Back in June I had the pleasure of helping out at Interactivos Birmingham. This was a fortnight-long workshop for people to develop projects that used new technologies such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino to make art. In particular, these were pieces of art that responded to the world and people around them. The workshop was hosted and supported by Midland Arts Centre and run in partnership by Birmingham City University, Sampad, the BBC and Medialab Prado.

Nearly all of the projects that took part were using free and open software, and were also making the code that they wrote openly available for other people to see, contribute to and reuse. There is a set of repositories on Github for anybody who is interested in getting into the technical details of the projects.

What I really enjoyed about the workshop was the energy and enthusiasm that all of the participants brought with them. At the start of the fortnight I sat down with some of the project leads who, quite frankly, scared me with the scale of the projects they were hoping to deliver. While not everybody achieved all they set out to do, each project achieved lots in the relatively short time scales they had.


You can read all about the individual projects over at the Interactivos Birmingham website, which has loads of different content courtesy of Tim Wilson and BCU social media students.Continue reading

This Saturday is Open Data Day.

A photograph of Chris Morris on the set of the Day today

The Day Today BBC © 2014

Data describe the places where we live, work and play and it helps us to understand the world around us. You could be interested in local transport, health or education, our public services create data about all of them. Data can help you hold politicians to account, or it can tell you where the nearest public loo is.

In Birmingham we are holding an event at Birmingham City University where we are going to set up a West Midlands “Open DataStore In A Day”. The idea is quite simple. Over the day we will set up a website that can hold open datasets and publish what we can find to it. You don’t have to be a technical whizz to take part. Enthusiasm and curiosity are enough to make it worth your while coming along.

We’ll spend the day finding and collecting the data that people are interested in and we’ll put it all together in one place online, in the West Midlands Open Datastore. Once we’ve done that, it makes it all a lot easier to do something useful with.

If somebody can’t find the data that they are interested in then we will help them to write a Freedom Of Information request to ask for it. When those are answered we will add them to the Open Datastore.

I’m really pleased that Data Unlocked, the co-operative venture that I’ve recently helped to co-found, are providing the website for people to work on during the day, and that we will continue supporting it afterwards. We’ve helped to organise the day along with Open Mercia and RnROrganisation.

In Emer Coleman’s recent post about the City as a Platform she says that she has seen quotes of up to £200,000 for Data Platforms. We think that we can do a lot with some free open source software and the goodwill of people volunteering their time and skills.

We are using Ckan to host the West Midlands Open Datastore and are thankful to the Open Knowledge Foundation for providing this free, open source software for us to use. Thanks also to Birmingham City University, who are providing us with a room in their sparky new offices at Parkside.

When I was at BCU the other week I gave a presentation to Dave Harte‘s MA in Social Media students about open government data. We spoke about why open government data is a relevant topic for public organisations at the moment. Then we looked at different approaches to exploit the possibilities of open data, and I spoke about some of my experiences of doing this with Digital Birmingham. Finally we discussed why open data was a relevant topic for a course about social media.

Because I was worried this was all going to be a bit dry, I started off by showing them this video by Mark Flood.

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This week I went along to help out at a couple of sessions at Birmingham City University. It was a lot of fun. One of the teams of online journalism students are going to be doing a prison related project and I spoke to their editor about online sources. I thought it might be useful if I wrote a post that referenced them too.

There are a number of organisations who campaign for better conditions in prison. The main national ones are the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust. Frances Crook from the Howard League has a very good and informative blog.

Prison ?

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