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This Lockdown DOES Feel Different

Open Data Skunkworks with Result 9 - A Review

A week or so ago I was kindly invited to participate in a rather unusual, but hopefully the first of many, start-up weekends as facilitated by the ever energetic +Dave Moskovitz. His idea was to bring together a select band of influential government employees, hackers and coders and "open data advocates" (such as myself) to put some skin to the "let's make all government held data open and usable" cry.

Dave focused on the Result 9 area of government which, under the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), has been tasked with running:
... a collaborative effort by government agencies to deliver better public services for business by providing:
  • Better integration of services
  • Services designed for business
  • Increased digital service delivery

(source: http://www.mbie.govt.nz/what-we-do/better-public-services)

Note that they are focused on making it easier for businesses to do business with the Government whereas Result 10 has a slightly different focus on making it easier for citizens to do business with the government (http://www.dia.govt.nz/Better-Public-Services)

In a nutshell a start-up weekend goes like this:

  • Friday evening: meet and greet, background info, ideas + team formation
  • Saturday: idea validation (using Social Lean Business Canvas), coding
  • Sunday: Coding, pitch preparation, pitch
In a standard start-up weekend the pitches are competitive to people with money - think "Dragon's Den" but in this case it was a pitch to key people from DIA, SSC and IRD.

Who was there? And where was there?
The extremtly useful and helpful +iwantmyname guys provided the venue, the watering and the oh so important Internet access - thanks.

Both +Lenz Gschwendtner and Paul, directors of IWantMyName, also pitched in on teams with coding and technical experience. Rabid team included +Josh Forde and others supplying the bulk of dev hands and a few others such as myself, Keith Ng and others +Enspiral provided a more "pitch" + "open data" focus.

On Friday we were also introduced, by 'holders of interesting government data' (Statistics, Companies Office, Electricity Commission etc), of the data currently available, some future dreams and wishes on their parts and future moves to provide either more data or current data vias APIs (more on that later).

Take a breath as it's key to note that this was not an "MBIE" exercise - all the people had given up their weekend on their own free will, no-one was getting time of in lieu and there was no expectation of government money being used to create apps for all. 

How did the weekend pan out?
I worked with a team of 3 others on a cracking idea put forward by Amanda - Business Beat, business intelligence with empathy. We fleshed out the idea on Friday evening and then re-grouped on Saturday morning with a few key steps - validate the idea (off to Slow Boat Records and other businesses on Cuba Street went some of the team, phone calls by others), get some technical resource and to work out what data we could use.

Unfortunately we never got a full-time dev (still looking, get in touch if you're keen - it really is a great idea: mike.riversdale@miramarmike.co.nz) but the wonderfully talented Dave M stepped in and did prove that we could get music (yes, songs) based upon mood - here is his code for all to try: http://thinktank.co.nz/dave/etc/sen/playlist.html

Focusing on the pitch we put together our business canvas, validated the idea, worked out how to make it sustainable and by Sunday afternoon were ready to pitch. We ran the pitch across 3 people and all were intrigued enough to ask delving questions and provide encouragement to continue.

There were 2 other ideas that were also extremely well received.


What did we learn?
Hmm, we had a lot of learnings as did the other teams - in a nutshell:
  • You don't go far without devs in your team
  • Data in CSV / Excel might seem "open" but it' not really - APIs for all!
  • People connected can solve problems extremely quickly
  • Data across agencies is rarwely consistent and usually ends up at differing granularity, categories, 
  • There is a huge desire to free up the data
  • Data refresh rates are slow - monthly might seem good but for a business it is background context and not that useful
  • There is a huge desire to use the data to make NZ a more prosperous and "easy to be in" country
  • The best ideas come from left field and from any 'job title'
But ultimately it proved a point that, with the right data (via APIs), the right people in the room, value can be very quickly added to the data the Government already has. This was 2.5 days of work, imagine what a week or a month could produce! 

Where to next?
I hope the conversations within MBIE and beyond are now ones with evidence, energy and focused - this did prove the point. As for Business Beat, well I have to close the post ASAP as the team is meeting at lunchtime to plan the future - the beat goes on!

In the meantime check out my photos of the weekend (it has our pitch) and here's to a machine readable open data government!

Get involved!
If you want to be involved in helping use / advocate for open government data then here's 3 steps:

  1. Connect with the community: https://wiki.open.org.nz/
  2. Know the data: https://data.govt.nz/
  3. Code!



Oh and by the way, and we weren't the only ones doing this - check out the Auckland Hackathon ("civic hacking") that was focused on open traffic data and what could be achieved when similar parties come together to focus on solving problems: http://hackakl.org.nz/

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