Not only but also

By | November 2, 2013

I wrote an posting a while back, at the invitation of CDEC, taking about the development of the Catapult’s Open Health Data Platform. It suggested that a good next step would be to provide some support for the wider development community, especially those unfamiliar with the related technologies, to encourage them to explore the potential of the platform, as a way to lower barriers to engagement and to accelerate take-up of these new technologies across the wider developer community.

A recent response to that on the Catapult blog suggested that developers who were really interested, would have the flexibility to learn how to use and thereby to engage with the Open Health Data Platform. I don’t disagree, but that wasn’t really the point I was making.

Setting the Digital Economy Ablaze

Hackathon in progress: engaging the time-rich part of the developer demographic is essential, but reaching out to the wider community could also be important to seed rapid, wide take-up of disruptive technology.

The CDEC platform has been launched largely without documentation, targetting, in effect, the time-rich part of the developer demographic – those who can spare a day or two, without that additional documentation or support, to explore how the Platform works and why they should engage with it.  Early release is certainly a useful first step. But there is more to igniting the Digital Economy than setting firelighters: you need to do so in such a way that it catches and spreads rapidly.

In practice, the vast majority of developers in the Digital Economy are more time-strapped, typically having not only busy work schedules but also, as research shows, significant home commitments.

So for professional developers looking to access the CDEC repository, to find minimal software documentation may just be enough to put most of them off, since it falls far short of the support they might normally expect to help them evaluate the worth and quality of a software release, let alone whether to engage with it.

How might the wider community be supported to rapidly uptake new technologies?

Nice app. Now, can we play with the lego blocks?

Setting the digital economy ablaze then, is not just about accelerating the commercialisation of selected innovations, but also of encouraging the uptake of the associated technologies as widely as possible. This aspect of the Catapult’s potential – ensuring the accelerated, widespread take-up of disruptive technologies – could be more fully exploited in the Open Health Data Platform’s case, in some quite simple ways.

For example, it would be comparatively straightforward to provide fuller documentation for their software releases, not just to meet the expectation of those who would normally expect fuller documentation to help them determine the rigour, robustness, platform-independence and portability of open software, but perhaps also to support and win-over those in the community who are new to the associated technologies.

Another simple solution would be to provide tools or support that would let a developer who is new to the technologies, in a couple of hours, get a result – at least a proof-of-concept demonstrator that could be used to get buy-in from their manager to take it further.

What might such a tool look like? Perhaps something quite simple, that allowed interested users to upload their own per-area test data, along with the relevant text they wanted to appear, maybe also with a few other customisable options if feasible.

With a facility along those lines, you could most likely quickly produce a simple proof-of-concept demonstrator, iframed with the look & feel of your own organisation’s website, that might much more easily convince management that there is something of relevance to spend time on exploring, and something valuable to re-use.

And perhaps that time-stretched part of the demographic is where developers are more likely to have the ear of decision makers, and to be well placed to win the hearts and minds of the SME and public sector leaders whose support could facilitate the accelerated adoption of new technologies across the wider Digital Economy.


Hackathon image: Wiki Commons