In late November, after experiencing both GovHack and HealthHack – annual weekend gatherings designed to bring data owners and computer imagineers together to help each other – I put forward the idea of a weekly meetup to the Melbourne team.
Inspired by the Hack weekends, but disappointed as a full time worker at my own motivation to continue with the projects in my own time, I thought I would be more likely to contribute and follow up on those projects if there was a space I was going to where that work was encouraged. There were a number of other advantages to a weekly get together. The hackathons were well attended but not everyone knew what one was or how they worked. Once a year is nice, but it’s not a serious project at that time scale – some projects are just too big, others need time consuming non hack work, like consultation with end users. And open data hacks are relatively new in Australia, so regardless of participants’ experience levels, there is still an ecosystem and nomenclature that needs to be developed and used in public – and with that will come the trust of the organisations we need to open their data to make this project successful. For me, one of the great aspects of the Open Knowledge movement is it’s contribution to a democratic ideal – citizens participating in a civil society for the benefit of all.
So, with this in mind and the support of Melbourne’s OKFNau chapter, we started meeting in early December, on a Wednesday evening. We envisaged a space that was explicitly Open Knowledge – we wanted to move away from the idea that only IT types were or would be welcome – that UI, graphic design, media and whoever could come and learn something, partake without needing prior knowledge.
Since then, with a couple of weeks off over the break, we have had five successful meetings. Last week Leanne O’Donnell, a policy advisor with the Law Institute of Victoria and former legal advisor to iiNet, spoke to us about the upcoming Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 and how we could make a submission to the government expressing our concerns. We submitted today – expect to see something written up as soon as they are published on the Government’s site (interestingly, publishing our own submission before the Government does is not allowed).
We have spoken with Collabforge about a PTV hackathon one night. We looked at OpenMRS, Mediawiki, and OpenStreetMap – all on the same night. We broke into groups and people worked on what they wanted to work on.
Next week we have Deb Nicholson from Media Goblin – an awesome Free and Open Source media centre software package, and Leslie Hawthorn, Director of Developer Relations at Elasticsearch – one of the leading search and analytics tools available coming in to talk about what it is they do before we get down to what ever people want to do after that – talk more or hack or learn new software. It’s an open meetup, it’s run by the people that turn up.
The first week of February we have Skud from GrowStuff coming to tell us where the project is at and what would be helpful for us to help with. Skud has suggested she may well come down for the first Wednesday of every month to join us – so there will be hands on deck if you want to work on GrowStuff regularly.
You should join us.