Today, Nesta and our partners launch The site is a catalogue of civic software and services across Europe that help governments work better. By capturing applications and information about how and where they’ve been deployed, and with what impact, we want to encourage greater collaboration and reuse of civic solutions.

Instead of re-inventing the wheel, we’d like people to adopt the spirit of Proudly Found Elsewhere…

To do this, EuropeCommons will strive to understand what services have been deployed, what evidence there is of the service working, and how easy it is technically to deploy it elsewhere.

We are looking for digital tools and services that:

  • Have a civic focus, are aimed at improving the lives of citizens.
  • Are relatively mature. They should be deployed or used in at least one location.
  • Ideally provide evidence of use and effectiveness. The intent is to create a high quality dataset over time.

The range of tools and services is broad, from Drupal (which we think displays great potential to be adopted cheaply by local councils) through to sites that show where fruit can be harvested from city-owned trees.

Ironically, the idea of sharing good civic digital services is not itself new. There is an existing European site, but it’s difficult to navigate and doesn’t seem to focus on usage. EuropeCommons aims to fix this and make it easy to understand what works in practice.

The site is in beta, so please help us improve it – tweet us @europecommons. And we’d love to hear of your examples of great digital services (from anywhere)that you’d like to share or see live near you.



I’m not easily impressed with live streamed games of hide and seek. To me, they have never seemed to live up to the promise of the first internet-age, genre-busting programme Wanted (full disclosure – a TV show I worked on with Channel 4 TV back in 1997).

That is, until now. I’ve just spent the last hour following 3 trackers hurtling around the streets of Sheffield. They’re playing I’d Hide You, a game of run-around designed for mobile 4G. Designed by Blast Theory and part of the wonderful Doc/Fest.

I'd Hide You

I’d Hide You

The game was piloted in Manchester last year at FutureEverything, but this year is being enhanced by a partnership with EE (yes, the mobile phone company with 23m UK subscribers). EE are providing 4G broadband across the city centre to allow the game to stream at broadcast quality on the internet.

The online experience of watching the runners hunt each other down and being able to participate by snapping photos of them and scoring points is addictive and there’s real interactivity too – online users can communicate with runners via text.

This research piece, called Digital Art² is the first of the new generation of Digital R&D Fund for the Arts projects, a collaboration between Nesta, the Arts Council England and the AHRC. The production partners are Doc/Fest, Blast Theory, EE, C3RI and Sheffield Hallam University. It seeks to investigate what is needed to connect audiences and artists and to understand what constitutes a stage for art in an interactive and digital context.

Testing how digital allows for interaction between live performance and online audiences is not a new theme for the fund. Last year, theatre company Punchdrunk piloted matching online audiences with venue audiences during their sell-out production, Sleep No More. The lessons from that project can be found here.

I don’t know whether this type of interactive broadcast would stand up to millions of viewers online – would the generous amount of runner attention given to audiences be scaleable? But what is striking is how fantastic the streaming quality is and how the audience at home can be integral to the performance. This is a creative insight into how 4G might be used in the future for arts organisations to directly engage with large numbers people beyond their geographic venue. And it’s great that the arts world are working with a major phone company to innovate.

Don’t wait to catch it though. I’d Hide You runs on June 14th and 15th only, from 8pm BST. Enjoy.


Within my Code for Europe role to explore how to increase civic software reuse, I’ve been looking at a couple of areas:

  • Building an apps catalogue similar to the Code for America Commons, to show civic software and adoption across Europe. More on this later.

  • Connecting with people inside and outside local government to see how groups could connect and work together on projects, leading to greater reuse of shared open source software.

One of the key elements of local government IT is a council’s website: it is the online home of the council and the route for many citizens to access information and services. It helps to have some rough idea about what is currently being used. A hack using the wappalyzer library to scan ~430 council sites gave some approximate idea about the use of different Content Management System (CMS) technologies:

  • Jadu    36
  • Immediacy    30
  • GOSS iCM    28
  • Drupal    22
  • Microsoft SharePoint    14
  • EIBS – EasySite    10
  • Squiz Matrix    7
  • iSiteSQL    4
  • Joomla    4
  • SilverStripe    4
  • Umbraco    4
  • TYPO3    3
  • Contensis    2
  • VerseOne    2
  • WordPress    2
  • Kentico CMS    1
  • Libertas ECMS    1
  • Sitefinity    1
  • no CMS / could not detect   250

It is clear that there is a huge scope here in the UK for greater adoption of open source platforms, which can support:

  • Cost savings compared to closed source systems.
  • Faster delivery of innovative web services that citizens expect.
  • Encourage government as a platform, creating more potential for innovation inside and outside government.
  • Designing for participation: greater interoperability and cooperation.

Also it gives some idea of who uses similar technologies but little about those that are developing a new beta site, or at even earlier stages of planning. Along with Dominic Campbell from FutureGov, I was recently asked to give a short presentation about this work at a LocalGov Digital steering group meeting. The following discussions touched on a number of ideas around how to create opportunities to work across councils, including mapping skills (which Phil Rumens has written about in this post on the Knowledge Hub) and how to achieve more open source development projects.

