The stone wall of optimism: Local by Social

Local by Social SW

This is a picture of a largely blank wall in Bristol’s town hall. And it’s an image that strikes me as incredibly forward focused and hugely optimistic. The other two interior walls have the names of the Lord Mayor’s of Bristol engraved in block letters and their dates of service. The dates stretch back over half a millenium. And even in the picture shown here they’ve made a start on this wall, too. But most of it was left blank, for mayors to come. Because Bristol feels in the very fabric of its civic infrastructure that it’s a city with history and one with a future.

Bristol hosted the 2nd of the regional Local by Social events – Apps for Communities. And that strikes me as hugely optimistic, too. (I won’t run down everything that happened – we’re updating our Local by Social blog – and there’s already an excellent rundown here). The whole event was focused on where we’ve come so far, working with developers and the community and where we need to go. The history of working with open data and in truly collaborative ways with isn’t lengthy, but it is inspiring – and there’s a huge blank wall on which to write.

But there are also a lot of lessons to take away:

  • apps aren’t new – but the concept of combining citizen crowd-sourced and gov data is a relatively new thing – and full of exciting potential
  • if we have a shiny idea for apps – that’s great, but it’s important to go back to the ‘pain point’ – and think through the problem and the opportunities thoroughly
  • we don’t need to work from existing open data – the possibilities of solving a real need in a community can be an excellent starting point for getting the data open or crowd-sourcing the data if that’s not possible
  • there’s lots to do around simple solutions and data education – which is why I’m so glad that I got Tim Davies along for the debut of the Open Data Cook Book.
  • we need to think of creative ways of engaging with developers – Emer Coleman’s idea of developers in residence certainly sparked a lot of thought among participants
  • apps aren’t built in a day – but you can get a lot done about laying the ground work for some great ideas – which we certainly did in Day 2 of Local by Social. And if the idea is good enough you can keep people enthused – I’m excited that we’re
  • council data won’t be perfect – and we shouldn’t expect it to be – all institutions issue incorrect stuff all the time, but by being open we have the opportunity to get closer to being right.
  • you need strong political leadership – I was so impressed by the Bristol’s Leader Cllr Barbara Janke and other councillors in the room who are showing the way. They don’t have to be techy, they just need to be visionary – and create the space for those who are.
  • don’t let the nay-sayers get you down. Not everyone in a vast organisation like a council is going to embrace open government, but creative enthusiasts like Sarah Billing and Stephen Hilton in Bristol can push open doors you’d never have thought possible.
  • getting people together across voluntary, community, tech, fire, health, police central gov and local gov is amazing. As I walked around each workshop and team, you could hear the shared ideas and perspectives coming together to create something new. We need more of this.

My slides from the event:

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Darrel W. Cole

Good stuff here Ingrid. Social media for government works best when focused locally, on those who would be impacted by something government does.