An open letter to Aberdeen City Council

It has been well documented that there is a problem with Aberdeen City Council and their approach to Smart City and Open Data in particular. See these posts, these requests and this github page from a project at CTC11, where we tried to help fix things. Today, a Finnish researcher on Smart Cities posted this on Reddit!  International reputation? What international reputation!

Now it appears that in the relaunch last week of the Aberdeen City Council website, the council has ditched masses of content. This includes the city-wide What’s On which was until recently the most heavily-used part of the council website and which provided an extremely useful community resource.

More digging – well Googling of some popular terms for council website content  and functions – returns nothing but 404 errors. See the list below for some examples.

When, in 2006 when when the site last underwent a major update, the small team took just six months on the transition, beginning to end. No content was lost or broken, and with URL rewriting and redirects they ensured that everything worked on day one.

The council have been working on the current relaunch – on and off as managers were swapped around or were dispensed with – for two years! And the mess of the site, with massive holes in content and functionality,  far outweighs the much-improved look and feel.

So, what is the plan to restore content, much of which is a matter of public record?

We, as tax-payers, have paid for the creation of functionality and information which is of significant public use. So, where has it gone?

For example where is:

Don’t the citizens of Aberdeen deserve better than this?

Maybe someone would care to make an FOI request to the city council – to ask what data the decision-making on transfer of content and functionality was based on, and get a copy of the website stats for the last three months? I think they are fed up of me.

Ian

CodetheCity 11 – First project updates

A healthy turnout for Codethecity 11. Following a few introductions, seven project ideas were pitched to the group:

  • Aberdeen open data – where is it?
  • Plant watering wifi greenhouse guardian
  • Guide to Aberdeen
  • Idea gathering system
  • Computational model of a heart
  • IOT Edge video recognition using Rasp Pi
  • Robot theatre

Following the first hour of work, six teams had formed around these ideas. Just before lunch this is how the projects looked:

Aberdeen Guide

Working on data gathering and structure, form completed by more than 30 people already and team is working no adding structure to this.

Codipi

Working with a combination of Raspberry Pi and MS Cognitive Services to do interesting things with image feeds. Hello Pi is now working, and initial research around using the image processing API.

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PROD – Please Release Open Data

Team are working on pulling together a picture of the rate of open data progress in cities across the UK. Turning this into an infographic, while also working on data santa idea.

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Out of Storage

Arduino project to create an interactive robot theatre. It’s alive – and the team are adding sophistication to the number of aspects that can be controlled.

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Feed Me Now

The greenhouse management service is coming together. Sensors are dangling out of the windows of Fraser Noble Building confirming that it’s a little chilly out there. Ian is currently experimenting with http://www.blynk.cc/ as a shortcut for getting the boards talking to the internet. Working while tied by USB already.

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Heartshare

The team is working on a simulation of a human heart – starting with a sphere as a simplistic model, and building from that.

 

What can I do at Codethecity 11?

We’ve had loads of positive comments that CTC is returning on 25-26 Nov with a Christmas themed hack weekend.

Other than at our very first CTC weekend, we’ve tended to have a theme – health, culture, sport etc. Those themes have put some shape around the weekends’ activities and helped people to identify challenges to work on, projects to tackle and solutions to develop. Which is great.

Who should attend?

Anyone – despite our name, coding is a small bit of what we do. We’d be delighted to see you if

  • You are a service user, or service provider, who has a problem with service delivery, or sees an opportunity to do things better!
  • You have an interesting in service design,
  • You are someone who wants to do more with data but isn’t sure where to start
  • You are a student (of any discipline),
  • You are someone who wants to improve their local area, or use digital and skills to improve local services,
  • You are from the third sector or local government,
  • You are curious about learning new techniques and skills to use in your day job, and finally
  • Of course, if you are a developer, designer, UX expert, data wrangler, coders, or service designer.

What to expect

For many of our serial-attendees, they know what to expect and how we work. So they are happy to go with the flow. If you haven’t been to a CTC event before, having a look at those links above will give you an idea of how things go.

Some others have asked ‘why no theme this time?’ – perhaps expecting a more traditional service-type theme.

Well …… there is a theme: FUN.

If you come along, you can interpret that pretty much as you like!

Tell me more

Here are some examples, of some suggestions that we’ve heard. How much fun you consider them is a personal matter!

  • Bruce has been posting about how he would like to crowd-source a guide to fun things to do in Aberdeen.
  • Andrew has let it be known that he wants to work on his arduino-powered mini-theatre – and you would be welcome to work on it too.
  • Steve is threatening to take some robot-artist device for you to programme to sketch rude pictures with.
  • Ian has suggested that his classmates from RGU get stuck into a resurrected project to scrape FOI data.

