CityCamp Brighton


Yes – I am avoiding work on my thesis by catching up on the blogging – only 3 more posts after this one….promise not to publish them all today…

We had our third thursday CityCamp Brighton meeting up this week and apart from updates from projects (including the brilliant GigBuddies who you can connect to here) we spent most of the discussing the implications of the impending benefit system changes  and the impacts we expect to have them to have in the City.  One of the strengths of CityCamp is the fact that it brings together the people who are trying to address issues like this different sectors and also people who are going to feel the impact – this makes for an informed, impassioned and at the end of it practical debate.  Many thanks to Paul Brewer for organising some speakers and for Val Pearce for giving us the facts in an accessible and open way.  Also huge appreciation to the guy from Fairshare who was inspirational about how practical approaches can solve problems.

This is a huge topic and I hope someone else will summarise the debate but suffice to say we expect there to be more people in poverty in the City as a result of these changes and these financially excluded people are also currently digitally excluded.  This is not a unique problem – the question is whether we can come up with a Brighton and Hove solution.

We tried to focus on what kind of help the CityCamp network could bring to this problem and this is where Nick Hibberd had a very focused suggestion.  He pointed out the lack of links between the kind of formal support that he and his team can offer and the informal and practical help which organisations like Fairshare can offer.  We talked about the need to network these informal and formal networks together and also talked about the need to raise the level of information sharing about these issues.

One of the projects which won funding at CityCamp Brighton was the brilliant House of Games proposal from Richard Vahrman which you can read about here (note this is not the finished article).  Richard sat down with Carl Haggerty a few weeks ago to see if we could see a way of piloting this idea in one of the We Live Here projects – Carl’s thoughts on this are here.  Gamification is something which is a big buzz in tech circles at the moment (really balanced Pew Report on it here) but the basic thrust is the idea that we bring competitive and playful experiences into serious tasks.

The combination of these two conversations is the idea of a knowledge badge, a peer rewarded and public accolade which signals that you are a valuable part of this informal/formal knowledge network and that you are available to answer questions and help.

We now need to speak to Richard (which is partly the point of this post – hello Richard!) and see what he thinks about this idea and then we need to sit a few people down (Richard, Me, Carl, Nick, Paul and anyone else who is interested) and see where we can take this.  Will be nagging people to this end.

The other major issue that we think CityCamp Brighton can help address on this topic is digital exclusion which was one of the other projects that got funded this year.  We have a meeting about this next week and I will blog an update then.

Any comments / corrections then please shout!

The next third thursday is 21st June and we will be focusing on digital exclusion – put it in your diary!

Rather than a huge piece that might take me a while to mull over here (with HT to Dan Slee for the suggestion) are my 20 observations from CityCamp this weekend:

  1. We all owe Anthony and Susie huge thanks for their work in the organisation.  I helped – but not much.  Will do better next year guys!
  2. It is brilliant to see the continuity of the event start to emerge – I spoke to loads of people who plan to come next year.  Its really powerful doing something on this scale for a second time – I want to see it grow next year.
  3. Part of the pleasure in this was seeing ideas which started last year now being up and running – with or without the prize fund.
  4. Digital inclusion is a large and layered problem;  we need to think about access and we also need to think about motivation.  Once people have a reason to participate then the other problems can be solve.
  5. It was great to see more voluntary sector participation – I think this was a combination of the way the prize fund was structured this year as well as the pre-CityCamp event that we held.  The combination of these two things I think made it feel more accessible – but would like to ask some of the participants their views
  6. If we want to help the voluntary and community sector transform in order to meet the huge challenges that it faces then we have to help them get the best out of technology. In a City as digitally able as Brighton we should be able to help them far more effectively than we are right now.
  7. I am not sure it works as well to separate the prize process from the event.  People who don’t participate in the event don’t get the benefit of the expertise and energy and I think the projects will be poorer for it.  yes its a big time commitment but one that is worth it.  On the other hand – it felt better to be handing out more smaller awards – will be interesting to track progress on these.
  8. We should definitely send out an email and get some feedback.
  9. Yet again I felt grumpy in advance about giving up my weekend and yet again I was oh so pleased that I did.  I wish I could convey this to the people who didn’t make it for the weekend.
  10. Emma Daniel is awesome and I will join with her to make the perfect duvet cover putting-on device anytime.
  11. We get a huge contribution from the ‘out of towers’ who participate – thanks guys.
  12. If we use the AMEX stadium again (which was great) then I will definitely bring my own sandwiches
  13. Next year I will make sure that we have at least as many women speaking as men on the Friday – I am cross with myself for not getting this sorted this year and won’t let it happen again.
  14. Jo Ivens is fantastic at live tweeting – wish I were half as pithy…
  15. Always test the projector with more than 15 minutes to go before the presentation – and if possible try and have a screwdriver with you
  16. One of the things I enjoyed most both this year and last year was to see people from such different contexts and backgrounds working together – and to have the opportunity to meet so many different perspectives myself.  Even the most eclectic of us will tend to meet more people like us than those who are different and it is just so good to have your own assumptions and status quo challenged.
  17. This last point is perhaps deserving a little more thought but one of the things that I felt was lacking was a shared sense of narrative for the City as a whole.  I spent most time working on the Digital Inclusion project and I was struck by the lack of substance that is currently behind the ‘Digital City’ strap line.  If we want to bring this alive then we need a much more public and inclusive debate about what this actually means.
  18. We could probably do more with an event like this if we were to pull out some of the themes and structure the project pitches slightly.  I am wary of messing with the unconference format but there was a fair amount of repetition and slightly competing ideas that we might have been able to ease a bit and as a result create more useful projects.
  19. I want to spend a lot more time looking at the intersections of offline and online networks and spaces.
  20. Where were the Councillors?

