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CityCamp London

 CityCamp London

This October the CityCamp movement launched its first UK event in the vibrant city of London, where participants gathered in their masses to the three day unconference to discuss how technology and innovation can make the capital a better city to live in. While the whole event was split into three highly stimulating and interactive days of presentations and conversations, this blog reviews the first day, Friday 8th October, which included a mixture of diverse speakers and a sofa interview, which together produced an interesting and thought-provoking afternoon.

The event was attended by people from various sectors, including representatives from small companies such as Learning Pool and LinkedGov; big companies such as IBM, Accenture, Microsoft and Google; local government officials including Leo Boland, and designers, citizens and journalists. Together the speakers and audience discussed a broad spectrum of topics including the impact of government transparency and local governance using the web, the benefits of open/ linked data, social/participatory media, and mobile devices, and the impact of technology on urban cities.

The event opened with Leo Boland, the Chief executive of Greater London Authority, who spoke about the benefits of technology and the municipal challenges we are currently facing. He explored the concept of ‘the good city’, drawing on Ash Amin’s work, who defined technology as the “life-support system of cities, which without, our urban life would end as we know it.” He continued by asserting how the current government is committed to involving and engaging  with citizens. He ended stating that Technology helps generate ideas, changes how we look at the cities and generally makes cities better places to live in. 

He was next followed by John Tolva, Director of Citizenship & Technology of IBM, who gave us a fantastic presentation on the lessons we can learn from Unmaking Urban Mistakes by looking at system design and the networked city. Tolva’s chief argument focused on data  asserting, informed communities are stronger and more adept at asking the tough questions needed to resolve urban issues. The third key speaker, Matt Jones from Berg then talked about, ‘Vertigo: Standing on top of the 21st century in one of the world’s biggest cities’. He proposed technology allows us to see the details as well as the whole system, so we have a better understanding of what’s happening around us.

After a short break, the unconference continued with RSA’s Matthew Taylor leading a sofa Question and Answers sessions, where Councillor Steve Reed (Labour), Councillor Caroline Pidgeon, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at London Assembly, and Councillor Paul Osborn from Harrow Council (Conservative) were all interviewed by members of the audience on how technology has transformed the way they work and accessibility issues.

During the interview, they talked about how new quicker means of communication, such as email have affected their profession, revealing in some cases  that public officials have to to build barriers to filter the public’s emails as they find it overwhelming. This did seem slightly worrying considering they are the people we vote in to represent us and listen to our concerns regarding local issues.

The unconference closed with five Lightening talks which all centred on ‘Making change happen.’ Especially interesting was Nathalie McDermott’s presentation on ‘Inclusive Culture’ where she described her work with disengaged groups, including providing a radio station for the benefit of prison inmates and a "SavvyChavvy" website for the gypsy traveller community. Likewise, the presentation by Emer Coleman and Chris Taggart on Open Culture ended the event nicely, by once again highlighting the benefits and importance of Open data, giving the audience a lot to think about.

Overall I found CityCamp London brilliant, and what made it most inspiring and refreshing was the incredible amount of energy and desire to improve things from all parties involved, including the organisers, speakers and the audience.

On a final note, a special mention must be made to the event’s organizers, Dominic Campbell, Futuregov and all others involved who did a fantastic job and deserve a massive pat on the back for all their efforts!

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