Phil has subsequently kicked off a group looking at sharing Umbraco development. There are also some other interesting activities around fostering OSS in local government: Paul Brian is building an OSS4Gov campaign and planning a breakfast meeting at the upcoming LGA conference. OSS-Watch ‘s next Open Source Junction event is also on the topic of Open Source meets the Public Sector.

I’m also looking at how to encourage similar activities using Drupal. There are a significant group of councils already using Drupal and others who are at various stages of development or planning. Lambeth is publishing their new Drupal website build on GitHub. Over in the US Drupal is now being used on ~24% of all government websites. OpenPublic was an early Drupal distribution (a packaged configuration tailored to a specific purpose) aimed at government. More recently in Canada the Web Experience Toolkit is defining best practice around accessibility and usability, with ports to most major platforms including Drupal.

Panopoly is a distribution that “is designed to be both a general foundation for site building and a base framework upon which to build other Drupal distributions.” Both WxT-Drupal and Open Atrium 2.0 (an intranet site distribution), use Panopoly as a base. We could take a similar approach, building discrete Drupal apps that fit into the Panopoly framework. I’ve done a small amount of experimenting with this by setting up an OpenCouncil configuration and a very basic planning applications module (see this example with some Lambeth data pulled from OpenlyLocal).

What might the next steps be?

  • Start defining common specifications such as a content model (I’m capturing some brief notes here, including possible overlaps with the GDS content model). This could be applied to other systems like Umbraco, WordPress, Joomla as well. A shared definition of site specifications could be one step toward improving services.
  • Start to design and build Drupal apps that work together within a framework, so they can be more easily reused and adapted to local needs.

There is an opportunity to move toward a vision of being digital by design – join the LocalGov Digital Network or Drupal groups on the Knowledge Hub, and do get in touch. Lets make this happen.

When we began our programme Destination Local – designed to understand and to stimulate activity in the UK’s nascent hyperlocal media industry – there was a lot of assertion and very little hard evidence about its potential.

In March, we published Kantar Media’s research into the scale and nature of demand for hyperlocal services. This showed that they are popular and that consumption is being driven by the take-up of smartphones and tablets.

And last week, we published the first research on the size of the UK’s hyperlocal advertising market, produced by Oliver and Ohlbaum.

Understanding the potential for advertising is crucial. For any hyperlocal service to sustain itself beyond being a socially-important, amateur pursuit it must cover its costs and advertising has been the traditional way of raising revenue in order to do this. At the other end of the spectrum, traditional local media players – perhaps TV companies or local newspapers – trying to respond to audiences going online, will want to know how big an advertising market they are competing for.

The research we have published does not provide heartening reading for hyperlocal media services. First of all, it suggests that big brands will place their ads on location-based platforms rather than spend money with geographically-specific services. Facebook and Google are much more likely to collect advertising spend by providing content relevant to your location than, say, a blog about Birmingham.

Secondly, the research asked small, local businesses from around the UK if they spend their advertising budgets with local hyperlocal publishers. Some do, but out of a total advertising spend of nearly a billion pounds, little more than a few tens of millions go the way of hyperlocals. And this, the report forecasts, is unlikely to increase significantly anytime soon.

The findings suggest to us that traditional local and regional media providers may be better placed. Those able to sell advertising space across media (TV, Radio, Print and online), especially using existing sales teams, will be more successful as they are able to appeal to a broader range of advertisers than those who just run hyperlocal websites.

But this research, alongside what we know about consumer demand, points to two basic challenges for “native” stand-alone hyperlocal media providers.  The first, “How to get audience attention?” and the second, “How to make it pay?”

There have been lots of attempts at making hyperlocal media pay, often to no avail. Our landscape report Here and Now gives some great examples. But the right business models are yet to be found. Is now the time to talk about market failure and to ask, if some form of intervention was found to be appropriate, what form might it take?

NEW_CodeForEurope_blue square

Six forward-thinking city authorities across Europe are currently working with talented data technologists and designers to leverage technology to innovate their services. The Code for Europe ‘Fellows’, based in Manchester, Berlin, Amsterdam, Helsinki, Barcelona and Rome, are all starting to map out digital solutions to key challenges the cities have set them. These range from maximizing use of city-owned buildings and spaces, to creating digital tools for museums and heritage and building new applications for use of public transport in the cities.

We know that innovation is accelerated by the exchange of ideas, solutions, best practice, even software code, so network development to share practice is high on the agenda of Code for Europe. The Fellows met in Barcelona in January just as their placements started to explore connections between projects and meet regularly to share solutions in development. From 4-6 March 2013, we’ll host them at Nesta for two and a half days of meeting open data entrepreneurs from the UK, including mySociety and Mudlark, connecting with those championing open civic solutions at Civic Commons and Code for Africa, and sharing advice, ideas and code with one another in shaping up city projects.  We’re also taking a site visit to the Open Data Institute – a new UK-based company which is catalysing the evolution of open data culture to create economic, environmental, and social value.

