Educating Generation Open Making the Future Better With Data

Image by James Cattell via Twitter

We’ve been doing a lot of work around data literacy in Sheffield since we started Better With Data. It’s core to our goal as an organisation, and so it’s been really exciting to work with Sheffield Council and the UTC Sheffield Trust to embed open data into the mainstream and enrichment curricula of schools in the city.

We shared our ambition and progress on this at the ODI Summit today.  The slides are below – full attributions and more links to follow.

If you’d like to talk about any of the ideas, or get involved with supporting either Computing as a Family Experience or UTC Sheffield‘s employer programme, please do get in touch via

Research from the European Data Science Academy is indicating what we already know in our guts.

That we’ll be massively short of data-savvy knowledge workers over the next few years.

We’re tackling this head on in Sheffield – taking a city-wide approach with partners to nurture Generation O.

We’re doing this by embedding open data education directly into mainstream curriculum and enrichment activities across schools, for students aged 11 to 19.


I have to tell you upfront that it’s not just for the economic, employment and education reasons that we’re driving this.

The mission at Better With Data is to support the conditions for vibrant and engaged communities.

That requires better civic dialogue and engagement, and data literacy is an important means of opening up the conversation and stimulating citizen agency.

It’s not just for data scientists.

Our ambition is for a city and a generation that is naturally steeped in open data culture and network thinking.


We shared this vision with the Lifelong Learning and Primary Education teams at Sheffield Council.

Let me tell you what they did.


2016 is the Year of Making in Sheffield, and the Council is running a programme to encourage  digital making across the city.

It will give 11-14 year old students the opportunity to build and programme robots, create sonic experiments on the Raspberry Pi, and to design and code mobile apps.

It’s pretty exciting stuff, and students get to choose 2 out of those 3 options on the programme.

Data was going to be amongst those options. But let’s be honest, given a choice between robots, Raspberry Pi and open data, most kids will pick robots and Pi, and data would never get a look in.


Instead, committed to the vision of creating a better informed citizenship from early years, the Council’s Education team has taken the bold step to underpin the programme with core open data training.

As ODI certified trainers, we’re working with them to develop a module that covers what open data is, where it comes from, why it is important and how it can be used.

It’s the only module in the digital making programme that is not optional for students.


The basic open data concepts aren’t really that difficult.

And kids are smart.

So we’re using the same kinds of ideas and techniques that we use when training grownups in the public, voluntary and private sectors.


Tools like the ODI’s Data Spectrum.


And the Data Insights Card and Canvas Toolkit that we have developed at Better With Data.

Some of you may have tried this out in our Civil Society training taster yesterday.

We’re using this toolkit to to stimulate the imagination of students, helping them explore and discover new creative opportunities for interesting datasets that they can then bring to life through robots, Sonic Pi or mobile apps.


The programme is being rolled out to 6 participating schools in the first half of next year, each providing 15 student ambassadors.


So that’s 90 students aged 13-14 receiving core open data training.


And each of those then cascades training to a number of  younger students (roughly age 11).

By the end of the school year we’ll have over 600 students imagining, innovating and experimenting with open data.


This enrichment programme is called CAFE: Computing as a Family Experience.

The taught modules will be supported by a hackday in spring as well as a summer camp to open up the training to students in other schools, as well as participant’s families.

To that end, Generation O also means Generation Older.

Involving parents in the data literacy and innovation process is a really important step to creating the environment we want.


Beyond Sheffield, this model is being extended with our network of European city partners in a programme called Make Learn Share over the next 2 years.

Once the imagination is captured, though, where next for young people?


Better With Data is a founding sponsor of a new £10 million, purpose-built, school for 14-19 year olds.

This University Technical College – the second in Sheffield – opens its doors in September 2016.

It emphasises a vocational education experience with a strong employer role in working with students on projects with real-world learning challenges.

Uniquely, UTC Sheffield will specialise in both Human Sciences and Applied Computing.

Human Sciences covers intensely data-rich domains such as Healthcare, Wellbeing and Sports Science, and Better With Data is leading a data-driven approach to the Computing curriculum.

And not just from a technical perspective.

Being able to communicate effectively with data is an increasingly critical skill, as is being able to creating engaging products.

So we’re embedding User Experience training in the employer-driven projects that students do, supported by Psychology in the academic offer and a dedicated UX Research Lab in the facilities.

We round and elevate the education offer with Philosophy to reinforce logic skills, critical thinking and data ethics.

We want our next generation not only to be technically accomplished to deliver good stuff, but also equipped to do right for society.


Educating for Generation Open requires huge commitment and collaboration. At Better With Data we’re in it for the long game.

I’d love to talk with any of you that would like to join us on that journey, especially to support our CAFE summer camp and student projects at the UTC.


Thank You