It is easier to recycle a fridge than reuse Scottish public sector website content and data!

During the course of  Code The City 17: Make Aberdeen Better this weekend we made a startling discovery. It is easier to recycle your old fridge-freezer than to get data and content for re-use from Scottish public sector websites. As a consequence, innovating new solutions to common problems and helping make things easier for citizens is made immeasurably more difficult.  

One of the event’s challenges posed was “How do we easily help citizens to find where to recycle item ‘x’ in the most convenient fashion. That was quickly broadened out to ‘dispose of an item” since not everything can be recycled – some might be better reused, and others treated as waste, if it can’t be reused or recycled. With limited kerbside collections, getting rid of domestic items mainly involves taking them somewhere – but where?

With climate change, and the environment on most people’s minds at the moment, and legislative and financial pressures on local authorities to put less to landfill, surely it is in everyone’s interest to make it work as well as it can.

To test how to help people to help themselves by giving advice and guidance, we came up with a list of 12 items to test this on – including a fridge, a phone charger, a glass bottle, and tetra pack carton. On the face of it this should be simple, and probably has been solved already.

The Github Repo

All of Code The City hack weekend projects are based on open data and open source code. We use Github to share that code – and any other digital artefacts created as part of the project. All of this one’s outputs can be found (and shared openly) here.

Initial research

That was where we started: looking to see if the problem has already been solved.  There is no point in reinventing the wheel.

We looked for two things – apps for mobile phones, and websites with appropriate guidance.

Aberdeen specific information?

Since we were at an event in Aberdeen we first looked at Aberdeen City Council’s website. What could we find out there?

Not much as it turned out – and certainly not anything useful in an easy-to-use fashion. On the front page there was an icon and group of suggested services for Bins and recycling; none of which were what we were looking for.

ACC Bins and recycling
ACC Bins and recycling

Typing recycling into the search box (and note we didn’t at this stage know if our hypothetical item could be recycled) returned the first 15 of 33 results.  As shown below.

Search results for recycling
Search results for recycling

The results were a strangely unordered list – neither sorted alphabetically nor by obvious themes. So relevant items could be on page 3 of the results. Who wants to read policies if they are trying to dispose of a sofa? Why are two of (we later discovered) five recycling centres shown but three others not? Why would I as a citizen want to find out about trade waste when I just want to get rid of a dodgy phone charger?

Why is there a link to all recycling points (smaller facilities in supermarket carparks or such like, with limited acceptance of items), but apparently not to all centres which cover much more items? Actually there is a link ‘Find Your Nearest Recycling Centre’ (but not your nearest recycling point which are much more numerous). This takes you a map and tabular list of centres and what they accept. And it is easy to miss the search box between the two. No such facility exists for the recycling points.

Open Data?

Perhaps there is open data on the ACC Data portal that we could re-purpose – allowing us to build our own solution? Sadly not – the portal has had the same five data sets for almost two years, and every one of those has a broken link to the WMSes.

If we were in Dundee we could download and use freely their recycling centre data. But not in Aberdeen.

Dundeee recycling Open Data
Dundeee recycling Open Data

Apps to the rescue?

There are some apps and services that do most of what we are trying to do. For example iRecycle – Iphone and Android is a nice app for Android and iOS that would work were it not for US locations only.

We couldn’t find something for Scotland that worked as an App.

Other sources of information?

Since we drew a blank as far as both Aberdeen City Council and any useable apps, we widened our search.

Recycle For Scotland

The website Recycle For Scotland (RFS) is, on the face of it a useful means to identify what to do with a piece of domestic waste. Oddly, there appears not to be any link to it that we could find from any of the ACC recycling pages.

BUT …… it doesn’t work as well as it could and the content, and data behind it have no clear licence to permit reuse.

The Issues with RFS

Searching the site, or navigating by the menus, for Electrical Items results in a page that is headed “This content was archived on 13th August 2018” – hardly inspiring confidence. No alternative page appears to exist and this page is the one turned up in navigation on the site.

Recycle For Scotland Archived content
Recycle For Scotland Archived content

Searching for what to do with batteries in Aberdeen results in a list of shops at least one of which closed down about 18 months ago. Entering a search means entering your location manually – every time you search! This quickly becomes wearing.

While the air of neglect is strong, the site is at least useful compared to the ACC website. But it doesn’t do what we want. Perhaps we could re-use some of the content? No – there is no clear licence regarding reuse of the website’s content.

The site appears to be a rebadged version of Recycle Now, built for Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS). According to ZWS’s Terms and Conditions on their own site, and deeply ironically, you can’t (re)use any materials from that site.

Zero Waste Scotland - zero re-use
Zero Waste Scotland – zero re-use

ZWS are publicly funded by the Scottish Government and the European Regional Development Fund – all public money.

Scottish Government Fund ZWS
Scottish Government Fund ZWS

Public funding should equal open licences

We argue that any website operated by a government agency, or department, or NDPB, should automatically be licensed under the Open Government Licence (OGL). And any data behind that site should be licensed as Open Data.

The Scottish Government’s own website is fully licenced under OGL.

