Hacking Culture Hack

Culture Hack Day in January was an event for people who make things with data, accompanied by a stream of inspiring talks. It seemed to be a success, and I’ve spent some time recently thinking (and talking to Katy Beale) about what to do with it next.

The original event was intended to be a barnraiser: something that said to the cultural sector, “Look! There’s a whole world of other ways of doing things out there, and we can do them too!”. Unlike some other hacks, it wasn’t a way of making sense of an abundance of linked data (because there isn’t one – yet), but it was an exploration of the possibilities that linked data + collaborative practice could bring to the worlds of arts and culture if we decided to let them in.

And, brilliantly, it’s now taken on a life of its own with upcoming Culture Hacks in Ireland, Scotland and the North of England.  We’re working on a kit of parts that explains how to do the nuts and bolts, but the idea is that it’s an open-source project: if you do it better, then tell us how, and then everyone can make their event more effective the next time.

But in the meantime, there are two distinct strands of activity that need to happen to allow the idea of Culture Hack to usefully evolve:

  • advocacy around linked open data
  • new kinds of digital/creative collaboration in the cultural sector

The way to achieve these is likely to be very different. One is policy based, and will rely upon investment, planning and hard work, while the other is about getting people in the room together to Make Cool Stuff and Think Interesting Things. So there’s a long game, and a series of fun, short sprints that will hopefully combine together to make a great deal of change. And while the advocacy stream is likely to be more difficult, I hope to be able to announce some smaller multi-disciplinary events (for technologists, producers, artists and anyone-else-who’s-interested) in the next few weeks. These will be about making, prototyping and proposing and, if a pot of money falls from the sky, might even be about commissioning. Let’s see.

In the meantime, there’s a piece of work to be done around advocacy, which needs more thought and consideration, in order to persuade the people who look after the data to expose it in new ways. And I’m not entirely sure how to do that bit. So if you have any thoughts about it, please do say: if we don’t manage our arts and cultural data in the right way, then the digital world will be a poorer place – with less of the beauty, truth and amazement than we have in the physical world around us.

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2 thoughts on “Hacking Culture Hack

  1. I was at the LinkedGov hack that was held over the weekend and had a natter with some of the folks there about how they’re going about the advocacy job in their sector (I’m great company, no really). As you’d probably expect it works on a few levels and there are all sorts of people involved in different ways.

    At one end, there are the big-hitters like Tim Berners-Lee and Francis Maude doing the agenda-setting stuff and making the case to key organisation heads.

    At department level (where LinkedGov operate, as I understand it), it turns out that what’s achieved results most effectively has been a few people having a few quiet words with the right people and then supporting them where needed. The job’s far from finished – there’s more data to release, it’s not always in the right formats and it needs to be discoverable by the people who can make use of it.

    However, they’re now at a stage where the default position has shifted from closed to open, with the Creative Commons-esque Open Government Licence which doesn’t ask for much beyond attribution (including/especially when using the money to make money from it).

    Of course, the decision/compulsion for governments to open up data is much more clean cut than it will be for most arts organisations (and commercial entities, for that matter). The biggie being that any money ‘lost’ by giving away commercial rights comes back to government in taxation.

    As for the hack days, as well as doing the important bit of making people talk to each other/get excited/make things, they help with the advocacy side of things too. The one last weekend was a chance for LinkedGov (working as a government department interface) and the Technology Strategy Board (acting as a link to tech entrepreneurs/businesses) to strengthen their own positions as much as anything. The case studies/prototypes will help them but they now also have a collaborative project under their belts (which will help next time they want to do something bigger together).

    The approach on the arts side of things will most likely be different but there might be some things to copy/lessons to learn/joint efforts.

    This most likely isn’t anything new to you, but I thought it was worth a scribble. Meanwhile I’m going back to my ‘no comments longer than the original post’ rule.

    1. Hello! This is really interesting, thank you.

      In the arts and cultural sectors, there aren’t so many people who are listening to the things that Nigel Shadbolt and Tim Berners-Lee might have to say, and it’s difficult to know who the top-flight advocates in the sector might be. I think that’s the first job: finding some influencers to influence around exciting possibilities.

      Undoubtedly, the museums and galleries sector is streets ahead of the performing arts (for instance, the National Maritime Museum), as there’s an active culture of cataloguing, meaning that information management is stitched into lots of ongoing activity, but it’s often seen as a slightly unglamorous back office function, rather a potential source of creative development and exploitation. There’s *lots* more work to do in the performing arts sector (and, I would say, generally the organisations who sit beneath the ACE banner), as there tends to be a bigger preoccupation with the here and now: presenting work today, tomorrow, next week, rather than documenting by way of common standards. For instance, lots of RFOs (as they still are) are quite hung up on the idea of making films, but they often pay little thought to how they might store and describe it, which (in my experience) tends to be seen as boring but essential, and easy not to do when there are fun creative possibilities looming over the horizon. Whereas books have the amazing advantage of wearing their metadata in an easily processable format, lots of other cultural assets have much more hidden qualities.

      Also, I really think there’s scope for an open data standard in the sector. Lots of orgs don’t own the rights to all of their assets, so there’s a minefield there, but there may well be a model where we can separate metadata (and achieve findability) and make that more available, which would surely increase overall revenue opportunities in the long term.

      So yes, you’re entirely right, and these are the two big tasks that I think would benefit from some collaborative working/lobbying to resolve.

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