You could almost feel the benevolent presence of David Cameron at Opentech on Saturday. The ULU building was full of pony-tailed and bearded (and plenty without either of course) members of the Big Society, hard at work on the construction of the post-bureaucratic state.
This year’s event was sponsored by data.gov.uk (the open data portal of the UK’s government) and several of the workshops and talks helped developers understand how to access the data, publicised initiatives attempting to patch up the holes and inconsistencies in it, and celebrated the tools made by people using the data such as Govspark (which allows people to compare the energy consumption of different government departments) or the by now well-known ASBOrometer (which is a bit like an anti-social behaviour barometer for your local area).
Bill Thompson talk - by Flickr user Rain Rabbit
Of course I only heard Cameron mentioned once (along the lines of the PM is very very keen on this stuff) during the day. I’d guess that “constructing post-bureaucratic state” is not a term that many of the people there would use to describe their work. Perhaps the motivation for people to take control and create things with the data is rather the personal satisfaction of creating something useful (in a historic sense as well as an everyday sense), status among their peers, or perhaps simple frustration at the way in which public sector IT projects seem to burn money to do things that can be achieved in a much less resource intensive way. Whatever the motivation though, it’s clear that an amount of activity vastly disproportionate to its size and financial backing is taking place by “a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens”.