2018 has been a really busy year for us. Here are all the things that we delivered.
Open Data Camp
We hosted UK Open Data Camp’s first ever visit North of the border in November. Over a hundred people travelled to Aberdeen for two days of unconferencing where there were 44 sessions run on a variety of data-related topics. Some people went for an Aberdeen version of the Joy Diversion walk around old Aberdeen, and others discovered the pleasure of logging Open Benches. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and there were loads of write-ups.
Code the City Hack Weekends
We had two great Code The City Events: CTC13 – Hacking our Relationship with Alcohol, and CTC14 – Archaeology. Both were well attended and produced some very interesting results. The first saw us tackling some interesting real-world problems, helping people to overcome problems, and build a machine learning model to predict whether a beer can design would be more likely to be perceived as alcoholic or not. A report of the weekend is being written as an academic paper for a forthcoming health conference!
The second weekend saw us scanning and creating 3D renders of six real skeletons with mobile phones. We also began to create a 3D model of the church in which the dig took place, and generate data from written logs to populate that.
Well done to all who participated. We got some great feedback on each event.
Wearing our ODI hats, we launched the new monthly Data Meetups in April – and managed to squeeze in nine of them this year. These are really well attended, and saw over 300 people in total coming out on a Tuesday night to hear speakers from across the country on a diverse range of data topics. These ranged from Creating a Data Culture in your business, to public Open Data; from the data of Scottish Football to the use of blockchain in Oil and Gas; and from the use of IoT in Agriculture to extracting data from photos published on Flickr in order to assist conservation.
We’ve also been lobbying the Scottish Government and the city council on Open Data, as Ian has been writing on our sister site. That is starting to bear fruit. Aberdeen City Council have soft-launched a new open data platform, and are recruiting a manager for their open data work. While this is good, it is not as impressive as Dundee and Perth‘s new platforms, yet. The Scottish Cities Alliance are recruiting a new programme manager, and Ian has been invited to be part of a round table discussion on the way forward for Open Data hosted by the Scottish Government next February. It sounds like things will start to move in the right direction in 2019!
Ian and Andrew have worked with ODI HQ to run two local workshops, contributing to two national pieces of research: the first on the effects of Peer to Peer markets on accommodation, and a second on what barriers there are to the better use of Ordnance Survey data and services.
Here’s to an equally successful 2019! Have a great festive break folks!
Harnessing the collective intelligence of crowds can take many forms, and a common version in the tech community is the gathering where people come together to put together potential solutions. This can take many forms, from ‘jams’ in the design community, to the co-design and hack events that we’ll talk about here.
There is more to this than bringing the right people together. There are the goals of the event. What should the outcome be for the event? How should the event be facilitated? What’s the schedule for the event? The organisers also need to consider where and when the event will be held, as well as how the event should be funded, and if food and other refreshments are to be provided. Then there’s the recruiting participants, and then deciding at various times whether you have/don’t have enough people signed up and what you might do about that to recruit more attendees. Then even when the event has started the issues don’t stop as you need to manage contingencies on the go if people don’t turn up, or the heating disappears for your February event in a cold, snowy climate. Organising events is a non-stop rollercoaster of thrills and spills.
Hackathons, co-design events, what’s the difference?
If this is a collection of whoever comes, then this is a hackathon, or hack event. This generally leads to similar participants on the teams with little diversity. Sometimes these are run for computing students by other computing students with prizes provided by industry as a way to engage students. Sometimes it’s a group exploring what’s possible with the given tech.
If there is consideration given to ensuring a diverse balance between stakeholders (people from organisations involved, and the people who will use the system), who can help define and clarify the challenges, and the community of designers, developers, and tech folks, who are wanting to help prototype solutions, then this is a co-design event. At CodeTheCity we strive to ensure we organise and facilitate co-design events, as we’ll explain below, because these provide a better outcome for everyone.
