We kicked off CodeTheCity with our first Aberdeen event on 21st – 22nd June 2014 which really couldn’t have been better.
We had some 38 volunteers – service users, service owners, coders, designers, bloggers – all of whom turned up and give around 700 hours of their time over the weekend to eight civic hacking projects. At least three of these are sufficiently-well developed that they can be taken forward as live ‘things’ – and the others have at least sown the seeds of further challenges and may go further.
You can find much more here:
But where do we go next and what do we do?
Well, I’ve had a chat with Steve Milne. He’s not just one of the four main collaborators behind this endeavour, he’s also the driving force behind the name, the concept, the site and much more.
He and I are pretty much agreed on most of how we take this forward. So here are my thoughts.
The concept of CodeTheCity is not limited to Aberdeen. We’ve already had interest from Edinburgh and Helsinki – and it is generic enough to work anywhere. To that end, Steve has drafted a manifesto and a guide to running a CodeTheCity weekend. He’d like your feedback on those.
While, I’m keen to see what happens further afield – and how we can support and guide that where necessary, I’m also determined to ensure that we keep it working in Aberdeen – using our first outing as a springboard for future activities, events, and engagement between the different communities, organisations, and individuals who supported us.
The drive still needs to be bottom-up (rather than led by official organisations) with service users, and some service owners, bringing us challenges and problems to work on. That said, we do need, and recognize, the support from the local authority, academia, SMEs, and larger international organisations, all of whom have instantly recognises that there is a model here which is worth supporting.
Working with local groups
We had representatives of some Aberdeen community centres there at the June 2014 event, and some sports staff, some council employees from the translation service and so on.
Next time we need broader participation – and having had conversations with each of those groups in the last week, I’m confident that their enthusiasm for the format and approach and keenness to keep it going will pull others in.
There are other models that we can look at and learn from – such as Apps For Amsterdam, and Appsterdam who have broad community bases.
We also need to work with my employers – Aberdeen City Council(ACC) – and look at some fundamentals, such as how data is gathered, stored and made available for re-use. Doing this right would not only generate much more open data, allowing greater sharing and re-use, but would also benefit end users, and make it easier for CodeTheCity participants by avoiding some of the issues we had around scraping sport timetable data or FOI data from closed systems.
We want open data to be at the heart of most of what we do. This presents opportunities to decentralise some of the maintenance of data (eg for Community Contacts) and rather than rely solely in Library staff, in this instance, look at how some of that could be looked after by the groups whose data it is.
This ties neatly in to Aberdeen City Council’s participation in Code For Europe(C4E), which I’m leading, and on which Andrew Sage is our Code Fellow. Part of what we’re doing locally with CodeTheCity is providing small-scale test beds for projects that could be scaled up or broadened out with C4E support.
Both have at their heart the need for data – clean, open, maintained, accurate, timely – and also for user involvement in developing web applications and associated services.
So, in summary, as I see it at the moment, the future for CodeTheCity in Aberdeen is rosy.The energy at the June event, and the number of subsequent conversation, expressions of commitment, and a common desire to keep doing more is infinitely greater than I’ve experienced in association with any previous hack weekend.
So we can expect
- more events – at least one big-scale one in Autumn 2014, with potential smaller informal or linked ones meantime,
- support from ACC’s CodeForEurope programme in further developing some of the infrastructure requirements (eg for an Open Data repository, use of Open311, CitySDK) and sourcing and making available many new datasets,
- a growing awareness and buy-in from ACC senior managers that the CodeTheCity approach is one that works – by getting service users, providers, coders and others together to identify, workshop and design new solutions.
I, for one, am excited and energised by how positive the future CodeTheCity looks.
If you attended the June event and enjoyed it – tell your friends. If you missed it but like the sound of it, get in touch. Get on our mailing list and we’ll make sure that you know when we announce the next activities.