services, new techniques, agile development etc.  In some areas, this service focus is because that’s what people want. Danger or risk though that its seen as a single model and that is all that is needed – oversimplistic?
– “Digital” as a term is becoming overloaded, being used for so many things, and all to mean different things. (Much like agile) So, what might the new terms be?
– Difference between digital champions, some are there because you have to have one, some are there because they are passionate. Elsewhere there are passionate people who are not in a position to make things change.
– Quote: digital teams should not go off in a teenage huff complaining people just don’t get it. Another useful role is in evaluation, and providing evidence, with numbers attached, especially when those numbers are closely related to money – costs and savings.

NOTE: Interesting serendipitous related blog noticed Sunday :  Why every organisation needs a digital comms specialist:”In essence: We all need to be doing more of this digital communications stuff from the hard-bitten pr to the frontline officer. There shouldn’t be a digital comms team and a traditional comms team in a different part of the building.
There should be one. Which doesn’t mind if frontline people use digital too. But this is the tricky bit. Every organisation now needs a digital communications specialist to help make this happen.”

And update: Ann Kempster has also blogged about this topic- think we’ve hit on a hot topic!

After lunch my first session sketched out the scenario that we are hearing a lot at the moment about how important it is to fail fast and learn from it, and in particular in the entrepreneur/start up world failure being seen as a badge of honour. This is all good, but what happens in reality – in particular in the public sector, when people want to do that, but it is blocked.
Highlights from this discussion were:
– To develop a culture where people are comfortable talking about what is done when things go wrong, its good to do it internally first, or at least among a community who understands that you are sharing in order to learn
– In exploring the idea mentioned above re startups, they are talking about failure from a position of success: they have the scars, and have learned, and have since had success
– There is a school of thought that says “Don’t talk about it until you can clearly state what the learnings are” but what if that means a long gap in between issue discovery and sharing. If sharing could be ongoing, then perhaps lessons could influence other projects?
– Difference between useful and useless failure, so the question is whether we can get very quickly to a position of useful failure
– Focus on small incremental improvements, and talk about each step and say what you are hoping to achieve, and why you are doing what you do
– Make sure all levels of an organisation are involved, so senior people completely understand (avoid the scenario where seniors say that people must do something, then are aghast when they do)
– GDS are in a powerful position at the moment, and could do a bit more publicity of their revisions and changes based on feedback, instead of only talking about string of successes
– Don’t underestimate the power of actually showing people what you are doing.
– Don’t confuse the art of the possible and cheap throw away pilots, with the fact that to build and deliver something secure that will work for the whole of a process WILL actually cost money, and may take considerably longer to develop, so balance that there will be failures and challenges when translating those pilots into real products
– Interesting comment about having a portfolio approach to projects, as when several things are worked on at the same time, there will be both successes and failures and it is easier to walk away from those that don’t work, while if you just have one shining star main project that your career depends on, then you are less likely to be prepared to walk away from it
– Fear of negative press coverage does drive the fear of taking risks and the fear of talking about anything that has gone slightly other than perfectly

And finally there was an interesting question about whether there is any evidence that projects where failure and iteration is part of the process actually do achieve better results at the end? And that programmes run in this way do receive more funding?

Penultimate session was around celebrating the successes of gov camp and wondering what might happen next.
People talked about the value it gives, for individuals, the confidence to challenge and a support network you can call on. Many of the spin off camps were mentioned – regional, and thematic, such as blue light camp, the more informal teacamps, and if I heard right, brewcamps. (not sure if these are teacamps with beer, or an analogy for tea?)

A fascinating discussion followed that questioned whether the sort of people who attend these events then had almost a duty (or at least were in the ideal position and could have a stated ambition) to use the knowledge gained to bring about real change at the highest levels. There were many views, not least the question as to whether one particular self selecting event can really claim a mandate, but the counter was that it’s good sometimes to have a set of things to follow up. One persons shared statement is another ones manifesto, lots of cultural baggage and interesting anecdotes here!!

