Tag Archives: Open Data

We were ‘Sixteen, going on seventeen’: growing through turbulent times

2 Jan

hi=-tech buildingAs 2016 fades away and we embrace the New Year, we take a moment to reflect on the seismic shifts that make any predictions seem hazardous.   Some of those upheavals arrived packaged with polarized opinions and dubious evidential credibility. Other shifts gained far less media attention because they do not yet lend themselves to snappy headlines or slogans. These ‘straws in the wind’ are however just as real and may well have far reaching impacts – not least in the management and wellbeing of local communities.

To capture the uncertainty of what community leaders are heading into, lyrics from the Sound of Music may seem a very unlikely text. In the musical, young Leisl places her trust in someone just a year ahead – not much older, certainly no wiser and about to betray her trust.  Convenient calendar coincidence aside, the sense that we are now sailing into the latter stages of ‘troublesome teens’ is a handy metaphor for anyone concerned with the local development and wellbeing of communities. And in these turbulent times, those UK readers who are concerned will find it challenging to fathom the realities, see bigger pictures or plan for longer-term futures.

You might imagine that vast years of experience would suggest otherwise. Our diverse UK communities are, however, more Unique than United and, when academics study community wellbeing, the current research papers might sometimes seem to have been written on (or of) a different planet.

Take, for example, John Lauermann’s Municipal Statecraft: revisiting the geographies of the entrepreneurial city. It is, undeniably, a splendid work with many interesting insights.   But many UK readers will find his observations on post-growth diversification of entrepreneurial policy impacts to be several light years ahead of prevailing realities in our over-centralised State.

He contends that the search for economic growth is no longer the primary or dominant rationale for local initiatives.   Narrowly-defined growth goals, he argues, have become just one of many local policy objectives across a wider societal spectrum.   In truth there may well be far greater Municipal Enterprise being practiced across the UK but, with few exceptions, local leaders dare not highlight these efforts for fear of (a) harsh media scorn, (b) an irrational blame culture and (c) central financial penalties for daring to find creative alternatives to austerity cuts. Look no further than the momentary media outrage about hospital car-parking charges.

Lauermann’s acute observation that the historic rationale for municipal enterprise (boosting economic growth) has evolved into a more diverse and imaginative focus across multiple aspects of public/social policy will, however, mean little to those who have yet to fully embrace Heseltine’s (‘No Stone Unturned’) 2012 notion of Local Enterprise Partnerships. Being this far behind the curve might, however, provide scope to leapfrog the learning process but only if local leaders adopt a less insular perspective – a notion that, with few exceptions, runs counter to prevailing politics.

The theme of an evolution in economic thinking is also evident in Erik Beinhocker’s ‘Evonomics’.   His Oxford-based New Economics programme has a mission to identify and address the large gaps between prevailing economic theory and reality. He does not underestimate the scale of the challenge. So an explicit, widespread use of new economic approaches to policymaking may require some education of citizens, the media and politicians themselves on the risks of overconfident top-down solutions, and the importance of small-scale failure as a way to learn and prevent large-scale disasters.” His theme of multiple and local small-scale experimentation (inevitably with some failures) is, he would contend, vastly more likely to induce success.

There is no shortage of instructive reading for the UK’s local leaderships. The RSA’s Inclusive Growth Commission, led by Stephanie Flanders, still bangs the drum for local economic growth but sees that ‘place-based’ growth as moderated in ways that would counter run-away social inequalities. Inclusive growth is about living standards and earnings, as well as in-work progression and tackling long term unemployment. It offers a social return in helping more people participate meaningfully in the economy, but it also has an economic rationale, with the potential to address some of the key drivers of the UK’s productivity puzzle.”

The Inclusive Growth Commission’s final report in March may be a useful stepping stone but no-one should underestimate the scale of political and public education that will be needed to counter four or five decades of ill-informed governance.

Similarly Mariana Mazzucato’s work is gaining traction but the fact that her ideas are often described as radical is a sure indicator of the depths to which economic and regulatory management has sunk in the hands of unconstrained admiration of over-simplistic, supposedly ‘free’, market mechanics.

In the old musical we may have pitied teenage Leisl’s naivety, but we should now also feel for city and community leaders, who must cast around for clues in these uncertain times. Who can they trust? What are the local priorities?   A recent discussion note written in preparation for the 2018 Global Summit pointed out that in the last six decades the meaning of the phrase knowing your place has shifted from an admonishment (not speaking out of turn) to an empowerment enabled by the advent of access to Open Data and better visualization tools.

