Ideas flow at CityCamp BTN

As the dust settles on CityCamp Brighton, here’s a quick look back on what was a fantastic, stimulating, surprising and fun weekend. Below is my version of events, but see how it unfolded for everyone through the twitter feed at Storify complete with pictures, and find the webcast of the speakers and more at

Friday lunchtime and a trickle of people start arriving… I’m helping where I can and feeling *terribly* important wielding an official-looking green clipboard. I’m a microphone runner for much of the afternoon which gives me a chance to hear all the speakers – who are uniformly great. Emer Coleman from the London Data Store sets the scene and reflects on experiences of opening data in London; we hear a range of Views from Brighton from a panel of John Barradell, boss at Brighton & Hove City Council, Graham Bartlett, Commander of Brighton & Hove Division of Sussex Police, Emily O’Brien from Brighton CVS Forum and Lisa Rodrigues of Sussex Partnership – which reminded me how much Brightonians (rightly) love their city! Later on, Dan McQuillan, Benita Matofska and Anthony Mayfield set the global context, their talks moving from Tahir Square, to sharing with your neighbours to Soviet Russia.  Fantastically inspirational stuff.

Saturday morning saw us pitching our ideas to the rest of a slightly bleary-eyed group at Hove Town Hall. Clearly thirty seconds to explain your idea is not very long. The range of ideas people have for making Brighton better is already becoming clear. We hear about ideas around food, building communities, improving access to volunteering opportunities, personal safety for teenagers, bringing interactive information to where people already gather. And of course, my suggestion around making it easier for voluntary sector and social enterprises to access public data and helping groups to combine their own information and expertise with data.  More on how this panned out later – I’ve been waxing lyrical on this for ages but not yet found the art of brevity, so another post to follow.

At lunchtime we have a chance to hear Brighton crime novelist Peter James talking about his experiences of researching his books. He manages to make a somewhat gruesome topic rather charming, perhaps it’s his habit of referring to hardened criminals as ‘villains’ which tempers the gory detail of the lives of Police divers and his tour of Brighton’s brothels.

The rest of the day is spent in sessions exploring, expanding and refining our ideas in buzzy and fluid little groups, and we finish up the day pitching back to the whole group, setting out what we need for the Build Day to come.

The energy picks up again quickly on Sunday and grew and grew throughout the day as animated huddles of people talk, build, spark ideas, develop and refine their pitches. Wandering around the groups shows the incredible range of ideas, and the diversity of people who have come together to turn ideas into real projects.

I start Sunday thinking that I’ll just use the day to meet people and think some more about the challenges of making Open Data accessible to the voluntary sector, maybe make some useful contacts and think about how to take the idea forward after CCBTN is over. But the joy of CityCamp is the unexpected and when exactly the right people turn up with a coffee in one hand, a pastry in the other and a brain overflowing with ideas, the magic starts to happen!

A real sense of excitement builds as the pitching starts in earnest – in a dramatically darkened room, there’s a panel of five worthy luminaries judging who will win the £10k prize. Pitching to a room full of interested and engaged people, all of whom have a quiet competitive edge to their expressions is pretty intimidating, not least because of the Man With The Whistle who is quite merciless in his timing.  We do well though, and generate some real interest in what has become DataBridge, but the prize is won by My Urban Angel, a fantastic project that developed from a kernel of an idea on Friday about keeping teenagers safe to the beginnings of an App with real life relevance. Good work team!

CityCamp Brighton is over, but long live the CityCamp Brighton network which will continue and the first meeting is on 7 April – looking forward to it already.

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