A point that struck a chord with me (and echoed other sessions earlier in the day) was that outside the immediate network of active digital enthusiasts, there are many people who think they get digital, but still haven’t really got the restless curiosity that characterises digital innovation.

Two opposite examples were described – one person who was inspired by gov camp to leave local govt and go freelance, another who went back into local gov, and now talks about these sorts of issues, but is the only one in his organisation. Which brings us back to the original contention: how do we get more people exposed to this sort of event and make explicit the permission to go out and innovate, and make changes based on using technology to meet user needs.

Shining a light on issues and using the sorts of technique stalked about is ultimately what will bring about change. Some can be left to chance, and that is the direction the community is evolving in. Once you reach a certain period of maturity, then perhaps something else can emerge.

My final session was on the Open Government Partnership – something I was faintly aware of, but had no clear picture of what was actually happening. Rather than give background – which is here: www.opengovpartnership.org the key points for me is that this agenda could be a real hook on which to hang all sorts of he kind of innovative and transformational things that digital can offer to improved participation among communities, decisions which affect all our lives being made with real input from those directly affected, but, at the moment it appears to be a fairly London centric talking shop, trying to reach out, but with not many people involved.
Looking at the site, their aims are written in fairly impenetrable government-speak, so I wonder if effort could be made to pull out some really clear and practical examples, and perhaps that would lead to more people understanding what was happening, and therefore deciding to get involved?
One participant commented that it sounded like something the Open Data Institute was doing – a challenge to local authorities which actually had a pot of funding available for innovative examples, and another person suggested perhaps a weekly chat around a unique hashtag to address some key questions might spread the initiative out beyond those currently involved.

Despite best intentions to make this blog more in the style of the “20 things I learned from this event” posts that appear regularly, I’ve failed – too many interesting points, things to follow up and classic quotes I don’t want to lose!

Thanks @lesteph and @davebriggs for excellent organisation, and IBM for hosting – and to all those who gave up their Saturdays to share, think, entertain and record.

Advertisements

Great to have the opportunity to hear this lunchtime from Chris Vein. He is the new Chief Innovation Officer for Global Information and Communications Technology Development at the World Bank.

He leads the implementation of the World Bank’s Technology strategy, particularly helping developing countries build their communications and open government infrastructures, and is in the perfect position to come and talk innovation, in particular his plans around rolling out the World Bank’s technology strategy and their work on open government and open data.

If I’d had the tech in my hands, I’d probably have live tweeted lots of what he said – it was a real reminder of the inspiring examples that were shared at the Open Up! conference last year and the sort of stories I wish many more of my DFID colleagues could have heard.

His three main points were:

1. Technology is an amazing asset when made directly available to people.

2. The digital divide as an issue is growing. Its changing the relationships between government and citizens. There are many different ways that  an increase in the use of technology can have an impact – both positive and negative. One challenge that must be faced is the expectations that can be raised by activities on social media – people expect that real changes can happen and their voice matters, then can feel even more frustrated and let down when change isn’t immediate.

3. In general, we are too timid in our willingness to try new things.

This last point was the one that struck home most firmly. He shared loads of examples – talked about the internet of things, approaching 50 billion connections, mobile is everywhere, social is everything, and the role of big data.

He talked the language that needs to become commonplace – of minimum viable products, of pilots and iteration. He emphasised the absolute need to focus on the effects of interventions on the individual.

Questions from colleagues followed – and answers included new approaches to solving problems, the Presidential Innovation Fellows, how it was important for leaders to protect the overall vision and let innovators do their work, and how important it is to assemble and involve people who are not locked into the ways things have always been done.

One answer that really struck a chord with me was the importance of sharing stories of what works – and using prototypes to show what is possible.

I’m also intrigued to follow up his comments about the extension of Code for America and the idea of civic commons.

An inspiring lunchbreak.

