Beyond october

In a few weeks time (October 12th) I’m going to be leaving Open Data Services Co-op and starting a short career-break of sorts: returning to my research roots, spending some time exploring possible areas of future focus, and generally taking a bit of time out.

I’ll be leaving projects in capable hands, with colleagues at Open Data Services continuing to work on Open Contracting, Beneficial Ownership, 360 Giving, IATI and Social Economy data standards projects. One of the great advantages of the worker co-operative model we’ve been developing over the last three and a half years is that, instead of now needing to seek new leaders for the technical work on these projects, we’ve been developing shared leadership of these projects from day one.

I first got involved in the development of open data standards out of research interest: curious about how these elements of data infrastructure were created and maintained, and about the politics embedded within, or expressed through, them. Over the last five years my work has increasingly focussed on supporting open data standard adoption, generating tons of learning – but with little time to process it or write it up. So – at least for a while – I’ll be stepping back from day-to-day work on specific standards and data infrastructure, and hopefully next year will find ways to distill the last few years learning in some useful form.

Between now and the end of 2018, I’ll be working on editing the State of Open Data collection of essays for the OD4D network. Then in early 2019, I’m planning for a bit of time off completely, before starting to explore new projects from April onwards.

I’m imensely proud of what we’ve done with Open Data Services Co-op over the last 3.5 years, and grateful to colleague for co-creating something that both supports world-changing data projects, but that also supports team members in their own journeys. If you ever need support with an open data project, do not hesitate to drop them a line.

Adventures new

[Summary: From September 2013 – June 2014 I’ll be based in Cambridge, MA as a Fellow at the Berkman Centre]


When I signed on to undertake PhD work on the continued development of open data two years ago I thought I was opting for three years of mostly study time, whilst Rachel worked on her Music Therapy Masters at Nordoff Robbins. Of course, it didn’t work out that way: as open data as a field has developed larger and faster than most people (and certainly I) imagined, and, of course, down to my, now confirmed, inability to leave aside lots of other interesting (related) projects for a narrow  PhD focus. Fortunately, the Web Science DTC at Southampton has provided a very supportive environment for students working in applied projects alongside study, positively encouraging engagement beyond the library or lecture theatre.

So, over the last year I’ve had the fun of working with the Web Foundation to develop a global research programme on the emerging impacts of open data (we’ve belatedly published the conceptual framework for the project today), and working on a number of hands-on open data projects, with AidInfo, Open Contracting and London voluntary sector organisations amongst others. I’ve also ended up getting very involved in the UK civil society network on the Open Government Partnership, inputting into the development of the National Action Plan, which is now out for consultation and input till September. All of this has drawn upon, and fed into, my ongoing PhD work, part-time for the next year or two, but still moving forward to try and develop a framework for thinking about how technical and social choices around open data affect the realisation of progressive and inclusive democratic benefits.

And now, as Rachel approaches graduation as a Music Therapist, we’re preparing for a next adventure, heading out to live in the USA for nine months from September where I’ll be joining the Berkman Centre community as a 2013-2014 Berkman Fellow. I’m excited to be joining such a diverse and engaged community of scholars and activists. From there I’ll be continuing my focus on democratic impacts of open data, both with the Web Foundation Open Data in Developing Countries project, and PhD studies, and hopefully I’ll have the chance to engage in other projects at the centre too.

Of course, adventures new mean also leaving a few projects, so from the end of July I’ll be handing over my remaining roles at AidInfo where I’ve worked on the International Aid Transparency Initiative, and will be stepping back from a few other UK based commitments I won’t be able to undertake remotely. It’s been a particular pleasure to work with the AidInfo and IATI teams over the last few years on ambitious and exciting work to get open data on aid flowing – and I’ve learnt more than I can catalogue about open data in practice from the experience.

Although this blog has become a bit of a project-reporting space over the last year, it does remain my personal blogging space, so perhaps there might be a bit more personal blogging over the next year as I reflect on living abroad and engaging with lots of new ideas in the Berkman community…


Joining the Web Foundation, and projects old and new

[Summary: an update on some of the hats I might be wearing]


After working for the last eight or so months putting the project together, I’ve now formally joined the World Wide Web Foundation as research coordinator on the ‘Exploring the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries (ODDC)’ programme.

