Is there a problem with the sponsorship of public sector events?

We ran some user testing of the GovCamp website last week. One of the topics that came up was the size and positioning of the sponsors logos.

Actually the comments did more reflect on the difficulties we had last year adding the logos to the site rather than any bigger issues.

However it did spark a discussion about sponsorship in general some of which have been raised in the past.

So here are some thoughts/questions which feedback is welcome. They are definitely not directed against any particular sponsor.

As far as I know at least the first two GovCamps did not have any sponsorship. Jeremy Gould kindly held them in the basement of MoJ – I have no idea who paid for the food at the time – maybe even Jeremy himself?

As the event grew a bigger space was needed which leads onto issues such as needing to pay for a venue; then security, then food; then sponsors..who need visibility so then t-shirts are needed to display logos and money is needed to pay for the t-shirts. You get my drift.

Is there a thing such as a ‘good’ sponsor who the public sector should accept money from and who it should refuse. So it is it a smallish startup ran by someone well known in government digital is that alright? What if the company offering is a big SI who might not have such a great public profile? Does it make a difference where the money comes from?

Are the people planning to attend influenced by which sponsor logos they see on a website? Should the organisers of public sector events draw some kind of moral line and say I cannot work with x kind of sponsor? What if their boss tells them not to?

Should there be a percentage of sponsorship which one organisation should not be able to exceed? Should sponsors serve ‘fixed terms’ so that there is not an over reliance on particular companies?

What kind of information should be provided to sponors about attendees? Their name, job title, interests, contact details? If someone is attending on their own time at the weekend are they even to be linked to their weekday job title?

During the event is there a way that sponsors should behave. Sit in a corner and ignore the event and try to pitch to likley business or attend all the workshops? How much visibility should be given to the sponsors logos – splash them all over the event with many stands or pop-ups; or is something more discrete sensible?

So there are a few questions. What do you think?


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Why do we need a public sector API group?

Somewhat rashly last week I decided to create a Public Sector API Meetup Group.

Why, I hear you ask?

The idea has been strongly influenced by Paul Hallett who set up the #LondonAPI meetup group where I have attended, I think, every meeting. They have been great meetings and much credit is due to Paul for lining up some great speakers who have been very willing to share so many excellent tips.

Why do we need a public sector group then?

Partly because, as far as I can see, most of the people who go to Paul’s meetup are from the private sector. Is that a bad thing? No. In fact for me this has been one of the strengths – seeing the commercial drive behind APIs and the rigour around making businesses work profitably around APIs. There is lot the public sector can learn from this approach.

I am hoping that because I know mainly people in the public sector we can start to replicate what Paul has done who knows maybe we only need one group in the long run?

In the meantime these are the issues I think we can look at as a group.


Are we working to the same standards in the public sector?

Should we be?

It is clear that there are divergent thoughts on this topic amongst developers but presumably in the public sector we have some responsibility to think about interoperability.

Do standards generate certification much like the Open Data Institutes #opendata certificates?


I keep expecting to find a directory of public sector APIs but have not come across one yet. Maybe I have been looking in the wrong place? If so please point me in the right direction. Programmable web have a great database of APIs and related content and there are some listed from the UK.

Do we need our own directory? Should we add our content to theirs? Do we need a standalone directory for the public sector. What kind of links should there be with


Perhaps the biggest thing for me, inspired by Jeremy Gould, is to bring together people with a common interest around a topic. This is always the most powerful of pushing things along and engaging with people.


A great point raised by Peter Wells @peterkwells

How does anyone know that our APIs exist? If there related to public services surely we have a responsibility to make sure the public know they exist? How do we make this easy and intuitive?

The (public sector) API economy

Of course what we should be aiming at is to contribute to the API economy and build services around freely available open data. This great article Wholesale Government: Open Data and APIs which is equally applicable to the UK has plenty of great suggestions.


Does any of that make sense? If so come along to the first meetup on 30 April at the NAO – just because I could easily find a room.


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How much does the public sector spend on data?

I gave a short internal presentation this week about open data. As I was writing a few thoughts came to mind based on chats with data users.

One of the intriguing questions is – how does the public sector spend on data? This could be data being bought from other public sector bodies or the private sector.

For example the BBC buy weather data from the Met Office. How much do bodies pay in licence fees to Ordnance Survey every year? Someone suggested that it might be several million pounds a year. Of course the Trading Funds have a financing model to follow and are expected to generate income.

What about private sector data? Apparently it is quite common to pay for Dun numbers (Dun and Bradstreet) in government. How much does this cost each year? Do we know how much is going to be paid to the Royal Mail for postcodes address information?

Has anyone ever investigated this topic and done a map looking at the flow of data/money in and out of the public sector?

Just curious and whether there is something here about the wider benefits of open data to the public sector.

Thoughts and comments more than welcome.

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What should the UK’s Chief Data Officer do in their first 100 days?