To continue my notes from the recent Open Up! conference, the next session was led by DFID Secretary of State Justine Greening MP. As an aside, she mentioned she had chosen today to launch her twitter account – so follow @justinegreening if you are interested in hearing her priorities.

Justine Greening MP speaking at the Open Up! conference

Justine Greening MP speaking at the Open Up! conference

Her speech made it clear that she recognised technology and innovation would be a constant theme of her work at DFID, and she emphasised the importance of investment in research. She talked about deepening the commitment to transparency, and challenged all funders to present their data in the same formats so aid can be traced. She previewed the Making All Voices Count initiative (which launched on 5 December) and also mentioned the DFID digital strategy which I referred to in my previous post.

She took lots of questions, and answers included the importance of unlocking the culture of innovation and risk taking, plus the need for a closer co-operation between tech hubs around the world.

Next speaker was Tim O’Reilly. His main theme was that government should focus on “doing the hard stuff”. He cited an example of the unexpected consequences when GPS was opened up – from car navigation systems to four#square. He praised the Code for America accelerator programme which had led to loads of startups, such as Captricity, AuntBertha.com, measured voice and mindmixer. He commented that not all innovation is purely digital though –   referencing Maker Faire as a celebration of innovation that now has global reach, and also mentioned the Afrigadget blog, something I discovered back in 2009 and am delighted to be reminded of.

Change should happen by example – someone sees something is possible and wants to follow that lead. Often people want to do the right thing, they just dont necessarily know what IT is. His advice to organisations looking to open up data echoed comments made in the morning sessions: reach out beyond the usual suspects and invite those who complain about you to come in and hack your data. His final quote paraphrased Larry King: “Government should make easy things easy, and hard things possible”.

During the lunch break there were a whole series of show and tell booths set up in the basement, enabling delegates to see working examples of things they may have heard mentioned during the talks. My colleagues were there showcasing the alpha version of the new aid information platform (DM @johnthegeo if you are interested in seeing it and commenting).

After lunch a whole series of lightning talks took place – with Chairman of the event Wired’s David Rowan doing an excellent job keeping speakers to time. We heard from Felipe Heusson of the Smart Citizen Foundation – as previous speakers, he talked about the need to focus on the hands which hold the tech, not the tech itself.

Gustav Praekelt addressed the concern that many pilots struggle to get beyond the pilot phase – talking about cost, complexity and scale.

Kepha Ngito talked enthusiastically about Map Kibera and their focus not on doing things as quickly as possible, but of working with the community to keep people informed and get valuable feedback.

Gautam John talked about his experiences in primary education and how open data can be used to create choice.

Yemi Adamolekun represented Enough is Enough – how social media is used to support protest in Nigeria. She talked about one particular project around the elections, which was non-partisan, but encouraged people to participate, and mentioned the mnemonic RSVP – register, select, vote, protect. She also mentioned Revoda – an app which supports reporting on elections.

Jay Bhalla from Kenya talked about different initiatives around open data, including building a community of activists, and one particular training scheme which aims to help journalists how to understand and use data in their reports. I can imagine such a subject could usefully be taught all around the world.

Chris Taggart talked about open corporates – the largest open database of  company information in the world. Each entry has a URI – something that I can imagine becoming useful as organisations release project data, in helping to support consistent traceability of aid.

Gavin Starks is CEO of the Open Data Institute – which formally opened on 6 December. He talked about a range of projects including legislation.gov and green cloud computing. He outlined the role of ODI as unlocking supply, enabling re-use of data (training, courses etc), unlocking demand (offering innovation space, funding and access), plus communicating examples and sharing standards.

The final session was a double header when DFID’s Michael Anderson shared the stage with Ethan Zuckerman – with Wired editor David Rowan as chair.

Michael Anderson and Ethan Zuckerman at Open Up!

Michael Anderson and Ethan Zuckerman at Open Up!