There also have been mention of building a Raspberry Pi-powered hadoop cluster, citizen-science style home data scraping kits and a whole bunch more.

Maybe you want to create some software to write (and tweet?) its own cracker-style jokes. Or a platform to lobby councillors to provide better open data, or anything else [We said fun – Ed].

It is entirely up to you. But as you think up some ideas, you might want to consider two things:

  • Will you manage to pitch the idea at the opening session to others so that they will work with you on it? Building a project team is much more productive than working solo on something. To do the latter you could stay at home.
  • Would it impress Santa? If you want the funny old fellow to reward your efforts you need to impress him, spread a little happiness, or make something that improves lives.

And, finally …..

If you don’t have an idea to bring, that is cool too. We’ll start the Saturday with some pitch sessions, so listen to others and join a team to work on their project which inspires you.

Don’t delay, get a ticket now! Otherwise, you might be disappointed!

See you there.

Ian, Steve, Andrew, Bruce

CTC9 – Team Presentations

In this close-out post I shall hand over to the teams themselves to walk you through their CTC9 weekend. Check out the videos using the links below. Use the ‘ctc9’ tag to find all other blog posts about the amazing volunteering experience this weekend.

Team: Soul Cats

Team: The Professionals

Team: ALISS API

CTC9 – What a weekend!

I am so glad I joined the CTC9 project as a volunteer. Blogging about this project was a tremendous experience. There are two aspects of this weekend that amazed me beyond the teams’ achievements.

The idea funnel

It was fascinating to witness the journey we all ventured on – from random ideas on post-its to distilling them down into structured approaches.

ideation
ideas ideas ideas
planning
how things fit together

Team work

The teams seemed to develop naturally based on people’s interests. It is remarkable how smoothly people from different sectors and backgrounds worked together in a very productive way. The Code the City staff did a great job in keeping us all on track.

team work

CTC9 – Near the finish line

Here’s a quick update before the big show-and-tell later on.

Team: ALISS API database

The team has developed a draft version of the website tucked away on a test server. They have established the first functional search using the category ‘social isolation’. It returns a list of service providers in the area that is drawn from the three source databases. This is a big step forward, as we now know how to program a search and are able to deliver visible results on a user interface.

The team is also working on searches based on location by postcode or radius.

One expected challenge is the extraction of information from differently formatted data sources. For example, one source database does not provide contact details in dedicated address fields but in a more general description box.

Team: Soul Cats

This group went back to focusing on the public end users. They came up with various names for this new website that make it easy to find. They played with words from Scots dialect and proper King’s English. All suggestions were googled to see whether they exist already or are buried in amongst a ton of other results. Ideally, we want something unique!

The team suggested to submit a selection of words to a public forum in order to collect opinions or votes.

Team: The Professionals

The Professionals are a spin-off group from the Soul Cats. It’s a rollercoaster with those Cats! They went back to focusing on the value this website for health care professionals. In a structured approach they answered 4 key questions:

  1. Who are key stakeholders?
  2. What are key relationships?
  3. What are key challenges?
  4. What are the gains right now if this project went live?

team-gathering

CTC9 – Sunday Morning

What a beautiful sunny morning for making my way over to CTC9 HQ. It’s a slow start today. Hey, it’s Sunday…

Since we didn’t have a close-out meeting last night, we caught up with everybody’s progress in a kick-off meeting this morning. Make sure to read the update from yesterday afternoon beforehand.

Team: ALISS API

Geek MuffinThe data is flowing! We now have access to all 3 data sources: ALISS, GCD and MILO. MILO too? Yes! As it turns computing student Mikko has been working on hooking up MILO to the project as part of Team ALISS API.

Linking up GCD encountered a stumbling block after the initial success because the WiFi network ended up blocking the website used for our API. By the sounds of it, this is in hand though.

screenshot demoNow that we are connected to all databases, they are being combined by matching titles, identifying duplicates etc. The result will provide access to searchable data from all sources via one URL. James has already launched a temporary live demo page that connects to the databases. The first rough draft is based on story boards James designed with input from the user-focused teams last night. The website is currently at an early stage; so some buttons will work, some won’t. Feel free to rummage around.

There is also a shared file repository on github. It harbours user interface code, the backend REST API and photos from our brain storming sessions.

The next big goal is to develop the visual interface further to make search results visible to the website user. At the moment results appear only in code. The team also suggested that functionalities for location-based search and prioritising search results will require more development.

