18 Hour Open Data Challenge at Digital Hub

Since the EU adopted the directive concerning the Reuse of Public Sector Information, local authorities across Europe have attempted with varying degrees of success to comply with rules that are intended to allow companies to exploit the value of public sector data to contribute to economic growth.

An undoubted leader in this field is Fingal Council in Ireland.

Since the fall of 2010 alone, they have released over 70 datasets.

Many of these were made available for the Open Data Challenge. This was an 18-hour event instigated by the Irish Internet Association and organised by the NDRC. It took place at the Digital Hub in Dublin.

Dr. Teresa Dillon and her team created an environment for over 120 people to come together and assemble themselves into ad-hoc teams to take on the challenge.

In her opening remarks Teresa said that, “There is an essential need for transparency and accountability from our governments. We also have the right to know how and where our tax money is spent.

“We think this area is so exciting because there is the potential for products and services that can draw on and use this data.”

Participants were distributed across tables according to their skillsets.

After briefings from the organizers, the teams discussed the potential ideas that could be had from the datasets that had been provided. These included such areas as water, environment and waste data information.

As evening approached, good ideas were voted in, and bad ideas were voted out and were unceremoniously removed from the workspace walls.

On the second day the focus was on creating a commercially-valid product.

The ultimate winner of the competition was a team called Bizfit consisting of (L-R) Mark Kearns, judging panel, NDRC, Conor Calahane, Robb Mitchell, Annette Farrell, Gary Leeson, Udo Reubach and Sandra Garcia. (Main banner pic by Ian Pearse.)

The idea was for a website that uses demographic and other open source data to match
a business with its optimum location.

Dr. Teresa Dillon commented, “It’s clear that with the right tools and freer access to data, there is the potential for ideas-led business growth. We hope an initiative such as this, sends a message to other Councils and Government bodies that open data is a resource and as such it has economic potential.”

Open Data Challenge on July 4th and 5th

Ireland’s first ever 18-hour Open Data Challenge is being held at the National Digital Research Centre in Dublin this July 4th and 5th. During this free event, which is open to the public, participants will work in groups to try and develop creative and useful business ideas based around open data. The Open Data Challenge is being organised by the NDRC’s Inventorium programme in partnership with Dublin City Council, Finglas Council, the Irish Internet Association, and Microsoft.

Inventorium is one of the NDRC’s three programmes, the other two being the LaunchPad and Catalyser programmes, and it is a three year, European-funded, project that is taking place across Ireland and Wales. Inventorium’s primary focus is “on idea generation, and pre-incubation digital innovation”, according to Dr. Teresa Dillon, who is the programme’s senior content development manager.

The organisers at Inventorium see great potential in Open Data as a basis for creative new business opportunities.

“I think open data is hugely important at the moment. I guess it got a lot of momentum from the Obama election in 2009, but the EU, for example, has had policies in place since 2003 looking at how the governments can make the data they collect on our behalf available to us in an easy to digest format.

“If you’re moving into an area, and you’re wondering, for example, where your nearest bank or your nearest refuse collection is, or is there a safe beach? What are the primary schools like? What’s the level of crime? All these types things are the type of data that the government collects on our behalf.

“I think what we find interesting as well is that this data can also be used to develop new products and services and businesses, because how you actually engage with that data and how you actually might use it is another layer upon just providing it. So the governments and councils are now providing it, but it’s actually how do you use the data after that.”

A number of initiatives at local government level have meant that there is now ample opportunity for would-be entrepreneurs to put this data to good use.

“From the NDRC perspective and the Inventorium perspective it’s about stimulating economic activity”, says Teresa.

“We’re always entitled to see it, and we’re always entitled to ask for it, but it’s actually now being provided. So, Fingal council, for example, have seventy such datasets available now. And Dublin City Council, via their initiative, Dublinked, are also now encouraging all of the four local authorities to make the data that they collect public as well.”

“How can you use this data to develop new businesses and new creative businesses in this space? It’s not just about apps or online web services, it’s also about data visualisation.