Their talks were fascinating and wideranging – it would take a whole blog post to do them justice, so if you have time, I recommend watching their conference videos. Michael’s points included finding ways of delivering services to the poorest people which are responsive to need, plus better accountability and tracking. He talked about how we are all fascinated by “the state” and discussed how the state as it currently exists may be less relevant in the future, as we rely on different models. The state may occupy a smaller, but perhaps more effective space. Just as the Secretary of State had earlier, he talked about the need to experiment and iterate – and the importance of being comfortable discussing failure and gathering evidence.  He mentioned a phrase which could be my motto for life : we need to have “restless curiosity”.

Ethan talked about how participation in social media is shifting politics, and asked how we can make it possible for people to be more engaged citizens. He articulated  his definition of “civics” – how we can speak for and organise ourselves. He talked about the new skills needed in this space – learning how to represent ourselves, how to amplify messages, and what can happen when lots of similar voices come together. He gave Kickstarter as an example of the new model and said we need to figure out how to do distributed deliberations.

There have been many other reports of the conference (I recommend a quick read of one by my colleague Mark Robinson on the Open Government Partnership site) – and the conference website is still live – containing lots of material, including videos of speakers.

Thus ends a double helping of blog posts reporting on a single day – but I hope I’ve managed to give a flavour of just how inspiring and fascinating a day it was – to say nothing of giving myself a whole lot of web links to follow up and refer to as we continue to attempt to address the challenges of using digital to support development.

Later than usual, I’ve revisited the notes I made when I attended the Open Up! conference and captured them in a blog post.

The reason I was late pulling my thoughts together and deciphering my notes, was that I’ve been working with colleagues to draft DFID’s first digital strategy.
This was mandated in the overarching Government digital strategy, published by the Cabinet Office last month, and our own strategy was mentioned in the speech given by Secretary of State Justine Greening at the Open Up! event.

So, all the digital stars seem to be aligning for DFID at the moment, and the challenge now is to build on the momentum and enthusiasm I sense among many colleagues across the department. I look forward to working through plans to help people to make the most of opportunities the whole range of digital and internet/mobile technologies offer for us to communicate better about our work, engage with existing and new audiences, explore new ways of getting feedback, and also, most excitingly, to investigate ways in which digital solutions can support delivery of actual programmes in developing countries.

While preparing the strategy, we looked for case studies to illustrate the ideas and points we were making, and it was fascinating to find out about what is already going on. Lots of pockets of expertise and experience – the challenge now is to make this more systematic and more the norm across the whole organisation. For us, digital success will be achieved when digital solutions
mean we can help even more people to lift themselves out of poverty.

Which brings me back to the Open Up! conference. As part of the introductions, we saw a short film from the Prime Minister, in which he talked about how technology and digital solutions can support what he calls the golden thread of development: supporting property rights, the rule of law and strong democracies, while giving people a voice so they can take control of their own future.

The first speaker was Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America, and while her examples were all about North America, the concepts behind what her organisation does are extremely relevant: transparency, efficiency and participation. CfA takes volunteers who take a year off their (often extremely well paid) work and are assigned to work with government on projects.

The main ideas behind projects are that the outcomes should be “simple, beautiful and easy to use” – which sounds very familiar to anyone aware of the work of the Government Digital Service. She cited two end results of the process – both perhaps surprising. You might expect that when you put government data out there, people will complain and be angry, but often the opposite happens, and two sides can be brought together. Also, what made an even bigger impact, was the people inside government, who found working with the CfA fellows ended up energised and enthused.

Next speaker was Rakesh Rajani, head of Twaweza (which means “we can make it happen” in swahili).  He talked about what can happen when you sprinkle the “magic dust of mobile phones” on a project – not only the good that happens when it works, but also some of the examples when it doesn’t. He described the value people place on connections – they may give up food to be able to make a call and the desire for connectivity drives all sorts of ingenuity. He has seen old tube lights being used to make antennae. He was honest enough to say that if you are looking for examples of projects which have delivered on a grand scale, there are not too many out there yet, but there are some noteworthy successes.

