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Author Archives: Haidee Bell

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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. 

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Nesta, in partnership with 6 European cities, is launching Code for Europe to put the talent of data technologists at the heart of city halls. We are exploring how this contributes to a step change in how cities and local governments run public services. Our aspiration is that cities become more open and transparent, more effective at gathering relevant talent to deliver services with impact for citizens and more efficient in using technology to best effect.

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Helsinki

Helsinki street ©Haidee Bell

I chaired a panel session at OK Festival in Helsinki in September on the theme of reuse of digital public innovation. Below is a reflection on the discussion.

We are experiencing a wave of change across city halls in Europe and beyond as a host of new digital civic services are being created, many built on newly released open data, frequently through collaborations with disruptive technologists, some directly with citizens. This is increasingly accompanied with a willingness to share practice, to find platforms and networks to tell others about these trials in a welcome move towards more openness between cities. That said, it would seem that those running our cities are much better at opening up their own inventions for others to imitate than they are at copying innovation from elsewhere. As Philip Ashlock, US Presidential Innovation Fellow, commented at OK Festival, cities are more likely to share than to borrow.

Herein lies a problem of supply and demand. Whilst the application of open source principles to sharing practice between city halls is a trend to celebrate, it’s not a simple case of ‘if it’s open, they will come’.

Why is this?

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