IF GUY FAWKES were alive today, would he choose gunpowder or computer code to blow up Parliament? For 5 November, Emma Mulqueeny, the founder of Rewired State, is choosing computer code. The plan: recruit as many volunteer software developers as possible and, with Parliament's consent, show what can be done with its stores of data.
"There is a lot of historical stuff there that's not in Hansard," says Mulqueeny.
Her company, Rewired State, is well known for this kind of thing. Over the last couple of years, it's run hack days for both government and corporate organisations, along with events for coders under 18, called "Young Rewired State". On these days, small teams of people, fuelled only by pizza and soft drinks, build something useful in a couple of days with no budget that makes large, expensive, failed government IT projects look dumb. Embarrassing for the government - especially when the coders are kids - but effective at getting the point across.
Mulqueeny "fell into" this line of work. She began by dropping out of Surrey University, where she was training to become a biology teacher, to go travelling, paid for by freelance proofreading. While in Australia she got into communications, and on her 1997 return to the UK found herself designing web sites. Moving into government, she worked with Tom Watson on the transformational government agenda and helped Parliament digitise its "stacks of documents" and start up businesslink.gov.uk.
"Open data was coming up on the government agenda, but no one knew what to do with it," she says. Meanwhile, with the developers she knew, "There were always interesting and insightful conversations in the pub, and during one of those I was moaning about bar camps and having very interesting conversations about data and someone said, 'We should run a national hack-the-government day'. So we did."
That first hack day saw 28 apps built in one day and started the "open data" ball rolling. "There are government documents citing us," she says. By summer 2010, data.gov.uk was up with a mandate to spread the model to all departments: data should be open and published by default, and in an open format. "So they turned to us."