It’s a two-year multi-country research project, exploring how open data is working in different settings across the world, funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre. You can read more about the project over on the Web Foundation website and follow the project as it develops over at

With this, I’ve switched my PhD work to part-time, but will continue to work with AidInfo on work related to the International Aid Transparency Initiative, and working through Practical Participation on assorted innovation and advocacy projects.


PhD and Practice

[Summary: study as part of practice]

This week was my first as a full-time PhD student with the Web Science Doctoral Training Centre and the Social Science department at Southampton University. It’s just under a year since I put in an application to start, and the start-date has pretty much fallen in one of the busiest month I’ve known: in part as I’ve tried (and failed) to sequence projects to finish before I started, and as a number of exciting events, projects and deadlines with the Internet Governance Forum, and International Aid Transparency Initiative, and Journal of Community Informatics and work on young people and technology, have all converged on the last and next few weeks.

Which makes for an interesting start to a PhD. But I hope, a positive one: with a clear reminder that I want three years of PhD not to be about three-years of stepping away from or outside of practice, looking to specialize into some narrow disciplinary structure for the purpose of a future academic careers; but to be about connecting research, theory and practice in mutually supporting ways.

I originally titled this post ‘Creating creative tension: PhD and Practice’ – as right now it feels like that is what I’m doing: setting up an interesting tension between the drivers in a number of projects to deliver some clear outcomes, and the drivers of early PhD study to spend time widening the horizons of my reading, broadening out with no outcomes yet in mind. But I’m not sure ‘in tension’ is the best way to keep practice and study over the coming years: so, time to dig out a reading list on theory, practice and praxis.

A logistical note:

Taking on a full-time PhD does mean that I’ve got limited personal capacity for new freelance projects over the coming months and I’ll be focussing on projects that overlap with my area of study on open data and civic engagement. Practical Participation more generally however continues to take on projects with Bill Badham and Alex Farrow leading on all things youth-engagement.

Dissertation complete!

If you were wondering why things had been so quiet on this blog of late, it had quite a bit to do with the trials of writing up my MSc Dissertation, which, I finally submitted just over a week back.

I’ll hopefully be able to share the whole thing, and some of the findings in a more accessible form, in September.

For now, time for some time off.

Sporadic blog posts may occur in the coming few weeks, but normal blogging will be resumed in September…

Social Reporting the Internet Governance Forum

Tomorrow morning I’m heading out to Egypt to join the Diplo/IKM team to help facilitate youth-led social reporting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

We’ll be tweeting on the #igf09 tag, blogging on the Diplo Internet Governance Ning, and hopefully bringing it all together with some live-blogging, video interviews and webcasting on this NetVibes page.

To support our team of Social Reporters I put together this quick handbook, and I’ve tried to make the first few pages more ‘general purpose’ that just for IGF. It’s uploaded under Creative Commons of course, and I’ll put together a revised version based on how it goes down in the next few days.

I’ll try and post with a bit more background and more links to interesting goings on at IGF in the next few days – but for now – back to packing.

An update of sorts

[Summary: I’m heading into full time study, and Practical Participation welcomes Bill Badham as our work continues to grow]

I’ve been informally sharing the news in tweets and conversations for a while now – but I realise I’ve been remiss in keeping readers of this blog up-to-date with a couple of big changes for me. So – here’s the news:

In two weeks I start a full time MSc at the Oxford Internet Institute and St Cross College – studying for a taught course in the ‘Social Science of the Internet’. I’ve been wanting to return to University to spend some quality time studying and building by research skills for a while now – and so I’m extremely excited about the opportunity to spend the next 10 months deepening my understanding of both social scientific methods and contemporary scholarship of the internet (and of course, to get back into student life…)

Practical Participation
When I discovered I was heading back to University I thought that might mean a drop in activity for Practical Participation, the consultancy organisation which has emerged from, and acted as a vehicle for, my work over the last couple of years.

However, it turns out that is not to be – and next week Bill Badham will be joining as a co-director of Practical Participation, as we expand and refocus our work on supporting and catalysing action around youth participation and the ethical, effective use of social technology in participation and work with young people.

Bill is not only a thought and practice leader in his deep commitment to children’s rights and to youth participation, but he has also been my friend, mentor and colleague for the last 10 years – so I’m delighted that Bill is on board shaping the future of Practical Participation.