Fortunately for the UK, a few sharper minds are becoming focused on the need for renewed effort to stave off what many see as an evolutionary crisis – a crisis for which the populism of the Brexit and Trump votes are just symptomatic.   Perhaps one of the best (and most readable) starting points would be Rick Robinson’s ‘Three Step Manifesto for a smarter fairer economy’.

In this summary of the state we are in, he finds little reason to blame our ills on ‘other’ (external) presumed malevolent forces but understands our own home-grown failures. “The failure to invest in local services and infrastructure . . . . is caused by . . . the failure of national government to devolve spending power to the local authorities that understand local needs.”  Dr. Robinson is very much aligned with the RSA’s Inclusive Growth work when he calls for legislation ‘to encourage and support business models with a positive social outcome’. His perspectives are informed by his work in the ‘smart city’ arena but he has grasped that those inspiring innovations should be driven by a far higher purpose than mere technological novelty – and in this he sees Open Data as making vital contributions to local leadership priorities. He is not alone – as the unusually articulate and constructive post-blog comments testify.

All of these references point towards something that has been happening for decades but has been largely ignored by dominant central governments. Central policy development deals in averages. Local needs and impacts are lost in ‘rounding errors’.  Is it any surprise that the effectiveness of top down directives is so often far less than their instigators hoped? What, however, has been going on are remarkable but largely unsung local heroic efforts to cope with those top-down determinants.   And those local inspirations can be observed in communities the world over and, more frequently than they might admit, within in many very large companies: progress despite the senior management.

 This local experimentation, this inventiveness, this local understanding of needs and priorities is in some countries constrained by central authority and a general lack of leaders who dare to be different. Many brave experiments may fail but really great local leaders do not buckle under the barrage of ignorant media bullies. That is why the creation of metro mayors and increased devolution of powers to local communities will be both significant and challenging.

For the last few years the charge into local projects has been led by technologists keen to create a market for their ‘smart’ systems and devices. Their enthusiasms have not been misplaced – great benefits are evident – but, as local leaders gain strength, as economists gain greater insights and as citizens begin to speak up, there is a renewed interest in learning from others.

For the past two decades the Intelligent Community Forum has researched these issues. Every year a few hundred communities from around the world volunteer their experiences for assessment in the hope that their efforts will be recognised and honoured. Through that evaluation process the contenders themselves gain great insights and understanding.  From those that apply, the selection of the Top 21 and then Top 7 provides a vast archive of evidence of the characteristics that, in aggregate, indicate the emergence of truly intelligent communities.  The indicators gleaned over the years have six or seven dimensions – the themes today being much broader than in the earliest research.

The underlying focus in on the quality of locally managed programmes for Connectivity (the extent to which digital broadband infrastructure is fit for future purpose) is now joined by assessments of local programmes for:

Digital Inclusion (or Equity) – the great effort of bringing the whole of society into a digitally-enabled world without creating yet further divisions and inequalities.   In the UK the work of many charities (such as Good Things Foundation) and housing associations are delivering brilliant programmes.

The generation of a Knowledge Workforce – has impacts encouraging inward investment/employment and discouraging migration of young people. This is becoming a major focus for Local FE Colleges and partnerships with enterprise and public service agencies.

The extent of Innovation Capacity – particularly in the local provision of low-cost workspaces, mentoring facilities and investment finance to enable locally-grown new business ventures.

Local programmes for Sustainability and Resilience – whether designed to counter environmental threats or to ensure rapid responses to disasters, these local initiatives have become a key leadership priority.

The visibility of local needs as revealed by Open Data – particularly in (but not limited to) the public realm – has been hugely boosted by (a) improved visualization tools and (b) a massive growth in Data Journalism expertise.

And finally, Local Advocacy –championing pride in the local community and not shrinking from the reality that it sometimes needs more than the local football team to establish credentials on the world stage. Some might regard this ‘showing off’ as a most un-British and immodest capacity but leaders are defined by their leadership – and that often demands that they cross the boundaries of departmental silos that leave universities, hospitals, schools and energy companies to survive in separate boxes.

These primary indications of ‘Intelligent Communities’ may not exactly align with John Lauermann’s ‘Municipal Statecraft’, but they do provide a framework for local priorities – a policy mix that rises above many well-meaning but merely average national initiatives.  Local priorities must inevitably adapt to meet local needs but, when the mayors, civic and communities leaders come together to share their experiences, the common ground is extensive and is dominated by that theme of developing and experimenting with imaginative local ideas and initiatives that would never occur to any centralised authority.