Ok I am making an assumption that there is going to be a CDO but bear with me on that.

Will a CDO be the saviour of data in the UK?

Here is a starter for ten list:

  1. Work out who is responsible for data publishing and transparency – GDS (The Government Digital Service) or the Transformation Team in the Cabinet Office?
  2. Do something with – a great idea but a bit like a marathon runner it seems to have hit the wall.
  3. Please sort out public sector data publishing – are central and local government working to the same standards?
  4. Give some oomph to the National Information Infrastructure, even a new name. Data is the life blood of the economy it should be sexy not boring.
  5. Mandate data registers for every public sector body as will now be the case in the US (and why not throw in the private sector as well why you are at it.)
  6. Data quality is appalling and a perennial issue – it should be everybody’s responsibility not just the person who pushes the publish button.
  7. Open, open, open – yes with the relevant caveats around privacy and security everything should be open.
  8. Education – so we are teaching coding to kids where is data in all this? Most organisations cannot function without data and data management but this is not entirely clear when you talk to public sector bodies. So education, education, education – about data.
  9. Make sure the UK stays at the top of the table for open data – but by using better metrics than the current lightweight assessments.
  10. Create a network of Chief Data Officers.

So that’s ten points written in ten minutes – what else is missing?



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How feedback is helping improve our digital services

Neil Williams great post about how GDS keep improving reminded me that I wanted to provide an update on what we have been doing with feedback recently. I mentioned feedback a while ago.

Since then we have tried to integrate it more regularly in our work. So we have a weekly retrospective and the first thing we do is cover the feedback that has been generated on the website feedback form.

This has covered a range of issues and usually things we can quickly change. So for example there is an area of content called Successful Commissioning which is quite popular. Over the last few weeks we had a number of comments left saying that some of the frequently used abbreviations were not explained. So we went in and changed these.

Another popular area of content are some FAQs about Taxpayer support for the banks.  This content was created as it was a topic the NAO was regularly asked about. So almost every week we get a comment asking ‘can a particular figure be made clearer or do you have more data on x’? We pass these all onto the authors who have taken the necessary action.

There have also been some useful comments about the difficulty of contacting particular people in the NAO. This is slightly more tricky but clearly worth reviewing especially as the on site search shows users are putting in the names of NAO staff.

So oddly we have found all the feedback quite motivating. Because people care, value the content and want it to work even better. It shows that the effort we put into maintaining these pages is worthwhile and we can fix things that do not work well. It’s a feedback win/win.



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Do you know the perfect venue for #GovCamp16?

A GovCamp is not a GovCamp without a venue and so the search begins….

We asked for feedback last year and the consensus was that a venue needed the following features:

Must haves

  • It needs to be available on Saturday 23 January 2016 – and yes the majority wanted it in London
  • Capacity in one space for 200 people – with chairs of course
  • 6-8 breakout spaces on the same level as the main space
  • An immaculate wifi set up
  • Projector screens – preferably two
  • Easy access – not an overly complicated security system with scanners etc
  • Toilets
  • Space for tables for food and sponsors
  • Lectern with microphone
  • Not ridiculously expensive
  • Easy to get to location preferably near a train or tube station
  • A recommendation from someone who has already used the venue

Nice to haves

  • A not massively complicated process to book the space and sign a contract with the venue
  • A cloakroom
  • An AV specialist from the venue available on the day
  • Flip charts
  • Access to venue the night before
  • Option to use in-house catering if not massively expensive


So that is our list – let us know if you have a great venue just waiting to play a starring role in #GovCamp16


@nickmhalliday @jaCattell @baskers or

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What is the problem with the National Information Infrastructure?

I was foolish enough to run a session at the excellent Open Data Camp about the National Information Infrastructure #UKNII

The reason I thought this could be foolish is that the words National Information Infrastructure are not exactly sexy. In fact it all sounds a bit boring. So I was glad that anyone turned up all – which they did so thank you to all the attendees.

So what did we talk about? Here goes….

Is National Information Infrastructure in fact the wrong name – should it be called the National Data Strategy? This was my point. The name at the moment sounds a bit like a Librarian (much as I love them) talking about the Dewey Decimal system. A bit dry and academic which of course it is not. Data is a bit of a catchy word at the moment as is strategy – so maybe a new title is in order?

I did point out that the concept is not new. Parliament published a fact sheet about it in 1995 where they stated that the cost could be very large so that care would be needed planning such a project. Interestingly the Open Data User Group in its recent paper say that opposite and that any cost would more than outweigh the benefits.

I note passing that on Wikipedia there is an entry for the National Information Infrastructure – but that is for the US. Where is the entry for the UK? Any volunteers?

We also discussed the perceived lack of momentum around the subject. Certainly the Transparency Team (a good number who gave up their weekend to be at the event) in the Cabinet Office have done a lot of work on the NII and are engaged with three pilot departments which sounds very promising but where is the wider enthusiasm and where are the evangelists? Who knows anything about it the UKNII but a handful of data geeks?