Thanks to everyone who was there – looking forward to seeing you next year!

This is by way of a short overview of the session I ran at CityCamp Brighton on Saturday proper post on the whole event to follow. Being chair of the judging panel meant that I could’t pitch it so I am hoping that the write up at least will be of use.

The basic premise is the fact that people do not live in postcodes or wards and they definitely don’t live in lower supra-output areas. Neither do they live in Neighbourhood Policing areas or even in Parishes a lot of the time. People live in communities and the reach and geography of these are defined by the people – not by the data. This is an essentially narrative led view of the world that requires us to view community as a living thing as opposed to a post hoc measurement.

The suggestion is that we enable people to draw the shape of their community on a map and that we then serve data back to them on the basis of where they say they live – rather than where we put them for administrative purposes.

We were lucky enough to have people in the group from the Council, Police, Community groups and actual residents so we had a productive session.

Before we go any further – this session was very much focused around communities of place not communities of interest. Though we all fully accept the fact that not all communities are geographical this was our interest for the 80 mins we had together.

Data? What data?
We started by taking a view as to what data actually exists that can be matched by whatever means to longitude and latitude so that it could be treated in this freehand way. The list was legion:

  • Neighbourhood policing data – this is organised by neighbourhood policing areas
  • Snap points – the Police assign incidents to common points so as not to identify specific locations
  • Point data generally – anything that does have a longitude / latitude
  • Ward – smallest electoral unit
  • Lower Supra-Output areas and Output areas – have a look at the ONS definitions for these
  • Logical operational boundaries – these are the areas that make sense for specific service delivery tasks – for example waste collection routes
  • Postcode – this is where the postman thinks you live….
  • Property Gazette – and this is actually where your house is….

So – the good news is that all this data is there – the question for the #opendata folks is how actually useable it all is but let’s not dwell on that problem right now……

The devil is of course in the detail
The big issue is that many of these data sets do not, and probably should not, connect to specific points and so its gathered and managed into larger sets which are not going to be congruent with the areas that people actually draw on the map – in fact this is the essence of the problem.

Our proposed solution is that we display the map areas that data sets relate to surrounding the area that has been created by the user and that they can decide the relevance for themselves. That way we are being clear about how the data works and also allowing people to choose the information that makes most sense to them.

How would it actually work?
The user would draw – either with the mouse or touch screen – the area on the map that they were interested in and then have the opportunity to save the drawing. This would then be used to query the data – basically using the map in place of the usual postcode search. Simples.

Where point data exists we will simply display this, however aggregated data will need to be returned as a whole set as you can’t necessarily break this down further.

Rather than try and recalculate statistics based on your chosen geography the tool would return all of the relevant data as an overlay to your map and you would be able to choose which ones you felt were useful. Imagine a honeycomb with your drawing a blob in the middle….

Interpreting the data
We were trying to keep a tight scope for the project and so declared data interpretation and further exploration tools out of scope – partly because we felt that a tool like this could support a lot of other tools. However we did have two immediate thoughts:

  • It would be great to have traffic lights or something that would establish relvance of the data. Relevance is something of a moving target but in this case we are thinking of a measure which shows how good the fit is between the returned data set and your chosen area – ie the degree to which any stats returned fit the group you are interested in.
  • We also wanted to be able to show national and regional norms against your point data. This may become statistically problematic – but not impossible.

Crowdsourcing the world
The starting point for this is a desire to show relevant data to people but our vision was that you capture these maps and use them to start to redraw the map bringing service delivery together with real communities – breaking down barriers between different parts of public sector as they all have the opportunity to view the same crowdsourced view of the world rather than their traditional boundaries.

Individuals might save multiple maps to reflect where they live, work, commute or have family which also gives us the opportunity to understand more of the narrative of people’s lives.

Does it already exist?
We don’t think so but no good idea exists in isolation so thanks to Dom Campbell for sending us these links:

What needs building?
All of it! But in an attempt to entice a little open source collborative coding this is my view of the discrete bits:

  • Really nice front end for the map drawing
  • Code to store the (multiple) maps against individuals and plug this into different identity management systems so that this is portable
  • Code to check new maps against stored drawings and suggest a best fit
  • Code that can return point data and display within the drawn maps
  • Code that returns data sets as on/off layers alongside the drawn maps – which can then be saved against the map record as well

And then all of this would need to be implemented against various open / opening data sets from around the city.

If we get this far….then we would then like people to be able to raise queries / corrections against the data as well as add personal stories that can give a richer local feel but let’s not run before we can walk….

There are all kinds on interesting things you could do with GPRS for a mobile app – for example letting people walk their boundaries instead of drawing the or even letting them know which community they are in (lots to consider on that one). However in the interest of simplicity this is at the moment a browser based project.

What next?
Well – I don’t have a huge amount of time to do anything on this but I will share this and get some wider comments on it.  We may of course decide to build it at public-i – we’ll be thinking about it at least.

If the interest is there then I’ll pop along to the brighton open data group and see if anyone is interested in having a go…..so let me know what you think.