Two very inspiring events yesterday give me the chance to update Small Circles of Kindness.
First up was Scraperwiki’s Birmingham Hackers and Hackers Hack Day (#hhhbrum). A mixture of journalists, ex-journalists and bloggers with their own different missions came together with friendly developers, most of whom had no particular preferred subject but a burning desire to mess about with data. A real life gathering with plentiful food and a competitive edge was the ideal way to focus groups on developing some sort of tool. It gave the likes of me who live in awe of developers a chance to see them in their natural environment: hunting down the prey, tearing it to pieces, mashing up different things and regurgitating them as a neat package (sorry, analogy probably taken too far there).
The teams swiftly zoomed in on common themes of interest to communities with health, education and council services coming up high. Our health team realised that the potential scope was so wide it would be difficult to keep it simple. We had strong temptations both to create something that was newsworthy and something that was useful for communities, which created a bit of a dilemma. The day-long focus on mashing together something that worked brought into sharp focus many incompatibilities and problems even with datasets that you might expect to be relatively simple. The end presenters bravely boiled all this down into two key points: a UK-first GP map to which other details can be added and proof through data of the most and least “scaredy-cat” places. Watch the presentations to find out more and see the other very impressive projects from the day.
The problem-solving and combination of people from different backgrounds that could test and challenge each other made for a very stimulating environment and one that could be useful for all sorts of different contexts. Far from being just about building tools for communities or journalists, we also found ourselves looking at how the big PCT-to-GP handover might affect communities on the ground and how data could be used to make that process more transparent. We strayed into some nervy territory about the risks and pitfalls of handing such massive population-wide health responsibilities over to groups of GPs who were difficult enough to hold accountable now, let alone when massive restructuring and regrouping makes the current data largely irrelevant.
I hope to write lots more about the day, but one of the most useful things I learnt was that Scraperwiki gives a great platform for people who can see “stuff” they want to do something, with but inadequate knowledge to get started, another place to ask an incredible community of developers for help. You can also browse the current list and blog posts from the days as they make their way round the country for inspiration on the sorts of tools you might want to get help to build in your own area.
Too soon I had to leave Birmingham for an unmissable invitation to see the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu at Stoke-on-Trent’s Civic Centre as part of our city’s 100 year anniversary. As a very modern Archbiship, he did not turn down the chance to plug his new website, Acts 435, which personifies the sort of useful tool that hyperlocal communities can work with. Its basic premise is to connect people who need help with the people who can offer it. It works through networks of trust, in this case churches, many of whom are already working with the most vulnerable in communities. All the donations do to the person asking and any gift aided additions will support the running of the site. Key to its potential success is the fact that it widens out the donor pool from a small church in an over-stretched area to Christians nationwide (if not global-wide) and gives their small donations greater power. The platform is simple and hearteningly the Archbishop said that there were more people offering help than asking for it at the moment.
I hope his initiative does well and leads to more small donor exchange platforms like this in the UK – I’ve always hoped someone will build (or tell me about) a British version of Kiva to support microcredit programmes here, for example.
Two different websites, both bringing together exchanges of help. If you’re reading this and wondering if you have a place in these circles then never fear, here’s a suggestion. Many people are still offline, with problems and needs that go unheard. Hyperlocal bloggers are ideally placed to make connections, utilising the connections and networks they can make online and also helping offline people to make their first steps online in pursuit of their interests, whatever they might be.
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