When chairing a judging panel you ideally want a great mix of talent, knowledge and experience and I was fortunate enough to have that in spades in the panel for OpenUp. Each of the judges had a unique strength. Lucian brought communications experience having been Director of Communications in three major departments. Ashley brought marketing experience having run eConsultancy for over ten years. Charles brought an insight only a cutting edge tech journalist can have; what would the public warm to, what would people like to see? Emma, having spent many years running Rewired State, brought years of opening up data experience both from within government and now from outside it. Finally Nigel, well Nigel’s experience and prowess speaks for itself; he is open data as far as I’m concerned! Oh and I suppose me… well I know a few bits about data and launching companies.
So to the judging process – each of the four finalists were given ten minutes to present their idea with five minutes for questions. The running order was:
- Benjamin Wood, with My Neighbourhood App
- Harry Harrold, with New Premises?
- Tony Hirst, with Access to UCAS University Course Data
- Gail Knight, with The Great British Public Toilet Map
Ben got us underway with a presentation on how he felt there should be a single app which would consume data from various sources and mash that data up on a map to tell us; where our nearest dentist or GP was, when a rubbish collection will be, what shops are on the high street and incorporate a local community news service. Ben finished up by giving the judges badges and drinks mats with his logo on – a nice touch! While this idea has its merits the judges decided not to take it forward, as firstly it is a hugely ambitious project and probably not possible within the development fund available, and secondly, it does face some strong competition from existing apps that are already out there.
That’s not to say that we didn’t feel Ben couldn’t make this work because there clearly is a need.
Harry’s ‘New Premises?’ presentation was my personal favourite, because he’d used pictures of Star Wars Lego characters (does this make me sad I wonder?) to tell the story of George, an employee given the task by his boss of finding a new office for them to move to. For creative presentation Harry wins hands down! And the idea itself, a B2B product to find where to open an office, I feel stands a good chance of success in its own right. But the judges felt that it again may face strong competition from some of the existing online players and also getting the data i.e. “commercial property available to lease” may prove extremely difficult to achieve.
So that brings me to the winner and the runner up, and a close run thing it was.
I’ll start with Tony the eventual winner. Tony started his presentation by noting that his original idea was simply to say that UCAS data should be available for re-use. As he’d been shortlisted he took his idea further and explained how he’d use that data and mash it up with other open data already available to create a product which would help young people make the biggest decision of their lives. Tony wants to compare and contrast the available university courses around the country, the universities running those courses and the towns they are in. As an example, someone could compare English Literature degrees looking at the differences between courses, what the average grades were from the institution and what crime statistics were like in the area etc.
Gail’s presentation on ‘The Great British Public Toilet Map’ was easily the most evolved and in depth of the four primarily because she has been a Design Researcher for a number of years looking at ways to improve public toilets for older people. Gail presented a very compelling argument for why the data is needed and why a website mapping the toilets of the UK is vitally important. And this is why the judges were torn.
To choose between Gail and Tony was extremely difficult as both presented opportunities to help demonstrate the power of open data in terms of helping a specific community of users. Neither idea faces a strong competitor and both would be attention grabbing and adopted quickly. So what made us choose Tony over Gail then? Well it was simply that we felt open course data would help 600,000 young people decide which course and which town was best for them, in what would be their biggest life decision. Gail’s toilet map however, will help a smaller but perhaps more in need group of people and it’s for this reason that we all felt she should be runner up, though it was a very close run thing.
So, I pass my congratulations onto all the finalists. They each presented very compelling arguments and I feel all their products could all work. I am very much looking forward to seeing Tony’s developed and who knows, maybe we’ll see the others go live in the not too distant future as well.