He also talked about failure – in particular the Daraja project Maji Matone (which was also showcased in the lunchtime show and tell sessions.)  This was an idea which centred around citizens holding their government to account using their mobile phones. The idea was that at any one time, almost half the waterpoints in rural Tanzania are not working, so people were encouraged to report broken pumps via SMS. Simple idea, but at the end of the first phase, only 53 SMS had been received (their target was 3,000). They stopped the project immediately, and did thorough evaluation, which brought up a number of reasons, including the cultural one that people didn’t really expect that reporting the problem would have any effect, and the issue that the majority of mobiles are owned by men, and water collection is a women’s issue.

A panel discussion followed, where Juliana Rotich (ushahidi) and Anne Jellema (World Wide Web foundation)  were joined by Dr Nii Quaynor from Ghana.

Juliana talked about how technology is changing the way information flows. In particular the example of ushahidi which has evolved from something that took 3 days to set up, and now takes 3 hours, meaning it can be extremely effective in supporting an immediate response to disasters. She warned of the dangers of technophilia – it is not a magic bullet, but it is a vital part of the solution. Finally she referenced the power of crowds – using technology not just in crisis situations, but to respond to all sorts of issues they care about.

Anne is the CEO of the World Wide Web foundation. She too talked about how people have to be part of the solution in order for things to change. She highlighted situations for example where people are scared they will be punished if they complain about faults of problems with services, and referenced some Africa polling results which stated 85-90% of people had never contacted a member of parliament or official to report something (although they had dealt with local community or faith leaders.)

Nii gave us a fascinating overview of progress in Ghana, in particular around transparency. He too talked about the importance of building communities – in this case around particular datasets – and this would help keep up the pressure for more to be released.

Many questions followed, including some which came via twitter. Panelists were asked about role models (My Society and ushahidi mentioned, plus a range of country specific examples were shared). What about projects involving young people? Besides Shujaaz, people mentioned Makutano Junction and the Map Kibera project (about which more later). When asked about incentives for openness, the answer was clear – this is not one for donors, but people and organisations, in particular civil society, who need to put on the pressure, publicise evidence and celebrate success. Questions about ethical issues got the response that solutions have to be flexible – protect those who report problems but also protect those who might be wrongly accused. The importance of mixed solutions was also clear – think through which technology is appropriate for the people you are trying to reach – voice may be better than SMS in areas of low literacy and traditional forms of knowledge shouldn’t be forgotten in favour of formal (eg given was of land registration – where one country allows for oral history records to be included). Open source and open standards were applauded, and the question of balancing experimentation with the need for immediate results stimulated broad discussion.

An extremely stimulating session, which has turned this post into a bit of an epic – so I’ll close part one and continue in part two.

Looking forward to Tuesday this week, when DFID will partner with the Omidyar network and Wired magazine to hold the Open Up! conference in London.

As the strapline says, the conference aims to bring technology, innovation and open government together – and the goal is to showcase the best examples of how technology can support people’s access to democracy, open societies,  and encourage participation.

This event was first mentioned back in the spring, and it has been exciting to watch as momentum built, some big names were mentioned as possible speakers, and colleagues around the organisation who initially said “hmm, not sure we have much to say on this” are now full of ideas and talking about how we fit everything in.

Speakers, listed on a page on the DFID site, include our new Secretary of State: Justine Greening, Tim O’Reilly, and Jennifer Pahlka – founder of Code for America,  and I know there are many other inspiring people planning to attend.

Its an invitation only event – unsurprisingly given the fact the venue only has a certain amount of space, but sessions will be livestreamed via the conference website, and I’m sure there will be many blogs and comments across social media.

Highlight for my team was when Sir Tim Berners Lee agreed to guest blog for the DFID bloggers platform – (although I probably shouldn’t say it, much more exciting for me than the XFactor celebrities who I have to google to find out who they are!).

The day after the conference, we plan to use the momentum generated to share many more examples of how technology can support development with our colleagues – its going to be a busy week.