Key to the conversations we’ll be having is the question of how we can accelerate the ideas being generated and the network across these six cities so that we can create a connected community in Europe and beyond for city leaders and technologists who believe in the power of tech for social good. Pockets of great work are happening around the world – a host of ‘Code for…’ initiatives which build on the movement started by Code for America now exist in countries from South America to Africa, and we’re successfully starting to sync platforms which showcase and encourage reuse of digital applications through of sites which have emerged using the Civic Commons tools.

I hope through the workshop at Nesta even more connections emerge. 

While running our Destination Local programme, we often debate about the scope and nature of hyperlocal media. It’s such a new term that a number of very different types of service get described as hyperlocal, usually depending on who we talk to.

For example, hyperlocal media has been described as very local citizen journalism, hand crafted news stories or campaigns for change operating at a very local level. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the semi-automatically produced services that can offer local content to anyone in the world from a central technology platform. Some dispute this as hyperlocal, suggesting that, say, Twitter or Google is too divorced from the local geographical place its content refers to for it to be considered authentic hyper local.

For the record, we have a working definition:

“Online news or content services pertaining to a town, village, single postcode or other small, geographically defined community” which will do for the time being until there is a bit more consensus.

But, despite its global aspirations, one of the services which I think qualifies as hyper local media is Waze. This mobile app provides up to date traffic information to help drivers plan and iterate their car journey.

It operates like a regular satnav, but with an important difference – it gets its information from its community of drivers, in real-time, as they encounter problems on the roads. In this way, Waze operates as a dynamic collective awareness platform fed by both a personal and common interest, to make navigating our crowded roads easier (and consequently reduce carbon emissions). Users have no obligation to report traffic hold-ups to others, but they do so (presumably) on the basis of collective benefit and karma. One day, after all, they might be the ones benefiting from advance warning about jams.

Is Waze journalism? Certainly not. But it does meet some of the characteristics of hyper local media at its best. Timely, useful (and importantly) communal information about a geographical location which can help people make informed choices about their lives.




Image of Glasgow Film Theatre player screen shot

By Gillian Easson

Are you thinking of going to the cinema tonight to see that new independent film you’ve heard about?

Although I am a big fan of supporting local film theatres and I really enjoy the full cinematic experience; in reality, I’m ashamed to admit that I think about going to see films a lot more often than I actually get around to seeing films.
Fixed film showing times, limited runs and problematic/no transport links present challenges for audiences to see new film content.  These issues are some of reasons why the project supported through Nesta’s Digital R&D Scotland Fund is particularly important for thinking beyond the venue’s physical walls.
Glasgow Film Theatre, one of the UK’s leading independent cinemas, is working with another independently programmed cinema, Edinburgh Filmhouse and technology company Distrify who offer online cinema experiences, to provide a Video on Demand (VOD) player service.
These integrated Players launched last month and the curated films can be watched anytime on your computer, tablet or mobile in the UK and Ireland. Having watched one of their films last week, their film prices are comparative with other online rental service; and offer a welcomed user experience.
Same date releases in cinema and simultaneously on VOD are still rare in the UK; but what makes these players special is their curated platforms. Film programmers select on the basis of content they feel their audiences would like to see. They don’t provide a film library like Netflix or Lovefilm and aren’t limited to working with set distributors, therefore their content can be more specialised and also diverse.
The new Glasgow Film Player and Filmhouse Player allow both cinemas to show a combination of new releases; favourite films that audiences might have missed on the big screen; and exclusive content such as films that haven’t yet been picked up by UK film distributors.
The really interesting part is that Distrify’s shareable Player allows anyone to embed the Player films into their own websites and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.  With an affiliate’s share of 10% per film rental to those who share films in this way, this is a pretty unique way of sharing and extending the reach of the films.
Through the project, the organisations are gaining a lot of valuable audience data to inform future content, relationships with the rights holders and focusing on how to make this commercially sustainable.  This valuable research on broadening audiences through digital will be important learning for the wider sector – we’ll be sharing the findings from the project next year.
Reaching people who can’t feasibly physically visit the cinema or those who live in isolated areas through these new platforms; and showing films which might not otherwise get viewed, can only be a good thing for both audiences and the independent cinema sector.
These options definitely won’t deter me from going to the cinema any less, in fact they may well encourage me to ‘go’ a lot more.

A few weeks ago we hosted a Welcome Workshop for all memebers of this year’s Creative Business Mentor Network. Here are some photos to give a sense of the event – if it looks like people were talking all day, that’s because they almost always were. The atmosphere was hugely positive and buzzy and the idea of the ‘Network’ was immediately brought to life.

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We have recently announced the results of our matchmaking in this year’s Creative Business Mentor Network. From an impressive array of applications, 25 companies were selected from sectors ranging from TV & Film and Games, to Publishing, Advertising and Digital Media, to gain the rare opportunity of one-to-one mentoring with some of the most successful business people in the creative sector over the next 6-12 months. The companies range from young start-ups to established companies with years of experience. What they all have in common is a desire to improve the business side of their company without compromising their creative output.

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