What is a community interest company, and why have we become one?

On 18th April 2015 Bath: Hacked became a community interest company. In this post I wanted to briefly outline what that means for Bath: Hacked and what we’re hoping to achieve next.

We’ve successfully achieved our two initial goals of publishing open data about the B&NES area and demonstrating that there is an engaged local tech community capable of working with that data. But in order to take the project forward to achieve some of our long term goals and ensure some stability, we needed to formalise what we’ve been doing.

One of our key ambitions for Bath: Hacked is to demonstrate that it is viable to create a local open data infrastructure that is owned not just by local government, but by all of the organisations and people in the local area.

We believe that community owned infrastructure provides a more inclusive platform for publishing and using open data. While we’ve had amazing support and engagement from Bath & North East Somerset Council, we want to enable all kinds of organisations, ranging from small charities and community groups to larger commercial companies to easily share data about the local area.

For that to happen the infrastructure needs to be owned and operated by a neutral third-party whose responsibility is to ensure that the infrastructure remains available, whilst providing the necessary support to ensure that the data is easily accessible for anyone to use for any purpose.

We want Bath: Hacked to be that organisation for Bath & North East Somerset.

Why a community interest company?

A community interest company (CIC) is a type of social enterprise. Like a charity it has a stated mission, known as the “community interest statement“, and a clearly defined set of activities. There are also restrictions on how it can spend its money. The “asset lock” for a CIC states that it must reinvest any revenue that it generates in supporting its local community and furthering its mission.

This is exactly the kind of business entity that we think reflects our goals. There are also appropriate controls and oversight from the CIC regulator to ensure that we are acting responsibly, whilst avoiding all of the overheads associated with running a charity. Bath: Hacked will continue to be a volunteer led organisation, so we’re aiming to reduce overheads wherever possible.

Over the past few months there have been open discussions, in person and on our slack channel, to shape up the company. Our community interest statement is:

As a community interest company, Bath: Hacked will work with local residents, charities, organisations and the council of Bath & North East Somerset to enable better access to open data about the local area. Our goal is to help improve the lives of local residents through a better understanding of the local area.

Our key activities will be to:

  • Create a freely available “data store” that will provide access to open data for the B&NES region, including data available from central government, local government, local businesses, and provided by the local community
  • Work with the local community to demonstrate how increased access to data can benefit the lives of people living and working in the B&NES area

This gives us a clear scope to work within. Needless to say we will continue to operate according to the Golden Rules that have guided us to date.

There are six Directors for the CIC who will be responsible for the initial running of the organisation, these are: Leigh Dodds, Tatjana Humphries, Jack McConnell, Mark Owen, Richard Speigal, and Michael Youngman. We’ve written into the company constitution that Directors positions are purely voluntary. Leigh Dodds will be acting as the Chair for the first year.

But we wouldn’t have gotten to this stage without all of the effort that Richard put in to get the whole thing off the ground. Big thanks to Richard for all of his efforts to date. We’d also like to thank Socrata who have offered us fantastic encouragement and support in helping to make the data store a reality.

What does this mean for Bath: Hacked?

For anyone who has so far contributed to Bath: Hacked, e.g. helping us to run events, attending hack days, or helping us to curate and publish data, there will be no change.

We will continue to invite anyone who wants to contribute, in any form, to come and help out. For example we have a steering meeting to plan our next hack day this Wednesday and curators nights listed in our meetup group. We’re still a community group and we won’t achieve our goals without the participation and involvement of the local community.

However we will be letting people sign-up to join Bath: Hacked. This will enable those who are interested in having a say in voting on any key decisions made by the organisation, including selection of the Directors in coming years. Watch this space for further news on that.

The main change will be that we now have a formal business entity for Bath: Hacked. This will enable us to seek grant funding, sponsorship, and other forms of revenue to help make the project sustainable. We’ll be sharing more details on that over the coming weeks.

If you are a local business or other social enterprise and you interested in talking to us about sponsorship or other ways to support us, we’d love to hear from you. We think Bath: Hacked has the potential to demonstrate the potential for how open data can be of benefit at a local level and we’d love to partner with others interested in helping us on that journey.

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