DevCom = Development Communicators: people who work in communications for organisations involved in international development. Last week this network held a workshop, which saw representatives from a range of government departments (donors like DFID, from Switzerland, Canada, Ireland, France, Norway, Belgium and other, plus colleagues from the World Bank, UNDP, African and Asian development banks) meet to discuss their experience using social media.

First off Joanna, network co-ordinator, shared the results of a survey of people’s experiences. These showed that while there is a good range of use, it is still not universal – and some channels in particular showed 50/50 experience.

Next we heard a couple of talks from colleagues – the first on evaluation – where we had a comprehensive walk through creating an evaluation framework for a communication activity. The main conclusion my colleague has formed when working on these, is that having clear and measurable outcomes to evaluate really helps you sharpen your thinking as to the type of communication you actually do. I’ll work through his notes and example with him and perhaps write a separate post.

Next up was Nick Jones, head of digital at Number 10 and the Cabinet office. He gave an entertaining talk on the range of channels they are using to get different stories out. His original mnemonic  was Stefffyl: covering slideshare, twitter, foursquare, facebook,  flickr, youtube, LinkedIn [and I can’t remember the ‘e’], but he has already had to add a new line to include pinterest, storify and tripline. He also talked about the approach of COPE – Create Once, Publish Everywhere- in particular in relation to infographics, which, used  thoughtfully, can add huge value to a piece of news.

The general talks were followed by a series of “show and tell” sessions, first from 3 donors: DFID, the Belgian aid agency, and Norad – our colleagues from Norway. These were followed by 3 international agencies : IFAD, UNDP and the World Bank.

I gained snippets of useful information from all of these – like the interesting tool they are using in Belgium to create a daily tailored news service: Scoop it – definitely one to investigate. Also the fascinating programmes being run in Norway to raise awareness of development issues. They talked us through their “Reborn” programme, which they developed by working with Facebook (so they had permission!) to create what looks like a timeline – but not for your own life as it is now, but how it might have been if you had been born in one of the developing countries that Norad works in. You learn whether you would have received an education, and what work you might have ended up doing, how young you might have married and in general what your life might have been like. They also shared a competition they are running for schools – where the prize is a class visit to a programme in Tanzania – but it is no simple task to win. 1,000 classes have registered, but the final winner will have completed a long series of questions, done a lot of research, and probably enlisted friends and family to also complete the course and “donate” their points.

The next set of presentations included the importance of getting buy-in and support from the absolute top of the organisation, plus some fascinating insights from UNDP on running social media in several languages. They have both facebook and twitter accounts in french, spanish and english. Finally the World Bank, who introduced the concept of crowdsourcing blogs. By this they mean that they tweet a broad idea for a post, and ask what people think –  then they frame the blog post based on the questions people asked and the comments they made.

Our final sessions were a series of small groups for in depth discussion of specific topics. People talked about the ethics of photography when used in development – starting with some very helpful guidelines that Save the Children have produced – contrasted with some actual photographs that one of their field officers had published recently (which appeared to break all the rules.) Another group talked about how to embed social media activity and skills across an organisation, another covered blogging – which also included talk about how to support people new to the act and how to encourage and enthuse those who already have a busy life. The final group talked about metrics and measurement – which neatly rounded off the discussion started in the morning about evaluation – but covered the challenges in deciding what to measure to demonstrate the success or value of communications and interaction carried out via social media.

A busy day- lots of conversation, new contacts made and old friends re-connected with. I look forward to experimenting with some new ideas – and with the speed this environment is changing,  wonder what would be on the agenda this time next year?

Hot on the heels of my last blog post, I attended the show and tell at the end of the trade data hack event that took place in London this weekend. In partnership with Rewired State, so a couple of familiar faces there, and held in the Centre for Creative Collaboration. It was much easier for me to reach than RLabs (30 minutes on a high speed train rather than an 11 hour flight….), but the energy and creative space was similar. Superficial instant comparison – the ratio of Apple products was completely opposite – only 3 I think in the whole of RLabs, and possibly only one or two non-Apple in London!

