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Rewired State plans to hack UK parliament for bonfire night

Fri Nov 04 2011, 12:00
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Mulqueeny and her group found, after discussions at the Home Office, Foreign office, Ministry of Justice, and the Cabinet Office that the key was finding a way to convince the top people.

"So we ran hack days in March 2010 for the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office - Tim Berners-Lee came to it." The point, she says, "was to remove the fear and excite the bosses, who were really nervous about opening the data. It wasn't about the applications, just about showing what developers would do if they had access to the data and giving them some kind of ballpark of what data was useful and what wasn't so they could prioritise when it's released."

Then the incoming government got Liam Byrne's "There's no money left" note. Mulqueeny traded some of the company's revenue, as well as technical help for its development network, for office space at the Guardian.

Soon Mulqueeny found herself running hack days alongside events and working with companies like HP and Honda.

"We're using hack days to come up with good, solid ideas for digital stuff that people like Burberry can do," she says. She is hoping to run a hack day on electric vehicles soon.

Young Rewired State has taught Mulqueeny that the issues that concern adult coders - jobs, health, public transport, energy - are also those that worry kids, alongside education. But it has also taught her about the dire state of IT in schools: word processing, not programming.

"In the UK, the issue is that it will be at least 10 years before teachers can teach the skills [kids] need to hold down jobs," she says. "Teachers just don't know what we're talking about, even though they're enthusiastic."

One of the difficulties for the UK government in approaching open data is money. Some government data has traditionally attracted charges; most data isn't documented. But, Mulqueeny says, campaigners must tread carefully or they risk triggering a pull-back.

"We'll just have to make do," she says. "We'll have to rely on the development community to be willing to invest their own time to ask questions." A change in attitude is inevitable, she thinks, because today's YRS generation, "do not understand why this stuff isn't produced in a way they can use - or why, when they ask for a piece of data or access to broadband, they can't have it."

Given the choice, she says, she'd get all the people looking at open data in government to study the Guardian's current effort to turn its open platform into a commercial entity that nonetheless derives huge value from having the data open and free and available below a certain level."

There is hardly anyone else to ask, she adds, because the UK government is doing something truly new.

"There is no example elsewhere in the world where they can go, 'Oh, they opened their data and it's all fine'. There's nowhere they can safely do it and just test it and see if it works. It has to be full-scale, or not at all." µ

 

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