HACK | Openness

Posted on 29/09/2011


After my recent attendance at the Open Government Data Conference, I’ve been looking at some mash-ups and data hacks. One that I am finding particularly useful is Suburban Trends created by Alejandro Metke and Michael Henderson. This mash-up combines publicly available online resources of the Australia Bureau of Statistics, Australian Institute of Criminology, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research and Google to provide a mechanism for comparing Australia suburbs (via postcode). It’s not confined to suburbs as any postcode in the country can be entered. However, note that this data is organised by postcode rather than SLA (the geographic standards are also changing for the 2011 census).

I’ve been particularly interested in the links across social and creative capital and place across different settlement patterns as the basis (or ground) for development and capacity building. Yesterday, for example, I participated in a think tank which considered some opportunities for attracting, retaining, nurturing and growing ‘talent’ – social capital, creative capital and place are integral for this. While others at the roundtable were highly versed in questions of economics, my interests remain grounded in community, culture and engagement (governance) dimensions of sustainability. I was particularly delighted to hear a prominent urban designer call for the end of planning hierarchies and a prominent urban planning/geography scholar call for the end of planning templates.

Talent in regional areas is significantly about means; the attraction/retention of talent is not the end but rather than the means, just as the development of property is a means to an end. From my perspective as a social and cultural planner, there needs to be a well articulated vision or aspiration, a future to create or co-create. That vision comes from communities (or populations) in their diversity and breadth – the nuts and bolts of planning and economic development are merely the means by which that aspiration is achieved and the conditions for change are created. Taking a cue from Dr Terry Cutler’s presentation at the Open Government Data event, while collaboration emerged as a key requirement, the question of openness did not seem to bubble through.  In his presentation he spoke of the role of social, creative and intellectual capital in activating information flows. Attracting ‘multipliers’ seems to be vital to this goal of ‘innovative regions’, in that the agency of such talented people can effect change in organisations, bureacracies and businesses. Such people also initiate businesses. However, in cultivating the ground for such activity, I suspect a number of layers need to be peeled back and that the regulatory environment needs to be made more conducive to the growth of enterprise and enterprise. Cutler also noted the challenges posed by wicked problems and the need for a more combinatorial approach to innovation. It sometimes seems we are caugth in a vicious circle where adherance to ‘the same’ effectively results in a downward spiral. What does it take to catalyse a ‘virtuous circle’?

At the human level, however, Suburban Trends provides a very useful snapshot of the challenges and opportunities for building capacity and also for understanding regional differences. When I compare West End and Blackall I can see the challenges quite starkly as they are reflected in economic advantage, education levels, walkability and public transport access. Creative and intellectual capital and place factors (capacity) are vital to the future prosperity of communities and this means some level of renegotating culture and value. Without openness, a fundamentally cultural condition or value, the ability to effectively draw on and activate that capital is greatly diminished.