ODCafe – thank you and goodbye

Open Data Cafe

That is a wrap on our first ever open data cafe. This is a quick post with some reflections from me on how the process of running an online minimal viable unconference went and some of the themes that seemed to come through from the sessions on the day.

Our goal was to run a minimal viable unconference. The core gang of kind folks behind odcamp are all busy people and lockdowns are tough, we weren’t 100% sure if we should do something, but this idea of a minimal, lo-fi community event seemed to be so in keeping with what Open Data Camp was about, that it seemed like it could be a thing we might make work.

So. The headlines. 75 people joined us on a Saturday afternoon to talk about open data. This means the online version held its own in terms of attendance compared with the IRL classic camps. We ran the pitching and voting in the weeks coming up to the event. The pitch quality was high, but the volume was fairly low. We had to do a fair bit of nagging to get people to fill them in, but I think that as a process it is something that we could reuse if we run a similar event in the future (in the spirit of MVP, the pitches were in a google doc, the voting via a google form). On the day we used a Zoom call and then breakout rooms within Zoom with the permissions set so that users could move around between these breakout rooms as they wished (in classic rule of two feet style). I can’t speak to everyone’s experience, but I think this worked pretty well. It gave that important agency to people to find the talk that worked for them, with very little friction. We also ran things really short. Two blocks of thirty mins with an intro and outro. The whole thing was done within a couple of hours. Nice and simple.

So to the open data, state of the nation. The 8 sessions that ran were

We tried to build public services with open data. You won’t believe what happened next
Data community- what help and guidance do you need?
Open data wrangling and the thousand mile stare
Women and non-binary people in and on data
Open Data has failed/A USP for open data?
Data as Culture
Interpreting open data
Data beyond user needs, data beyond accountability, data as a political tool


This being the healthy mix of the essential topics (Like the sadly still vital session on the unthinking acceptance of the male as a default within data), the practical (what is “too many FOI’s”) and the theme that seemed to cut through this. What is the point? What is the reason for open data, has it failed, does anyone understand this stuff and is it making a difference? This being posted in a blog on a website about a unconference about open data perhaps gives some clues as to what I feel, but to me it seems like a healthy community when we hold ourselves to account and I am pleased we found a way to make sure these vital conversations can happen.

So this leaves me to do a final round of thank yous.

Thank you if you came along. Thank you if you took part, added some notes, gave some feedback and thank you for being an amazing community that makes this all worth while.

Thanks to Zoom for helping us out. Having access to all the tools made this happen and we are truly grateful for your kind support.

Thanks to Drawnalism for continuing to undertake such amazing work in capturing the very essence of what we do. This image by them describing a debate on the failure or success of open data is astonishing. More info about them and the way they work can be found on the Drawnalism website.

And finally, a thank you to the gang of folks who all volunteered to help make this happen. This is grass roots, making the web better stuff. It might not always be glamorous, but I could not be prouder to have this bunch of people being my friends. They are heroes and saving the world one CSV at a time.
image of a zoom video call showing the 14 people who organised the event

Looking at the feedback from the cafe, it seems like people have some interest in us doing something similar again. We will be in touch with details about this as and when we decide how that may play out. We are also interested in the concept of hybrid unconferences in the future where we mix online and in person events to try and be as inclusive as possible. We are not quite sure how this would work, but it is a really exciting idea. If you have thoughts, please do get in touch on twitter

1 thought on “ODCafe – thank you and goodbye

  1. Just wanted to say thanks to everyone who made Open Data Camp possible. My hope would be that future events would be a hybrid version, as I may not be able to reach the physical location of the camp.

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