At a hackathon ideas are proposed and solutions thrown together by the developers based on their assumptions, and interests. This often ignores the human element of the challenge, and the resulting hack remains unvalidated by the community, which is supposed to use this potential solution. Often this looks like ‘a database to gather all local events so you always know what’s going on’. The team then spend lots of time detailing the structure of the database, and the library to use for the interface. This ignores the main social challenges with this potential solution: How will people know it’s there? Who will put new things in, and update changes? Who will weed out incorrect, or duplicate information? More importantly perhaps, this ignores whether this is the challenge facing people trying to work out what to do this coming weekend. It might be a solution looking for a problem. It might be a solution to the wrong challenge as it hasn’t been validated by the people who are proposing the challenge.
Hack events can be fun and exciting, but doesn’t usually lead to solutions that live beyond the event. We have done these for fun as we sought to balance our serious events with more light-hearted ones at Christmas time where people brought their own challenges for the weekend, or we explored a new type of technology such as chatbots. The results have all sat there unused, unless it was a hack started by someone before the event.
We use the phrase co-design to express the idea that it is a collective, or communal process to design a potential solution to a specific challenge offered by the stakeholders. We want to include most of the relevant stakeholders in seeking to develop a solution on how we might address their challenge. We want to validate our assumptions about the challenge posed by the stakeholders as we co-create a solution with our participants. We want to find out how people currently decide what to do at the weekend as a starting point, and build on these ideas to determine what a better solution would include, and then explore a number of different ways in which we might achieve this goal.
Then, and only then, do we start to develop a prototype. We seek to spend more time exploring the challenge space before diving into a potential solution. We give in to our curiosity to explore the challenge more, and to generate a number of possible options, which can be evaluated to see which one offers the ‘best’ potential given what we know at the time. This process has been described elsewhere if you want to know more about how to ‘diverge’ and ‘converge’ for creativity.
The goal in all of this is to build potentially workable solutions to challenges so that the stakeholders can see which of the potential options they had is the most viable. A co-design event helps to clarify the unknowns around potential solutions so that knowledge is advanced. Now the stakeholder knows that one idea needs further thought, another could work, and that what looked like it might be a great idea, was really an illusion. All of this for a weekend of food, drink and fun. Not a bad exchange really.
The participants come for other reasons. The have a chance to work on real challenges with new people. They have an opportunity to stretch their abilities and gain new skills. The food and drink are nice, but they’re not the real reason people come. They come to see friends, make new ones, and to help make the world a better place thanks to their hard work over a weekend.
As organisers we enjoy helping facilitate the finding of solutions to the challenges brought to our attendees by our stakeholders. We enjoy seeing the diverse group of people come together from developers, designers and our stakeholders. It’s especially pleasing when we see some of these apps and ideas making their way into the world. We also enjoy seeing repeat attendees developing their skills and friendships over time too.
If you think a co-design event would benefit your organisation, or if you are struggling with intractable problems and think that a fresh approach could help, then get in touch via an email to email@example.com
During Codethecity 13, a project arose around the clarity of labelling of alcohol, initiated following a presentation from @wayne_gault about alcohol labelling and marketing.
Quickly the focus of discussion moved to craft beer, and the rising importance of graphic design in the branding and positioning of the various craft breweries, often using cartoon and other colourful illustrative styles. In a competitive market with many new entrants it’s no surprise that some corners are being cut. Sometimes through a lack of awareness of the issue, sometimes not so much.
Sending one particularly colourful can to the Google Vision API was telling. Google identified it as a “Yellow, Aluminium Can, of Soft Drink”. You can try the vision API yourself here.
The team working on this issue came up with the idea of creating a new version of reCaptcha. Rather than clicking on all the store fronts, or vehicles, you would click on all the beers, or all the energy drinks.
This would both raise awareness of the issue, and provide a data set to demonstrate the level of confusion around specific labels. If the ‘spongebob’ beer in the mockup below is regularly identified as an energy drink, perhaps the labelling falls short of the standard.