However, the approach and solutions to the data challenge set were actually similar in many ways. The teams in London focused on making it simpler for people to understand the data, and tried to find ways to make it fun, so people would actually want to participate. Many added clever visualisations and made working through the data into a game – all had excellent ideas as to how they would expand their idea and prototype into a working thing.

I hope the prototypes will all be available online  (will add links if and when I find out) – as some are very hard to describe, but here goes:

First up, Canada Calculator, a simple one to start with, it lets a consumer see how changing different economic indicators affect the price of commodities in their shopping basket.

The same team evolved their visualisation to produce Global trade challenge: a game which lets people see how changing different economic variables affect the prices of good in different countries. A players initial goal is simply to make the highest profit – but ideas for development included other goals, which might be developing production in your country.

CPIA geochart used a set of World Bank ratings as a basic data set, and mapped them on to a world map. Just seeing the data in this way raised a whole host of questions, not least the scales used – is it good or bad to score highly against an indicator like “transparency, accountability and corruption in the public sector”? Very corrupt but also very transparent about it?! Next steps for this visualisation could be to map trends, and see how countries develop over time – this would be more meaningful than the absolute numbers.

Next up was Surplus/deficit – a 3D visualisation of World Bank data that really has to be seen to be understood!

Surplus/deficit - 3D data visualisation

Surplus/deficit – 3D data visualisation

I absolutely loved this product, and can imagine all sorts of ways it could be extended to include more data. All data is taken from a spreadsheet, and a basic function is that it would help to spot anomalies in the data. Future enhancements could include dials and sliders, so you could see how the visualisation would change over time, or as different filters were applied. One irony, the hack as it stands is a virtual map – by which I mean that all the data points are mapped to capital cities, so if you know the world well, you can guess/work out where the hot spots are. To make it truly functional, a real map outline should be added, but this will take away some of its abstract beauty!

Where the money goes is another simple visualisation that used the basic commodity data provided for the five sample countries.

Where the money goes - data visualisation

Where the money goes – data visualisation

More data could illustrate more elements, at the moment there is just one ‘stripe’ showing tariffs, and the rest of the currency symbol shows ‘the rest’ of the price.

Trademize is a fascinating hack – a solution with 3 aims:  to inform and educate, to engage and to connect. The presenter talked through the information home page, which contains lots of clear explanations and illustrations of trade data, then the engagement element, the part of which I most liked was the idea of a quiz. In this, visitors would select a commodity and then how much of it you consumed (eg Tea, and how many cups a day you drink), then it would calculate how much this cost you a year, then let you know how much you would save if there was a change in one of the tariffs. The ‘connect’ element was that you would then be invited to share the final information in the form of a tweet. Deeper connection was in the form of a contact form where visitors could ask questions of experts. The behind-the-scenes management of this community was interesting, and something to investigate further. The developer used the PODIO task management system and Zapier.  The latter looked for tweets which used a particular hashtag and then created a task which could be assigned to someone to investigate. At least I think thats how it worked…. as I said, one that looked intriguing, to be investigated!

Next up was another tool which visualised World Bank data: Exporty relativiserator. This was highly graphical (true geeks in the room were impressed as apparently this was done on some HD laptop?) but unfortunately it didn’t initially display as the developers had intended. Changing the settings made the countries on the map white, but I think I got the gist – when you select a country, the tool showed  the top 4 regions it exported to, linked by lines, and the thickness of the line indicated the volume of exports. Plans for this included more data, which would show imports and exports, and show the split between goods and services.

Reach for the Pie was the first app designed to work on a mobile – and it was demo’d on an iPhone.

Reach for the Pie - data visualisation

Reach for the Pie – data visualisation

Users choose a country, then sector, then product, then the tool gives you a pie chart which illustrates how the price of that commodity (in the example above – apples from Chile (we think)) is made up – tariffs, transport costs etc.

