Recently Aberdeen City Council has accepted an invitation (via NESTA)  to join the Code for Europe movement. This post sets out some of the background to that. It covers the content and outcomes of the first meeting of code fellows in Barcelona at the end of February 2014.

ESADE Buildings
ESADE Buildings

A following post will cover a subsequent meeting of this year’s Scottish Local Authority participants which took place a week later.

What is Code for Europe?

Code for Europe (C4E) “strives to solve local civic challenges, by enabling agile temporary teams of developers to create solutions that are easily reuseable in other European cities.based on Code.” It is based on the original Code for America model, and sees Code Fellows, who retain their independence (rather than being contractors) being embedded in City Hall. This means that they work alongside the people who know the problem or have access to the data needed to power the solution. By that process it aims to bring positive culture change in the city hall.
The C4E movement was established at the start of 2013, and involved six cities: Barcelona, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Berlin, Rome and Manchester. the aim was to deliver web or mobile apps which are taken up by the local authority – not left to wither as the might do after a hackathon, for example.

 

2014, the second year, brings new entrants

NESTA have previously sponsored the Make It Local programme in Scotland which delivered four open data-driven sites including Edinburgh Outdoors and SmartJourney.
Now NESTA have created a programme which will see four Scottish Local Authorities join the C4E movement: Aberdeen, Edinburgh, East Lothian, and Clackmananshire.  As part of this programme, there will be a tiered mentoring scheme in place. Helsinki, who bring their experience of C4E 2013 will mentor Aberdeen. And Aberdeen who participated in Make It Local 2013 will, in turn, mentor Clackmananshire. In the same way, Amsterdam will mentor Edinburgh who will mentor East Lothian.
Additionally, all cities who participated in C4E 2013 are remaining in the current year. Most are refreshing their roster of fellows – or augmenting them.

The Barcelona Get-together Feb 2014

Student Accommodation at ESADE
Student Accommodation at ESADE

On the last two days of February 2014, the first international meeting of code fellows for participating cities took place at the ESADE Business School outside Barcelona. Code fellows and representatives of various participating bodies attended. These included Helsinki, Aberdeen, Berlin, Amsterdam, Barcelona, East Lothian, along with attendees from NESTA (UK and Scotland), EU Commons, ESADE business school, and independent developers.

The two days allowed for presentations, panel discussions, workshops and simulated app development. It allowed code fellows who are already in place for this year (not all are) to to start to network.
The eGarage Space at ESADE
The eGarage Space at ESADE

The Presentations

  • We heard about the development of Samensapp (which like all C4E projects is registered on the Europe Commons site with its code on Github). This was created after an area in Amsterdam was identified with significant social problems, The Code Fellow worked not only with the local government there but also with local citizens to first identify the problems, then to look at how technology could address a specific societal need – in this case allowing people with common interest to band together and to book underused rooms in community centres which traditionally could not have been booked online. Some community members were taught how to maintain and improve the code.
  • We learned about Take A Hike which was developed when it was identified that only 4% of Amsterdam is visited by tourists and much of it is congested for locals and visitors. So this app was developed to create trails, and incentivise tourists to explore further afield. Like all C4E developments, the source code is open and the system could easily be re-purposed for any other locality.
  • We heard from Llluis Esquerda, a civic hacker about his frustrating journey to liberate data about the availability of shared bikes in most major cities of the world. This involved cease and desist letters, and inconsistencies and frustrations from City Halls all over the EU and beyond. His experiences were all the more powerful for being presented unvarnished!
  • Timo Tuominen of Helsinki and Jan-Christoper Pien of Berlin are both new code fellows. They spoke of their prior experiences and also of the process they are going through to identify potential projects to work on in each of their host cities.
  • Sergio Diaz from Barcelona described a project which he is working on which is an offshoot of the local Bottom Up Broadband programme. This will see citizens building and hosting Arduino-based environmental monitoring stations which will capture data locally but make it available as open data as a city-wide grid of sensors forming a Smart Citizens platform / toolkit.
  • Haidee Bell and Paul Mackay, both of NESTA in London spoke of a number of things:
  1. The history of Europe Commons which presents a searchable database of city apps created as part of C4E and other initiatives. The future version of that platform will see it list more details of each project: what the problem was, what the solution was, which data sets are underpinning it, and where it has been re-deployed, and so show how the initial investment has been capitalised on.
  2. Nuams, Open Civics, API Commons (a place to publish your API specs),
  3. the City Software Development Kit (SDK),
  4. Open 311 and
  5. the emerging General Transport Feed Specification (GTFS).

In this short segment there were some real nuggets that I want to check out, discuss with developers and hackers and look at we support and contribute to these in Aberdeen, Scotland and the rest of the UK’s local Government space.

  • Ruth Watson of NESTA in Scotland, who had arranged the whole trip for the Scottish contingent, opened a session on Make it Local programme and I presented on both SmartJourney and Edinburgh Outdoors (all mentioned above)
  • Prof Esteve Almirall in the ESADE Lecture Theatre
    Prof Esteve Almirall in the ESADE Lecture Theatre

    We were given more in-depth information on the history of Code For Europe and its origins with backing from the World Bank. This was presented by Pro Esteve Almirall of the ESADE Business School. Esteve was instrumental in setting up the C4E programme. He also outlined possible future developments including the potential of a Global Commons built on the Europe Commons model. This could also include translation facility to the model.However none of this will happen until the conclusion of an ongoing World Bank restructure.

Designing a game with post-its and cards
Designing a game with post-its and cards

Suzanne Heerschop of the Waag Society (backers of C4E in the Netherlands, as NESTA are in the UK) led the final workshop sessions, designed to get follows and city representatives used to working in partnership on projects. In this we used the prompts from AddingPlay cards from PlayGen to steer development and make us think of challenges that my arise. This was a very fun and creative session. I must get myself a set of those cards.

All in all the two days sped past – with good company, engaged partcipation and stimulating ideas. And it set the Scottish contingent up for the Edinburgh session which was set for a week later and which will be the subject of my next blog post.

 

 

team Strike Demo Their Game
team Strike Demo Their Game
Code for Europe comes to Aberdeen via Barcelona
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