Tag Archives: localgovweb

Politician pin ups – open-licensed pictures, please

Politicians, like visits to the dentist and taxes, are a necessary evil. We all moan about them, but someone has to take care of the machinery of state.

So it’s important that we hold them to account, and elsewhere document their activities in a neutral way. Hyperlocal bloggers do the former, and the latter takes place on Wikipedia, and on sites like the excellent OpenlyLocal (both of whose content is open-licensed).

To illustrate such articles, bloggers and Wikipedians need photographs of the politicians (and senior officers). While it’s possible for individuals to take such pictures (and even open-license them, as I described previously), it would be better if such pictures were available from official channels. Such organisations already take or commission professional quality shots and make them available to the press. If they don’t already, they should make sure that their contract with photographers pays for full rights, enabling open-licensing.

I recently asked Birmingham City Council’s press office to make their pictures of members of BCC’s cabinet available under an open licence, and, to their credit, they did so. I was then able to use one of them on :

Wikipedia article using a picture open-licensed by Birmingham City Council

Some might ask “but what if the pictures are misused, to misrepresent those people”. Well, if someone’s going to do that, then they won’t bother about copyright anyway, and other laws (libel, human rights) already enable redress.

So come on all you councils, civil service departments, police forces/ authorities and so on — let us have pictures of your elected members and senior officers, free (i.e. with no “non-commercial” or “no derivatives” restrictions) for reuse on our blogs, Wikipedia and other sites. Major companies, too, could do this for their most-public board members.

Then there’s all public bodies’ other photographs. After all, West Midlands Police kindly agreed to my request to open-license the fantastic aerial shots from their helicopter…

St. Martin in the Bullring Church, Birmingham
Birmingham’s Bull Ring, from the West Midlands Police helicopter. Although this picture is ©WM Police, I can use it, here and on Wikipedia, because they kindly make it available under a CC-BY-SA licence

Dan Slee, me, HyperLocal Govcamp West Midlands, BrewCamp, and cake

Dan Slee is not only as good an example you’ll find of a local government officer embracing and exploiting social media, but also a fine friend. It’s always a pleasure to work (or socialise) with him, like when we jointly led a GovCamp session on using Flickr and Wikipedia in the public sector:

(photo shows, left-to-right, Neil Franklin, Dan, Ben Proctor (standing), Ken Eastwood, me, a bit of Peter Olding)

He has just blogged about the work he and I have done together, on HyperLocal Govcamp West Midlands and BrewCamp, along with Stuart Harrison, Mike Rawlins and Simon Whitehouse.

And lots of cake.

This weekend was indistinguishable from magic

Today, I updated someone else’s website, with one button-press on my Nokia N95 mobile phone.

The button-press was all that was need, using the lovely Dabr web interface for Twitter, to favourite a tweet about an excellent event I attended yesterday, UK GovCamp 2011.

That tweet contained a URL, and a .

Packrati.us monitors the tweets I favourite, as well as everything I tweet or re-tweet, for both links and hashtags, and saves the URLs, duly tagged, to Delicious.

Delicious then produces an RSS feed for (as they do with every tag).

Steph Gray (@lesteph) has done an excellent job, using Commentariat2 and WordPress to make the conversation aggregator (a “buzz” page) for UK GovCamp 2011, and has kindly accepted my suggestion to include the Delicious RSS feed for the event’s hashtag.

And so the link in the tweet I favourited appeared on the “buzz” page of the UK GovCamp 2011 website.

All because I made a single button-press on a device little bigger than a matchbox.

To quote the already over-quoted Arthur C Clarke‘s ‘Third Law‘:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

Thirty-five years after I first (at a very youthful age!) used a computer, and seventeen years after I first used the web, I’m still excited by them. I wonder where they’ll take us next?

The event was indistinguishable from magic, too. The links above will show you why.

My Open Data Challenge to UK Local Government: a Wikipedia Page for Every Council

At yesterday’s excellent West Midlands “Open Data: Challenges & Opportunities” event, hosted by the West Midlands Regional Observatory, Chris Taggart (), who runs the very useful Openly Local website, aggregating data about councils and their elected members, mentioned the problems he has extracting linked data about councils from Wikipedia, via DBPedia, because Wikipedia tends to conflate places with their local authorities.

See, for example, the Wikipedia article on the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley; or those on , which (at the time of writing) has only a small section on its town council and Lichfield district (so a challenge there for Stuart Harrison, , and his colleagues!); and compare them with the separate articles about and ; or , the , and . The former, all-on-one-page, pattern is far more common. (Disclosure: I created some, and have edited all, of those articles.)

I suggested at the event that this problem could be solved if staff from each UK council simply started a Wikipedia article about their council, where none already exists.

As each UK council is, inherently, (to use the Wikipedia jargon) notable, there should be no issue with this, provided that they are mindful of Wikipedia’s policy on conflicts of interest (which explicitly allows for such editing), and the requirement that articles maintain a neutral point-of-view, and be referenced. Short “stub” articles can be created in the first instance.

(If council staff are hesitant to do so themselves, then I can help to pair them up with volunteer Wikipedia editors who will assist them, or create articles directly.)

Update: Added Dudley & Lichfield district examples.