It was suggested that the possible appointment of a National Chief Data Officer might be the trigger to pull things together across government and generate some momentum. Notice the job title is not (Chief Information Officer.)

Another point (made on the way out) was where is the list that people can make suggestions about what should be included in the National Infrastructure? It is worth reading the Open Data Institute take on this topic and their starter list on a wiki.

We did agree that each specialist group will have ideas as to what should be included on such a list but that as more suggestions are made a Venn diagram would start to pick up the consistently mentioned data sets.

In this context in a later session it was mentioned that there are at least two different sets of data about the height of beaches which can cause problems for the military when planning exercises. It made me think – ‘ha another item for the Infrastructure list of data sets’. Who else would this seemingly innocuous information (or data) help? Councils managing beaches; fishermen, lifeguards, companies planning green energy installations..? There are probably a lot more.

That’s my round up of this session. Thanks to everyone for coming along and hopefully there might be a few more evangelists in circulation.


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How not to sell to me

If you want to sell me something do not do any of the following:


Try to link up on LinkedIn when you are clearly a supplier who is trying to drum up business. I can see that you have already been looking at my profile and I can see from yours that you work in marketing/sales.

Do not, as someone did a while ago, show me some interesting software and then say ‘you must be able to find a use for it’. I explained that I could not think of a relevant user case at the moment but that I would obviously bear their software in mind if such a need arose. That did not stop them from haranguing me for a hour about how great their software was and that I should use it. Doh.

It does not impress me by saying as someone really did – ‘use us because we are big’. The logic being that they would not be big if they were not good. Not sure what Plato would make of that logic. No surprise then that did not work with me. The other variant is to quote a sector – we supply all of x sector – usually not the one I am in. So how is that relevant then?

Don’t send my jokey emails about your service which might or might not be relevant when you have clearly got me off a bought in mailing list. Well just don’t send me an email at all. Why is there an unsubscribe option ‘I never signed up for this list’? It’s a give away really. And I definitely do not want emails about Accounting systems, SharePoint or EPOS.

Generally pester me on the phone does not help either. Or use the phrase ‘its just a courtesy call’. Hum, no such thing. Or how about ‘we spoke a while ago’ – when I can definitely remember that we did not.

The other variant is – ‘which software do you use on your website’ – er WordPress – you could probably find that out quite easily if you looked yourself. The next question – ‘what are your plans’. Answer ‘why should I tell you?’ ‘Because I need to know what is happening in the public sector – everyone else tells me’. Well I am not going to. There was a bit of surprise expressed at that. So I was supposed to tell anyone who rang up what I was thinking of doing next. Interesting.


Provide a good service.

Have a service relevant to my needs.

Make sure your existing customers are similar to mine and are willing to have a chat with me.

Handy if you are on G-cloud.

Be willing to invest a bit of time getting to know my organisation and how you might be able to help us.

Be friendly and provide advice with no expectation of an immediate return.

I just had to share. My list of Don’ts could be a lot longer – a part two might follow.

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What has the National Information Infrastructure ever done for me?

You might start by asking ‘what is National Information Infrastructure, I have never even heard of it?’ Well now is the time to learn more, so read on. But first lets agree to call it #UKNII to save space.

The idea of #UKNII has been around a while and roughly a year ago the Cabinet Office started a process to flesh out what such a concept might mean in reality. You can read more here on what they have done so far.

Excellent, but progress has been a bit slow and the approach slightly limited so the Open Data User Group (ODUG) – I am a member – decided to push things along by writing its own report. The aim is to stimulate a wider discussion and give a bit of a structure to that conversation.

If its recommendations were taken up imagine a UK where there was just one agreed data set for GPs practices – currently there are eight or nine. What if this data was easy to link with post code data…or hospital admissions…or census data… You might then start to have a long list of things to say that the #UKNII has done for you, me and everyone else.

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My top ten predictions for 2015

1. 2015 will have 365 days, approximately

2. GovCamp will take place on 24 January at Microsoft

3. The Government Digital Service will employ more people

4. Some IT projects will fail

5. I will not be in the New Year’s Honours (again)

6. There will be more talk about a Local Government Digital Service – which will still come to nothing

7. Data will become big, very big; and open data will become even bigger and opener (? Ed) – the number of people really getting it will probably remain the same

8. Government digital folk will remain as great as ever, sharing, caring and doing great stuff

9. We will still detest Facebook and still keep using it and start to detest Twitter – then detest ourselves for using these tools and for being detestable

10. There will be more social media ‘disasters’ and data takeaways (by those naughty black hatters)

11. Our personal data will be shared more freely than a post on Plague

12. There will be more Buzzfeeding of content – er this list

13. People will forget how to count up to ten



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