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Suffolk Council CIO Mark Adams-Wright packing local punch

Mark Chillingworth | April 12, 2013
"The enthusiasm to take risks and make big changes is pretty healthy," says Mark Adams-Wright, CIO of Suffolk County Council. At the council's Ipswich headquarters he describes the journey the authority is on to become a thriving community that subtly embraces technology while remaining a rural idyll.

Local knowledge

To seed mobile apps growth, Adams-Wright turned to the people that knew the most about Suffolk - the county's residents - and a hack day was organised at the shiny new Suffolk County Council offices and develop an app. Council supplier and information management vendor Jadu provided a library of templates for apps and a full Java development kit, but it was ideas that Adams-Wright was really interested in.

"We wanted a Suffolk app for Suffolk people by Suffolk people, so we got them to tell us what they wanted. We created a hotline for people to tell us app ideas and we ran workshops with staff to work out what data we had to work with and from their ideas, what apps were needed too.

"By the hack day itself we had already amassed 60-plus concepts and on the day we had a similar amount of people join us to code and develop apps. We really created a connection between the authority and the Suffolk development community and enthusiasts alike.

"The variety of people was great, we had seven-year-olds up to pensioners. In the end a 17-year-old from Woodbridge won the top prize with a schools closures information app that used simple green and red colour banners to inform Suffolk residents if a school was open or closed due to snowfall, for example. He impressed the judging team because he had a great ability to explain the app's logic, but he was not a developer - in fact he came at the last minute with a friend and now has an internship with Jadu.

"We now have six apps that residents can download. We decided not to make any major changes to the winning app so it and its success story can be showcased," Adams-Wright adds.

"To keep the mobile area fresh and relevant, I want to continue to develop our mobile apps through crowd sourcing. At the hack day we had people from Norfolk County Council as well as a well-known political blogger and the whole feeling towards crowd sourcing has changed here," he says.

To encourage further development, Suffolk is creating a portal offering items for professional and amateur app developers alike to work with, and the local Ruby developers' group has expressed interest in hosting events with the council.

"People see that the council can deliver experiences in a credible way. Technology is growing as a part of society. The hack day was really powerful as it was about the outcome," says Adams-Wright.

Getting taxpayers actively involved, he says, is in line with one of Prime Minister David Cameron's flagship policies.

"The Big Society idea is about less central control and more local decisions. So it's important that we help society help itself. It helps the authority open up to people who can help; they are like-minded people who can achieve things."

 

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