Sunday team photo

Team: Soul Cats

Teams Stripy Tops and Access All Areas have merged under the new name ‘Soul Cats’ (inspired by a T-shirt). This move made sense because both have been targeting user groups – the professional user (Stripy Tops) and the public (Access All Areas) – and now felt that their paths were converging.

The teams have drawn up more specific suggestions on user requirements based on the needs of different target groups. It’s quite impressive how yesterday’s wide-roaming discussions are now funneling into concrete scenarios and solutions. The obvious conclusion is to make the web interface simple – clear language, natural keywords, self-evident icons, sensible menu structure etc.

There was some discussion around: user cases

  • options for geo-location of service providers relative to user addresses
  • including info on mobility/access issues e.g. stairs
  • including info on parking, public and community transport connections
  • including photos of the service location, exteriors and interiors, so that people easily recognise the place once there

The next steps will involve working closer with our coders and coming up with names for the page, categories etc.

Code The City 9 – It’s on!

We kicked off the ‘Code The City 9 – Health Signposting’ weekend this morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. There are just under 20 attendees from mixed backgrounds.

We have volunteered to help solve issues around health care data. One problem is that health care data are currently maintained in (at least) three unconnected systems run by different organisations. These are ALISS, GCD (Grampian CareData) and MILO. The ultimate goal of this project is to create an open data source that provides accessible up-to-date information to the public and professionals.

Continue reading Code The City 9 – It’s on!

CTC8 – Chatbots and AI -final presentations

After two days of intense activity and a whole heap of learning for all of us, Code The City #8, our Chatbots and AI weekend came to an end at tea time on Sunday.

It couldn’t have happened without the generous sponsorship of our two sponsors: The Health Alliance, and Fifth Ring, for which we are very grateful.

The weekend rounded off with presentations of each project, four of which we’ve captured on video (see below).

Each of the projects has its own Github repo. Links are included at the end of each project description. And, two days later, the projects are still being worked on!

Team: ALISS

Team ALISS worked on providing a chatbot interface onto healthcare and social data provided via the ALISS system.

ALISS bot project : Code the City 8 from Andrew Sage on Vimeo.

You can find Project ALISS’s code here on Github.

You can also watch this video of Douglas Maxwell from the Alliance being interviewed about the weekend (although at the time of writing the video is offline due to an AWS problem).

Team: City-consult

This team aimed to make the quality of consultations better through using intelligent chatbot interfaces to guide users through the process – and to provide challenge by prompting citizens to comment on previous consultees’ input.

City-Consult bot project : Code the City 8 from Andrew Sage on Vimeo.

You can find the code for City-Consult at this Github repo.

Team: NoBot

The concept for NoBot came from an initial idea which was of a bot which would make scheduling meetings easier. That spawned the idea – what if the Bot’s purpose was to make you have fewer meetings by challenging you at every turn, and in the process the bot’s personality as a sarcastic gatekeeper was born.

NoBot project : Code the City 8 from Andrew Sage on Vimeo.

The code for Nobot lives here on Github.

Team: Seymour

Sadly there is no video of the wind-up talk for Seymour. In short the purpose of Seymour is to help you keep your houseplants alive. (More details to come).

You can find the code for Seymour at this repo on Github.

Team: Stuff Happens

We started this project with the aim to help citizens find out what was happening in the myriad of local events which we each often seem to miss. Many local authorities have a What’s On calendar, sometimes with an RSS feed. None we found had an API unfortunately.

We identified that by pulling multiple RSS feeds into a single database then putting a bot in front of it, and either through scripting or applying some AI, it should be possible to put potential audiences in touch with what is happening.

Further, by enhancing the collected data – enriching it either manually or by applying machine logic, we could make it more easily navigable and intelligible.

Expect a full write-up of the challenges of this project, and what progress was made, on Ian’s blog,

There is no video, but you an find the project code here on Github.

Team: W[oa]nder

This project set out to solve the problem of checking if a shop or business was still open for the day through a Facebook bot interface – as you with wander around, wondering about the question, as it were.

W[oa]nder bot project : Code the City 8 from Andrew Sage on Vimeo.

You can find their code here.

And finally we were joined by Rory on day two who set out to assist team Stuff-Happens through developing some of the AI around terminologies or categories. That became the:

Word Association Scorer

This is now on Github – not a bot but a set of python functions that scores a given text against a set of categories.

And Finally

We had loads of positive feedback from those who attended the weekend (both old hands and newbies) and from those who watched from afar, following progress on Twitter.

We’ve published the dates for CTC9 and subsequent workshops on our front page. We hope you can join us for more creative fun.

Ian, Andrew, Steve and Bruce
@codethecity