“Imagine you’re walking down the street and you actually know how much water is being consumed by every house on your street. And maybe five years down the road your street needs to know how much water it’s using and needs to regulate it. Data visualisation techniques can actually start to expose some of that based on open data sets, and then you start to get into a whole different level of thinking about community and common good and sharing resources and really an awareness of what we’re actually using within our society.”

Dublin Startup Weekend: The Art of the Possible in 54 Hours

The second Dublin Startup Weekend (#swdub) took place last weekend at The Digital Hub. At the previous event in May 2010 four of the eight ideas that were worked on over the 54 hours are running as companies now launching real-life products.

Startup Weekend began three years ago in the U.S. and has now turned into a worldwide phenomenon. At the same time as the Dublin event Startup Weekends were taking place in Tunis, Copenhagen and Texas.

The format is straightforward. Participants gather on the Friday evening and listen to pitches from those who have a project or an idea they want developed. People decide which project interests them most and they form themselves into teams. In Dublin 70 people showed up out of which 8 teams were created.

The teams focused on a variety of projects; a restaurant booking system, an accountability system for political representatives, web texting for Facebook, a habit monitoring system, and a virtual exhibition hall for art galleries to name just five of the eight.

Clément Cazalot, a French entrepreneur who will be launching docTrackr his own anti-Wikileaks startup soon, was the facilitator for the event.

He says, “We are aiming to allow people to create their startup in only one weekend. This is a big challenge because when you speak to people, I don’t know, for instance, your mum, she will say, ‘this is impossible to build a company in only one weekend.’

“But we prove this idea to be constantly false because in one weekend you can quickly create your product and test your product or at least test your idea to a specified market.

Startup Weekends are not exclusive to technical folk as Clément points out, “When you create a startup you need to be balanced. You need to have half business guys and half tech guys who are able to mix their different backgrounds.

“It is necessary to challenge technical aspects with business insight and to challenge business insight with technical aspects. When you launch a startup you need a balanced team.”

Corinna Hardgrave, who lists being a food writer for the Irish Tatler amongst her many activities came along with an idea for a restaurant booking system, “I would never have got started on my idea if it wasn’t for an event like this. This is such a brilliant idea, people coming together from all different backgrounds all in the one space.

“Everybody wants to achieve something. People who turn up at events like this are very motivated anyway.

“It’s a nice atmosphere because people are sharing. No one is getting precious about ideas and things like that. It’s great from a networking point of view but beyond the networking it is just a great learning curve.”

Reza Seljewk managed to enrol a number of people to work on his netocracy idea. He explains what he is trying to do, “The idea behind Netoocracy is that communities come together in a virtual environment to track if there is real [civic] progress, at their local, regional or national level and that the policies that are being implemented by those in authority are following the interests of those people.

“Dublin Startup Weekend brings key people together to make real teams very quickly. It is a real catalyst in being able to make a jump start on something that could take you months to do.

In contrast, Qamir Hussain, Founder of aveclabs, thought he would just come along for a couple of hours and maybe have a bit of a laugh but what he found was, “Different people with different mindsets, bringing different things to the table and just lots of really cool ideas coming up.

“It’s real – it’s real coders and real developers doing real stuff. You’ve got such a short time frame so you are forced into being focused.”

The event itself was sponsored by the NDRC and Seán Murphy was one of the organizers, “We started the ball rolling on this a year and a half ago in Dublin by putting a call out to see if people would be interested in engaging with a weekend such as this and I got a pretty positive response.

“Once we had a couple of hundred people signed up we concluded that there was enough energy and interest to give it a go in Dublin.”

“The time is a little bit constrained over the weekend. We kind of feel that this number is a good balance between having enough momentum, enough energy to make it an interesting and fun event but not being overcrowded and people getting too little time.

“The sort of people who come to these events are absolutely fantastic. They are people who are positive. They want to give something a go. They are full of energy, enthusiasm and ideas. There is a really great vibe, a really great, fun atmosphere here at the event.”

Seán and his colleagues will take a little time after the event to gauge feedback from the participants and determine what could be done better next time before deciding on the date for the next event.

If you are interested in coming along then that is an announcement that will be worth your while to watch out for as this last event was 20% over-subscribed.