The GeoVation camp is designed to help GeoVation finalists develop their ideas into prototype ventures, supported by external helpers. Chris Jones describes his experience as a Land Registry helper.

Friday 16 January

We arrived at the Ordnance Survey (OS) building in Southampton on Friday evening for the start of the GeoVation Challenge camp. This was an informal meet and greet by the hosts and organiser nonon. There the volunteers from Land Registry and OS, aka the ‘campers’, would get to meet the finalist teams we’d be working with, aka the ‘Geovators’.

I was paired with Red Ninja Studios, a young company from Liverpool focused on making a difference to people’s lives using technology. They were very driven, very enthusiastic and very smart. I had no idea what I’d be doing or how I’d fit in, but knew it would be unlike anything else I’d ever done.

Saturday 17 January

I was right!

We were warned by the organisers that there was a punishment for being late for sessions. Poor time-keeping would result in the individual(s) having to dance on stage for the amusement of everyone there. One team did arrive late but were pardoned because they’d not made it to the Friday session and were blissfully unaware of the punishment.

The organisers nonon, ran the event with precision, not quite military as there was lots of fun with their style of event management. No one wanted to be first on stage but everyone was enjoying the official start to the event. Particularly for those that hadn’t seen the Ikea BookBook viral video from last year. Genius. Well worth it if you didn’t see it first time around. Battery life is eternal.

The weekend focused on one simple design framework formula:

Innovation = Problem x Solution x Execution

It was soon clear that the 10 teams that had made the finals all had strengths in one or two elements of the formula. There was work to be done to refine ideas, identify weaknesses and clarify the message the teams needed to put across to the judges.

The aim for each team was to be awarded a share of a £101,000 prize pot after judging on Sunday. Four teams would share £100,000 and one team would also win the community award of £1,000 for the presentation that got the most votes from the audience. That sort of prize pot focuses the mind of Geovators and campers!

Somewhat different to my day job with data in a much more traditional environment. Saturday passed incredibly quickly.

The Red Ninjas, Lee, Ben and Lewis fielded questions and accepted suggestions from their campers to refine the problem they wanted to address. The team had spotted an area in the management of Housing Association stock, where they could streamline the process of stock rationalisation and reduce the need to have expensive agents managing deals. Describing their idea as a or LinkedIn for Housing Associations gives a lightweight view of something that could make a huge difference to associations and to their tenants. Ultimately reducing operating costs and increasing return on investment.

But data was the focus of the challenge, using Ordnance Survey and Land Registry data to answer this question:

How can we enable people in Britain to live in better places?

Along with Jonathan Field from OS and two graphic design students, Caroline and Chandni we quickly got into the swing of things. Lego models were created, flip charts flipped, post it notes posted, coffee, coffee and more coffee, and cake. And not to forget the reading, reading, reading. Research to prove that there was a need for a professional social networking tool for housing stock. For me this highlighted how fragmented the world of social housing is.


Manage a Lego house, better

I left the team to give a quick overview of Land Registry linked data and the triplestore that holds over 400 million data items on the housing market in England and Wales. Weirdly doing that felt like I’d abandoned the team, so I got back to them as quickly as I could.

Never before has my iPad done so much. It needed a break as much as I did at the end of the day and while it was hooked up to the power in the hotel, I went to the pub to network with the other helpers and finalists.

Sunday 18 January

After an interesting evening with the Democratising Development team and the organisers nonon, Sunday morning was an early start, working through the Red Ninja Studio  presentation. They had the problem, solution and execution tied down after an incredibly productive Saturday. The business plan was sound and they’d covered revenue generation, so we could completely focus on the pitch to the judges. Through the morning sessions we refined the presentation, everyone chipping in to make Ben’s job on stage as easy as possible, using the presentation style ‘PechaKucha’.

Each team had 30 minutes with two judges before the final presentation. I thought the Geovators were driven but the judges took things up a level. Roland Harwood and Jane Davidson went over every detail of the idea, but the team did a brilliant job fielding questions and supplying facts.

For the final presentation the Red Ninja had six slides to describe the entire venture. Each slide was displayed for 30 seconds before automatically moving to the next, a fast and pressurised format that allowed no room for waffle. We quickly found that there was a weird time distortion effect between individual slides, 30 seconds was either a very long time (introduction) or really not enough at all (problem).

Slide content was incredibly important no death by PowerPoint, everything had to be relevant, focused and above all clear. It’s hard to distill an idea into six slides, but that was the challenge facing all the teams.

Then Ben’s moment on stage came, time to introduce Smart Asset Management (SAM) to the camp.


Lee and Lewis watching Ben with SAM

SAM is the Red Ninja Smart Asset Management product, “… a mutual value proposition for both housing associations and tenants.” He nailed it, describing the problem for social housing associations, the solution from Red Ninja and how they would execute it in the time allocated. Then there was a 3 minute Q&A session from the other four judges, which they handled well, albeit with some nervousness on stage in front of the entire camp. I was glad I wasn’t up there with them!

After watching all the teams present we had to wait. OS continued to ply us with excellent food (brilliant all weekend) and a selection of non-alcoholic drinks. Sadly I missed the paper aeroplane competition as I was whisked off for photos and to generate a video sound-bite. Hopefully OS won’t have a need for the nervous video contribution from me.

And then the results.

It’s fair to say that I was, am still gutted for Lee, Ben and Lewis. They didn’t get funding despite having a pitch that I felt was definitely in the top four. Their vision was clearer than most and their passion for what they do came across in everything they did. With any luck I’ll be able to help them utilise data from Land Registry in the future, I certainly hope so.

A confession

I didn’t really want to go.

I think that I’m not very good at ‘stuff’ like GeoVations and as a result I’ve never tried to attend anything like the weekend camp, despite knowing that these events could be really interesting. On arrival at OS I felt intimidated by a group of people that were obviously enthusiastic, talented and driven. Things I can struggle with. I wondered out loud if I could be of any use or provide any worth to a group.

But this last nine months I’ve learned, been forced sometimes to keep my eyes open – even when I want to shut them. That initial trepidation soon passed as I realised that without exception, the people in the room were genuinely friendly and only interested in getting the best from everyone who was there to work.

Both days flew past.  As well as a very interesting insight into data usage and a set of problems completely new to me, it was also an experience of working in an environment that was utterly alien to me. The whole event was a very positive experience.

As for the development, well I rarely use post-it notes anywhere. I have some very old ones from IBM Enterprise Services to prove it, and Lego? But the atmosphere created by the Geovators, nonon, OS staff and campers was infectious, so slipping into a different way of working was painless and productive.

Without hesitation the weekend was the best experience I’ve had at work for as long as I can remember.  I can only hope that my contribution was valuable.


The Team: Chris, Lee, Chandni, Jonathan, Lewis and Ben

This blog was originally published on Chris Jones’ own blog and has been reproduced with his permission. Photos credit: Chris Jones.

Chris Jones
By Chris Jones,
Data Analyst at HM Land Registry