The same team had also found time to create a ‘physical’ hack – they invented a board game: Trade Aid game.

Trade Aid board game

Trade Aid board game

Working along the lines of snakes and ladders, it took the player on the route from producer to market. The ‘snake’ hazards are things like: delays at border, miss 2 goes, while a ladder might be: receive training to meet EU standards, advance 2 squares.

The next hack was presented by an extremely energetic and enthusiastic presenter, who described the approach they had taken in developing a way of presenting trade data in a way that anyone could understand. Pictotrade used pictographs to represent complex concepts, using consistent colours to represent trade topics (export, import, services etc)

Pictotrade - pictorial trade data explorer

Pictotrade – pictorial trade data explorer

The team aimed not to overwhelm – their app starts with a blank canvas that the user gradually fills by selecting countries, and commodities, and the focus is not on absolute numbers, but on relative relationships – eg a small image shows not much activity, while a big one shows large scale success.

One idea was that schools could make use of this, working through particular examples to create an illustration that could be printed off as a poster – to raise awareness of a particular issue or country’s trade position.

This group also wins the prize for the ‘additional extra’ which I don’t claim to understand at all – but somehow the tool they used to create their ‘stretching’ icons could also be used to show ‘stretching’ cats……. dont ask! [thanks for the link @shish2k ]

Into the finishing stretch, the next presenter showed a role playing game: Trade War. Imagine you are Minister of Trade for India, your task is to work through a series of years making changes to the volume of products and the amount of tariffs you place on trade, with the aim of keeping consumers, producers and exporters happy.

Trade War - role playing game based on trade data

Trade War – role playing game based on trade data

You change your plans each year, and the country you are trading with – in the presentation this was China – responds. Each year your three different communities are graded as to their reaction – pleased, thrilled, grumbling or angry.  When asked if he had learned anything from creating this game, the developer  responded with the unsurprising “you can’t please everyone!”

The last two hacks came from the same team. First up was Tariff bot – a fascinating idea, which as it says in its own profile “tries his best to chip into relevant conversations with data from the World Bank”.

The team correctly identified the challenge that no matter how fantastic your creation, too often it sits on a server somewhere and after the initial flurry of interest, no one uses it. So they wanted to create something that would go out and find people who were having conversations anyway about trade topics. Tariffbot currently uses the twitter search API to find people talking about topics (using certain terms – it currently loves countries and questions) then tweets a link to a data graph of relevant information. Thus  someone saying “I wish I knew more about trade tariffs in Japan” would received a helpful tweet in reply. It isn’t programmed to ‘@’ reply people – the developers wanted to avoid being accused of spamming people, so I’m not completely clear how the questioner would see the helpful answer – but I’m sure with more development this could turn into something really interesting!

The last in show app was a cheeky one, which exploited the fact that there is a google chrome extension that allows you to inject your data into a site (lots of unlikely caveats here – like people accepting unauthorised apps – but it made a nice point…..) Tariffic is a neat idea that for example when a shopper was using the online store of a wellknown mainstream supermarket, and for example chose a packet of coffee, the app would insert a pie chart which told you how much of that price went to the producer, how much went in tariffs etc. It would only work if the supermarket had included the country of origin in the product entry – but nevertheless – an intriguing idea.

In all, a hack that was on the surface, different in many ways from the first DFID sponsored trade data hack, in Cape Town, but actually showed lots of similarities of approach. The developers’ products were further advanced, and many of the graphics more sophisticated, but the energy and enthusiasm that went into making complex issues clear and engaging to people was consistent throughout. I look forward to hearing from colleagues about what was produced at the trade data hack in CCHubs, Lagos.

NB – I didn’t capture anyone’s names, and may well have misunderstood some of the more complicated work. If I have misrepresented your hack, or if you would like me to assign correct credit for your work, please contact me via the comments field, or on twitter @juliac2

UPDATE: Hacks now live on Rewired State: http://hacks.rewiredstate.org/events/dfiddc2012/centres/london

« Previous PageNext Page »