ONS does National Hack the Government (day one)

So this morning myself and a small band of merry ONS adventurers headed along to the National Audit Office HQ in London to see what this whole ‘Hack the Government‘ event was all about.

As the representative of one of the event ‘partners’ I was asked to give a little talk as part of the introductions. I have to be honest I was ill-prepared for this and just scribbled down a handful of words in the moments before getting up to the mic (those watching on the video stream were apparently lucky enough to have an audio outage at this point.) I kept it (very) short – I think it was about 40 seconds!

I was then interviewed on video where I babbled considerably longer on the topic of open data and why it is important for the ONS to participate in these kinds of gatherings to gain a different perspective on our data and why I think ‘open’ is an important objective in its own right. I was in full on Bristolian mode so if the video is used it is probably going to need subtitles.

Me at NHTG14

The attendees quickly self-organised in to teams and got to the hacking. I have to be honest compared to events like UK Govcamp and the Mozilla Festival (both of which I am a veteran attendee of) it was eerily quiet! Lots of hushed conversations and the tip-tapping of (Macbook) keyboards. While we were not exactly rushed of our feet there was steady interest throughout the day from developers in discussing ONS data and tools. Until the ‘show and tell’ on Sunday we won’t know exactly what everyone is building but it is safe to say one or two of them have a considerable ONS flavour.

I immediately learned a few lessons on how we could make more of this kind of opportunity in the future;

– we needed some ‘challenges’ set out that we could talk about with the attendees when they were looking for inspiration – I think this could have been as simple as some ‘user stories’ worked out in advance with some business areas

– despite discussing it we didn’t really come armed with any API ‘recipes’ we could point the hackers at so they could get up to speed with our stuff more quickly.

– we could/should have pulled together a portfolio of interesting things we or others have already done with our data we could point at to help give the hackers some more idea of what is possible.

Next time we undertake something like this (and there will be a next time) then these things will definitely be on the to-do list but I don’t think a lack of them really caused us major problems on this first outing.

The fact that so many people around the UK (with centres in Glasgow, Leeds, Bournemouth and Exeter as well as London) give up their weekends to try and make something that is about improving public services is really very inspiring. I’d like to thank Darren, Rich, Rob and Ian from various corners of the ONS for coming along and helping out, Nick at NAO for providing such a great venue and Debbie and the whole Rewired State crew for making it all happen.

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