So, as we contemplate an uncertain 2017, we can at least be sure that the opportunity to bring the Intelligent Community Forum’s Annual Global Summit from its home in New York to the UK in 2018 will provide a great spur for many community leaders the world over.  We are now ‘seventeen, going on eighteen’ but hopefully just enough older and wiser to cope with the year ahead!

 

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The Collaborative Economy – and digital themes for 2016

30 Dec

Computer Weekly has reprinted an article that I penned when considering NextGen and Digital Challenge themes for 2016.   It’s impossible to rank their significance but in top place I have the Collaborative Economy – collaborative skills being now recognised as a fundamental for all manner of ventures, community projects and public sector initiatives.

New metrics for capturing Quality of Experience will gain supremacy over the poverty of legacy QoS measures (see previous post 8/12).   That trend will inform regulatory efforts – not least in considering digital futures.  Much will depend on regulatory expectations of (and insistence on) corporate capacity to collaborate.  In many ways Collaborative Advantage will outplay old notions of  Competitive Advantage.

Open Data will also contribute to a richer 2016 – particularly in Health and in Municipal Enterprise.  Here again collaborative skills will fuel progress – and once again leave non-participants wondering why their grand schemes fail to deliver.  Under the spotlight of new evidence, Municipal Enterprise will, in 2016, become openly and honestly discussed.   The ‘art of the possible’ will no longer be assessed by an elite but liberated by data journalists and the shift towards more Open Corporate Data as enterprises begin to catch up with the public sector.

Fiber optics

And finally 2016 will be the year when the UK wakes up to the realisation that digital access infrastructure investment is much more than searching for quick fixes by trying to adapt legacy networks designed for analogue telephony.  Digital access design is significantly different – and the entire UK economy demands fresh (collaborative) future-proofed approaches.

2015 Digital Challenge Awards – Open Data

10 Aug

NGShortlisthi-resThis is the 3rd year that The NextGen Digital Challenge has honoured Open Data projects.

Last year’s winner The Driver & Vehicle Licencing Authority (DVLA) highlighted a great step forward in public sector online capabilities.

The shortlisted contenders for 2015 include three from the Public Sector – and they are competing with a Community Project from rural England and a major Utility.

The judging panel’s reactions in September will be interesting as they study the scale of challenges, the novelty of the solutions and evidence of achievement.

DVLA are back – this time pitching their system for allowing Fleet companies to view vehicle records. For companies managing more than 50 vehicles this will enable huge administrative efficiencies.

Cybermoor – based in Alston Moor, high up in the North Pennines – have are enabling a greater understanding of what is going on in rural communities through their Community Data Explorer project.  Making data relevant – drawing on planning and crime stats – it has recently won funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government to extend into other parts of Cumbria.

Ordnance Survey are hoping to find a route towards another trophy with their Open Map project – enabling vast swathes of landscape details to be incorporated into other online systems.

British Gas are looking forward to more Connected Homes with their My Energy Application platform – a service that brings together smart metering and Predictive Analytics to transparently communicate to customers on their energy consumption.

And the final contender comes from the Channel Islands: the States of Guernsey with the Electronic Census Project that turns the costs and hassle of census production on its head. Why ask citizens to fill in forms every ten years, when by pulling together a whole range of data already known to government, you can get complete census results at every quarter of the year at a fraction of the cost?

We must wait until 5th November to find out just who will be celebrating at the Awards dinner in the House of Lords – but all of the contenders have great stories that will fuel further adventures in Open Data development.

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For more information on NextGen 15 and the Digital Challenge Awards visit: http://www.nextgenevents.co.uk/events/NextGen15

 

NextGen Digital Challenge Awards 2015: The Shortlist

3 Aug

SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED

NGShortlisthi-res

For this 5th year of the Digital Challenge Awards we have seven Awards categories.

Back in January, when we launched the Open Call for nominations, we had no idea what projects would be in the running by the end of May.   We hoped that the nominations would highlight some new trends. We have not been disappointed.

This year will see a new award for Sharing Economy projects, even stronger backing for the Open Data award and another group of Finalists shortlisted for their contributions to Intelligent Communities.