How this could be useful
The Portman Group publishes the Code of Practice for the naming, packaging and promotion of alcoholic drinks. An ultimate goal of the CANtcha team was to use data generated from the app to add weight to submissions to the Portman Group where packaging falls short of the Code.
Some early (and far from rigorous given the timescales) testing showed that enough of the alcohol was being misidentified that an issue likely exists.
Even though this was a very brief, short lived prototype – I’ll never look at a beer in the same way again
I subscribe to a craft beer delivery service. It sends me a case every now and then with enough interesting beer from around the world to keep my ‘bottle of hipster a week’ habit going.
A case just arrived.
Now that I’m aware of the Portman rules, I couldn’t help wonder what CANtcha would make of a couple of them:
I suspect both of these might fall short on one or more counts. I also love both of them. The Google API mentioned above identifies one as beer, and the other as an energy drink. It’s likely obvious which is which.
Neither is identified as a can of coffee, surprisingly.
At Code The City we are always looking for opportunities to work with volunteers.
We recognise that this not only helps us to delivery on our charity’s aims, but also helps the volunteers themselves.
We’ve just published an overview of the opportunities, with a new volunteer form, and mention of the upcoming ‘I volunteered at Codethecity’ t-shirts. Guaranteed to be the must have fashion item of 2018.
So if you’d like to help us at upcoming hack weekends, please check out that page and fill out the form.
Tourism is vital to the local economy. While loads of tourists pass through Aberdeen we could do so much more to make it a destination of choice.
The featured image above is how we used to attract tourists to Aberdeen. How should we do it now? What role does design, marketing, technology or data play in new interactions with tourists?
Who should attend?
Anyone – despite our name, coding is a small bit of what we do.
Of course, coders, data wranglers, designers and other techies are important to a hack weekend.
We’d be delighted to see you if:
You work in the tourism sector, operating attractions, providing accomodation or other services
You have identified a problem with service delivery, or see an opportunity to do things better!
You have an interesting in service design
You work or study in the creative industries
You have experience as a tourist in Aberdeen or anywhere else
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 the local area, or use digital and skills to improve local services
You are from the third sector or local government
You work with mapping, GIS, or location data
You are curious about learning new techniques and skills to use in your day job, and finally
And, of course, if you are a developer, designer, UX expert, data wrangler, coders, or service designer
So it’s a Toursim hack?
Yes – we’ll be identifying opportunities and barriers to making Aberdeen City and Shire a destination of choice for tourists, creating projects, teams and prototypes to address those. Some of those will turn into coding projects – and some will all be about research, service design and paper prototyping.
The event will run Saturday 9.30am to about 5pm, then Sunday 9.30 to about 4.30pm.
What happens over the weekend?
* identification of opportunities and barriers
* ideation to address those
* creation of project teams to work on those
* agile prototyping of solutions, so that by close of play Sunday we will have demonstrable solutions which could be developed into real worls products or services.
But, a ticket will cost £5 (*)
What do you mean, it’s not free? CTC is usually free!
At CTC 11 in December we broke with a tradition established over the previous 10 events and charged a small amount to attend. The reasone was that in a couple of recent CTC events we had higher than normal numbers of people booking free tickets and not showing up. That meant we over-catered, and despite our best efforts we had left-over food, which is a bad thing and wastes money too.
So, we attached a monetary value to the ticket (* backed up by our promise that those attending would get their money back when they showed up). And it worked. The bookings didn’t go down. Fewer people dropped out. We didn’t waste food and we banked the money that went unclaimed. A few generous individuals recognising our new charity status even refused their money back, which was nice.
We’ll be at the Sir Ian Wood Building at Robert Gordon University’s Garthdee Campus. You can get a No 1 bus from King Street / Union Street which will take you into the campus and drop you at the door. Or you can get a No. 2 bus which will drop you at the gates to the campus.
If you must drive, then parking is free and open at weekends on campus.
Robert Gordon University will be sponsoring this event. We could do with another sponosor or two to make sure we cover all costs. If you would like to sponsor it, get in touch with @codethecity on Twitter.