Open Data Camp 5: the regions strike back

The Belfast unconference was a success. This article looks at attendance & demographic data.

“If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mount” — when we launched Open Data Camp, we decided to adopt the idea of a travelling show, bringing discussions about Open Data around the country, running each camp in close partnership with a local group. Belfast has been our furthest-from-London choice so far, and attendance data vindicates the choice. Among all people who declared from where they travelled, over half were locals.

From where did you start your journey to Open Data Camp?

This is extraordinary, and very different from our earlier Open Data Camp in Cardiff. There are many reasons for this, the existence of a large Open Data community in Belfast being one, and huge support by the Northern Irish Government for Open Data. It is an almost perfect 50/50 split of local vs people who travelled, some time a long way: a great combination for cross-pollination of ideas.

Map of attendee location

Open Data Camp Belfast covered three countries: the UK, the Republic of Ireland (sponsors Derilinx are based in Dublin), and one attendee from New York City. The UK map is particularly reflective of something: the camp is attractive enough for attendees to travel a long way. It’s not just a few stalwarts, but a large group, including several newbies. Moreover, the drop-out rate is relatively low (given the context of free events): 25%. This is higher than the Cardiff event, but still below the 30% we often consider normal.

Total attendee tally

Two facts are hiding behind this number:

  1. we reached 110 attendees on day 1: it’s the second consecutive event where we surpass 100 attendees on the first day
  2. for the first time in its history, Open Data Camp was attended by a Permanent Secretary, Hugh Widdis of the Department of Finance for Northern Ireland.

I noted on Twitter that events like Open Data Camp don’t need to be in London to have an outstanding attendance.

Diversity-wise, the data tell us that Open Data Camp is still very white and male (no worries: I won’t be producing any average faces this time). Oddly, the gender split isn’t reflected in the organising committee, while the ethnic bias is. Of all attendees who reported their gender and ethnicity, only one self-described as “black”. It is the first time we collect (optional) ethnicity data, so I cannot compare to previous camps. But there’s no excuse: this is not good enough.

Reaching out is something we need to keep working on. I am not a massive fan of reserved tickets or lotteries, but I believe we need to do more to engage different communities. I prefer an approach in which we ask directly what are the obstacles met and work to address them. In some cases, these might reflect biases and difficulties of society at large on which Open Data Camp has little power; still, I don’t think we should ignore what these charts are telling us, and work way more intensely on reaching out and building an event that is not just welcoming to all, but that enables everyone to attend. A little win: the ratio male-to-female has improved this time.

Ethnicity and gender

If you have any feedback or suggestion, especially on the previous points, you are very welcome to get in touch with me or any other campmaker, and work together with us to make the camp more inclusive.

As I noted in the Open Data Camp 4 post-mortem, it was going to be difficult to beat Cardiff in terms of figures, but we’ve come very close to it. Belfast has been frankly amazing for the mixture of people from different parts of the country and a thriving local community. When we first started Open Data Camp, I was sceptical of two points:

  1. that there would be ongoing interest: I saw Open Data Camp as a one-off
  2. that there would be enough involvement outside London.

I’m very, very happy, to declare that I was very, very wrong. Till the next Open Data Camp.

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