Visit to the Open Data Institute

The Open Data Institute in Shoreditch, east London, was our destination last week, as partners from CitySDK and Commons 4 EU were in London for a three day workshop. The ODI was established with funding mainly from the UK Government from representations by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt and has at its mission statement “knowledge for everyone.”

Based in the regenerated East End of London, the ODI is ideally placed to serve as a hub for local digital start ups as well as being a stopping-off point for visitors to the UK who want to find out more about how the UK is developing its open data practices and policies.

We were shown around the institute – in reality a neat, modern floor of an unassuming building just a few minutes walk from Shoreditch High Street – by their education lead Kathryn Corrick and CEO Gavin Starks. In its first few months of operation it has been developing various strands of activity, from advocating at a national government level, to making connections with other organisations in the UK and elsewhere (e.g. the World Bank), and providing training and seminars for local businesses and entrepreneurs. It also acts as an incubator for open data businesses and we were introduced to three of these during the morning.

Placr are perhaps the most established, coming from a transport background, and developing products that utilise UK transport data and cut the costs and improve the quality of transport planners in London and elsewhere. Locatable are a new start up who are looking to open data sources to provide a rich contextualised information service for anyone looking to move house or job, and who wants to check out their local area for schools, doctors and other services. Whilst Mastodon C are help companies turn big data into market intelligence.

As well as start up businesses, the ODI will be advocating the case for open data, and providing technical and development opportunities. Part of this will be a membership scheme for individuals, businesses and organisations which will be begin soon. It has already attracted a lot of interest, as other countries look to what the UK is doing in this area.

As part of their commitment to open data, their technology team uses an open IRC channel and public Github instance to enable others to see what they are doing and to comment and help. Currently they are working on a number of internal programmes, which are developed through various code “sprints”.


Watching the changing opacity of the Obelisk

Watching the changing opacity of the Obelisk

After hearing about the various work they are doing – much of which is of interest to partners on CitySDK – we were shown around their recent “Data as Culture” art commission, a series of excellent pieces, in situ in their office for a short period of time, which look at data in variety of different ways. The minimalist piece we are looking at is The Obelisk by Fabio Lattanzi Antinor which is made out of a special material that frosts over as it takes a feed of world events, responding to stories about torture, war and famine. The “input” data gives a near constant clouding, showing the violence of the world we live in, and contrasts with the calm, minimalist design of the piece itself, reminiscent of memorials from around the world.

It was a fascinating morning that saw us join there morning huddle, where they discussed the work they were doing during the day. From a Manchester perspective it was interesting to see that so many things that we’ve trialled in the city are being paralleled nationally, from data art commissions, to regular meet ups on data issues (e.g. Open Data Manchester) through to hosting hackathons. Although based in London, the ODI can fulfil a number of valuable roles, and hopefully, through projects such as CitySDK, other cities can grow their own open data clusters to reflect local needs and priorities.

The visit to ODI was organised by Nesta for the Code for Europe fellows London workshop, the fellows are working closely with CitySDK to help enable our city vision. ODI’s Gavin Starks and NESTA’s Geoff Mulgan will be appearing at FutureEverything 2013

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