MSc + Practical Participation
Of course, as I’ll be studying full-time, my work with Practical Participation may take on a slightly different form. Whilst Bill will be out actively supporting organisations in their youth engagement work, I’ll be focussing on catalysing action around digital youth work & participation – working in-between times of study to carry on delivering innovation projects and get involved in developing and delivering training.

So –

  • I may be a bit slower getting back to work related e-mails & less able to make meetings & conferences during term-time;
  • But, look out for exciting new development emerging as we find out how best to use Practical Participation to create and catalyse social change;

Plus, keep an eye out for the new Practical Participation website and blog coming soon.

And Oxford Sing…
And whilst I’m talking of exciting developments, there is one I can’t take credit for, but which I’m still pretty chuffed about. As well as helping out with the work of Practical Participation, making our recent house move work smooth as anything, and taking on tricky task of making me take a full weeks holiday last week – my wife Rachel has been launching her own freelance community enterprise – now running singing for health and community music workshops across and around Oxford.

The journey continues…

Social Network Sites & Social Change Communication

Picture 32[Summary: the ‘Future Connect’ paper on Social Networking and AIDS Communication has just been published by Communications for Social Change Consortium]

Back in February I mentioned a project I was working on with Pete Cranston for AIDS2031, through Communications for Social Change Consortium (CFSC). We were tasked with taking a global look at how young people were engaging with social networking, and what opportunities and challenges that created for HIV/AIDs communicators in communicating with young people.

We finished the paper back in April, but it’s taken a while for it to make it’s way to being available online. But it now is – and you can find the full report to browse, or download as a PDF here.

Whilst we put the report together in the context of work for AIDS2031, and many of the case studies and examples have a HIV/AIDS element to them, my hope is that the full report also provides useful input for anyone exploring how young people in the UK and beyond are engaged with social networking.

In particular, you can take a look at:

The report also includes a full section looking comparatively at social networking by young people in South Africa, UK, Brazil, India and Thailand as well as our attempt to look forward to unfolding trends and future possibilities.

This hope is that this report is only the first step for further work by CFSC and Pete Cranston looking at tracking emerging trends in the use of social networks for social change communication – so all feedback and comments, and ideas for future developments, are most welcome.

Looking back & looking forward: 2008 & 2009

[Summary: A quick look back at 2008, and a look forward to plans for 2009]

2008 has been a busy year indeed. It’s been my first full year working completely freelance and I’ve worked on some great projects from running an online course for Oxfam activists, through the stacks of work around Youth Work, Youth Engagement and Social Networking and developing the SMS and website platform for a national climate change campaign.

I’ve also found myself video reporting at the 2008 E-Campaigning Forum (the content is available as part of recently launched and really handy Fairsay Insights e-campaigning toolkit), organising the UK Youth Online unconference in September, fasciliting the development of the resulting Youth Work Online network of practioners, and writing a module on youth participation for the Open University Foundation Course in Youth Work, I started out 2008 living in Leicester, but in June made the move back down to Oxford – and have been getting involved once more in Fairtrade campaigning, resulting a few weeks ago in the @askforfairtrade campaign.

I’ve been really fortunate that all these projects, and the many other bits of consultancy, research and writing not mentioned above, have all offered great opportunities for reflective learning, and I’m looking forward to a lot more in 2009. From Action Learning around Social Network Sites and Youth Engagement, to exploring youth led innovation, and innovation in the provision of information for young people I’m set for a packed, but I hope, really interesting and collaborative, 2009. However, most exciting of all for me, I’ve just got confirmation that from October next year I’ll be getting to devote even more time to in depth exploration of the impact of social media on social processes and social change, when I start on a year-long MSc in the Social Science of the Internet at the Oxford Internet Institute.

Thanks to everyone who has been reading and sharing comment and insights here on Tim’s Blog or over on Twitter in 2008. Wishing you all the best for 2009!

Innovation in Participatory Learning

If you’ve been inspired by UK Youth Online to plan a project that pilots new models of online youth work or participatory learning through digital technology then you might like to check out the MacArthur/HASTAC Digital Media Learning competition.

The competition is offering between $30,000 and $250,000 for innovations in participative learning using digital technology. The deadline is tight (October 15th) but it would be great to see UK youth sector groups putting in proposals.

I would be happy to offer free support to any UK based groups thinking about putting in a bid – just drop me a line.