Open Data Camp 6

At the weekend I visited my first Open Data Camp in Aberdeen. Below are a few thoughts of the experience.

With Aberdeen being so far north, my journey began on the Friday afternoon when I took the train from Leeds. Five and a half hours later, via a change in Edinburgh, I found myself in a part of the UK that I've never quite managed to visit (even though I've been along quite a large part of the coastline). OD Camp 6 was held in the MacRobert building at the University of Aberdeen.

The University of Aberdeen
Credit: Stuart Lowe

Open Data Camp 6 is an "unconference". That means that it has no fixed prior agenda. Instead, the attendees pitch session ideas at the start of each day and these are arranged onto a grid building up the programme for the weekend. That lets the event be responsive to what people actually want to talk about.

Sunday sessions
Credit: ODCamp

The sessions themselves don't consist of talks as in a traditional conference. Many that I attended had someone taking the role of a chair/coordinator but were largely a conversation around a topic and went where they went. At the start of each day we were told about "butterflys", "bees" and the law of two feet (do bees or butterflys have feet?) to encourage us to move around and share our ideas. In the intro on the Saturday there was also a brief (perhaps not long enough) talk about the code of conduct and being inclusive; being aware of people who had been quiet and encouraging them to contribute. This didn't always work but I felt people were at least aware of it and I saw a few instances of people who'd been saying a lot giving up the floor when someone new tried to interject. Overall the discussion in the sessions I was at did seem largely respectful and constructive.

Perhaps it is just me but I felt five parallel sessions was a bit too much. I tended to go to a few of the geo-spatial sessions (because of my interests at ODI Leeds) and so missed out on a few other things I'd have liked to find out people's thoughts on.

Perhaps the biggest long-term benefit I'll get out of ODCamp is the people I met there. I had interesting conversations with Gregory from Open Street Map UK, Liz Eden & Terence Eden from Open Benches, Jez Nicholson from Open Plaques, Phil from Flax & Teal, Pauline Roche, Angharad Stone from the Environment Agency, Jack Hardinges from ODI HQ, and others. I may have been the only person geeky enough to recognise (from across a busy pub) the pulsar map from the Pioneer Plaque tattooed on Jamie Whyte's arm.

The galactic pulsar map from the Golden Record.
Credit: Jamie Whyte/Stuart Lowe

Throughout the event the people from drawnalism were on hand to create drawn summaries of many of the sessions. Check out the Open Data Camp website for the full set.

#ODCAMP Getting better open data at Local, Regional and National levels. Our West Yorkshire Open Data Collaboration Sessions got a mention.
Credit: Adam Tinworth

Open Data Camp was a great, but tiring, experience (I got back home at midnight on Sunday) and I'd definitely recommend going to the next one. In the immediate future, check out the Data For Good conference in Birmingham on 14th November 2018.

Postscript: Some other blog posts about Open Data Camp 6 have been written by Ben Proctor, Dan Barrett, Liz Eden, and Wu Meng.