All posts by Mark Braggins

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

Last 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.

Open data up in the air

In 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

The 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:



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.