Time-honoured favourite, the Digital Inclusion award, is combined this year with great projects around Digital Skills.   The continuing pace of projects in Digital Innovation, Rural Networks, and Urban Networks fuels all these long-standing Awards.

Over the course of the next few weeks we will profile the contenders for each of these Awards Categories.   The independent judging panel will review each project’s merits in September and by October we will be deeply immersed in trophy production for the big night in the House of Lords on November 5th.

The summary of shortlisted Finalists is now online.

Further news will be tweeted (#NG15, @eventsnextgen , and @groupeintellex ) and all Finalists now have an email signature button to mark their success.

NGShortlisthi-res

Waiting at Wembley for Winners

30 Sep

wembley-imgIt’s always a tense time two weeks before any big conference event.

Right now the build-up to NextGen 13 is no different as the pace and pressure of programming for the conference builds.

The pressure may be even greater – not least because the 2013 themes are different in many ways.  One of the downsides for a conference series that’s enjoyed a long run (it’s the 6th year for this two-day event) is that many of the players must get up to speed with the changing agenda.   The annual conference reflects the topics of its time – not the battles of the past.

It is much easier for the speakers.  Recruiting them involves ensuring that they are relevant and have something new to contribute.  Exhibitors, all no doubt leading busy lives focused on their own rationales, only wake up to new themes at the eleventh hour.  Maybe this annual event provides a time for reflection – a chance to check alignments with market realities?   And delegates?  The regular attendees will once again be shocked that the agenda has shifted and newcomers will be intrigued to find they are not alone in their recent penny-dropping digital discoveries.

Amid the hectic noise of last-minute programme adjustments and choreography there’s one small corner where silence has momentarily settled.   The Digital Challenge jury is out and until 14th October fingers may be crossed but no one will tempt fate by speculating on winners.  Even here, in the Digital Challenge awards, the shifting agenda is apparent.  Three new trophies signal the importance of Skills, Innovation and Open Data – key topics that rise above the basic broadband battles.

The 2013 NextGen focus is not, of course, a secret.  Last December’s paper on ‘Economic Revitalisation’ set the scene.  The conference theme, ‘Changing Agendas: Shifting Broadband Futures’ was proclaimed earlier in the year along with an expansion of five topics that have since informed the final schedule.  And locating the event at Wembley itself carries a massive message about regeneration.  Delegates have options to visit the Stadium, the Arena backstage, local fibred premises and even Brent Council’s new Civic Offices to understand the realities of fully fibred networks and designs for sustainability.

Pulling it all together may be hectic.  Fitting all shades of opinion (and a fair few technologies) onto the platform and into the exhibition will demand another two weeks of patient attention to detail.  And the winners will be found in all those who change their agendas to meet the shifting demands of the UK’s digital economy.

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NextGen 13, October 14th & 15th, at the Wembley Hilton, London, is the UK’s leading event for Next Generation broadband activity

This annual landmark event will build on Digital Scotland 2013 and the Intelligent Cities conference (Leeds) – events also managed by NG Events Ltd.

NextGen 13 provides the focus to take forward the UK’s digital access and application requirements debate. An exhibition and trade show will run alongside the conference.

Registration for Delegates

Digital Challenge Awards 2013 – record entry shows sources of economic growth

6 Aug

The UK’s Next Generation Digital Challenge is an annual awards programme that culminates in an award ceremony in October – this year at Wembley during the NextGen conference.

The entries this year are interesting for at least three reasons.  Firstly the Open Nomination phase resulted in more than three times previous entry levels.  Secondly analysis of the entries showed that there were now sufficient entries to justify support for three new categories – in Open Data, Digital Skills and Digital Innovation – in addition to the traditional categories for digital network developments.  Thirdly the entries show an increasing awareness of the value for local communities and the economy of long-term investment in digital infrastructure.

With this higher level of entries, up to six nominations in each category have now been selected  to go forward as Finalists for assessment by an independent judging panel and all of those short-listed will be invited to make brief presentations at NextGen13.

Full story including the short-listed Finalists here

The power of Open Data

10 Jun

In this brief summary of our NextGen presentation at last week’s ICF Summit in New York, Marit Hendriks and I gave a few examples of innovations engendered by Open Data from both the community perspective and that of Enterprise.

The summary ‘Innovating in Public: the power of Open Data‘  includes material from the Ordnance Survey’s Geovation Challenge, the Open Data Institute and Simon Rodgers iPad book ‘Facts are Sacred’.