Why does a commercial organisation go to UKGovCamp anyways?

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Darting between puddles and rail replacement buses, two intrepid members of the OCSI staff ventured into the big city to attend UKGovCamp 2018. Head of Tech, Graham Lally, wanted to discuss data skills and inclusion, while Data Developer Obi Thompson Sargoni was interested in Land Registry data.

While our company essence is based in “social good”, we’re keenly aware that we’re an independent consultancy, and supplier of services to the public sector. It was with wry smiles that we laughed along with the self-deprecating references to “dirty suppliers” – we’d both had baths that very morning.

As with previous govcamps, we came away reeling from the starkly beautiful atmosphere of measured passion. All the lessons from previous events really shone through, and the infectious enthusiasm of host Janet Hughes aligned perfectly with the smooth translation of a hundred pitches into a small Google Doc. Here’s what we’re taking from the day, back to the OCSI office.

Not all of our source data is “free” – some of it is just free.

Free data is great. But it’s not open. Take the datasets the Land Registry recently made free to access; it feels like Open Data, we can download and start working with it and not pay a penny.  But because the data are processed against closed datasets there are restrictions on what it can be used for. The license also places administrative burdens on whoever works with the data.

The Open Data bar has been set high and it’s important to keep it there. Hopefully, the upcoming Geospatial Commission will take a radical approach to opening up the proprietary datasets preventing the Land Registry from truely making its data open.

Suppliers can learn from each other too. 

In a cosy, undocumented session on SaaS procurement in the “Gaga” space (yes, there were spaces named after famous women), a trio of “dirty suppliers” compared notes about product offerings, the Digital Marketplace, and international sales. While the session wasn’t as big as others, we each realised that we have differences and similarities, and were able to offer some great advice.

Interacting with the public sector procurement process can often be bewildering and – dare we admit – frustrating, usually for legitimate and understandable reasons. But it can be quite a shock to newcomers, and people trying to build a company alongside jumping through all the hoops demanded of them. How could we learn more from each other, and help improve our service offering as a whole?

We have an important role to play in the broader data landscape as a whole.

IMG_20180120_104035-01After lunch, Graham ran a session asking the question “Are data skills distributed equally?” –  you can see the notes from the session here. As an organisation dealing with a wide range of data “logistics” – from capturing and processing data, to publishing and visualising it – we have to draw strongly on a diverse range of team skills. 

The session really helped to highlight that this definitely isn’t a one-off, or a unique private sector thing. In order to bring the benefits of data to a broad cross-section of society, there are some very important things we, as OCSI, can do.

Once we acknowledge the fact that good use of data is a team sport, we can see that it can be difficult for any group – companies, charities, Community Interest Companies (CICs), etc – to assemble a complete, complementary range of skills to fully exploit data in their work. By working with these organisations, and helping them to understand what skills they have, and which they are missing, we can really help to drive forwards data for social good in places which would otherwise find it difficult.

This is something we experienced first hand when we hosted a Data Expedition workshop with 360Giving & through offering training workshops to Community Foundations as part of a Local Insight subscription.

 

 

So it’s fair to say that, as ever, we learnt a hell of a lot, and hopefully the two of us can bring some of the enthusiastic air back into the office, among all the whiteboards and cups of tea. We met some amazing people, and had some wonderful discussions, and would like to thank everyone that put so much effort into a great day.

In particular, big thanks to:

Image credit: https://twitter.com/UKGovCamp/status/955096116596494337