Changing the licensing of Recycle For Scotland website, making its code open source, and making its data open would have many benefits.

  • its functionality could be improved on by anyone
  • the data could be repurposed in new applications
  • errors could be corrected by a larger group than a single company maintaining it.

Where did this leave us?

Having failed to identify an app that worked for Scotland, nor interactive guidance on the ACC website, we tried the patchy and, on the face of it, unreliable RFS site. We’d turned to the data and whether we could construct something useable from open data and repurposed, fixed, content over the weekend – this is a hack event after all.

But in this we were defeated – data is wrapped up in web pages: formatted for human readability, not reuse in new apps.

Websites which were set up to encourage re-use and recycling ironically prohibit that as far as their content and data is concerned, and deliberately stifle innovation.

Public funding from the City Council, the Scottish Government and the European Regional Development Fund is used to fund sites which you have paid but elements of which you cannot reuse yourself.

Finally

At a time of climate crisis, which the Scottish Government has announced is a priority action, it can’t be right that not only is it difficult to find ways to divert domestic items from landfill,  but also that these Government-funded websites have deliberate measures in place to stop us innovating in order to make access to reuse and recycle easier!

Hopefully politicians, ministers and councillors will read this (please draw it to their attention) and wake up to the fact that Scotland deserves, and needs, better than this.

Only by having an Open Data by default policy for the whole of the Scottish Public Sector, and an open government licence on all websites can we fix these problems through innovation.

After all if the non-functioning Northern Ireland Assembly can come up with an open data strategy that commits the region to open data by default, why on earth can’t Scotland?

See below:

“Northern Ireland public sector data is open by default. Open by default is the first guiding principle that will facilitate and accelerate Open Data publication.”

NI Open Data principles
NI Open Data principles

[Edit – Added 12-Nov-2019]

Postscript

If you are interested to read more about the poor state of Scottish Open Data you might be interested in this post I wrote in February 2019 which also contains links to other posts on the subject:

Scotland’s Open Data, February 2019. An Update.

Sadly, not much has changed in the intervening nine months.

[/Edit]

We make a difference. So can you.

At Code The City our objective is help our local community become literate in both technology and data and to use them to full advantage. We help people, organisations and charities to gain the right skills.  We are improving what we do at Code The City, and how we do it: changes which are fundamental to making that vision a reality.

Our work up to now

Over the past five years we’ve run 16 Hack Weekends and, in Spring 2018, we started to host monthly data meet-ups. Both things have been very successful but are not the sum total of our ambitions. To deliver those fully we needed a base from which to operate and to grow.

Currently

We’re now set up in the ONE Tech Hub, hosted by ONE Codebase. This has cemented our position as part of the local ecosystem. Since moving in six weeks ago we’ve launched the Young City Coders sessions. Our first one, last week attracted 22 keen young people and there is a waiting list for places. We’ll run those twice a month from now on. We’re really grateful for assitance we have received. Inoapps gave us sponsorship to get these sessions started, and both they and the James Hutton Institute donated used laptops.

The immediate future

In another six weeks or so we’ll start a Tech Tribe. That’s the name we’ve given to a programme to get people, and women in particular, into STEM careers and education. Many of them missed the chance first time round. The Data Lab already sponsor our Data Meet-ups and are now sponsoring these sessions, too.
All this educational activity is reliant on volunteer time. Two of our founders, Ian and Bruce, have now become STEM ambassadors. Part of that was getting PVG checks to allow them to work with children and vulnerable adults. We have a handful of others who are going to go through the same process. But, we want to be resilient, and scale up and so we need more people. If you would like to volunteer and get the appropriate certification, please get in touch.
This week also sees the start of the new Aberdeen Python User Group which kicks off on Wednesday. Python is by many measures the most popular, flexible and growing programming language which is used in data science, astronomy, biology, security, web development…. the list is endless.
Our next Hack Weekend will be in November and will address volunteering and civic engagement. We also hope to run another hack weekend in December just before Christmas.
We are planning a springtime event: the Scottish Open Data Unconference. Details will be announced of these very soon.

A picture takes shape

All this is like a jigsaw puzzle, the picture of which is gradually emerging as we fit the pieces together.
  • By running coding sessions for youngsters and mums, we are starting to help families better understand the potential of data and technology to transform their lives.
  • By creating Data and Python Meet-ups we are creating networking opportunities. These raise awareness of the good work that is going on in academia and industry. It exposes employers to graduate talent. We help people to share their skills, experience and expertise and to self-organise.
  • By running hack events we are helping charities and public sector organisations to make the most of the opportunities of digital and data to transform. We also help the local tech community of coders and developers and others to give something back to worthy causes.
  • By leading projects such as Aberdeen Air Quality we put the creation of data into people’s hands. This demonstrates the potential of collective endeavour for a common cause. The data is made available openly for anyone to build any new product or service. And it offers up the potential for schools and universities to use that data to better understand the local environment.
  • By running a national unconference we bring specialists, experts, and a wider network to the city to mix with local practitioners. This facilitates discussions at local, regional and national levels and between data users, publishers and academics at every level.

Our charity values. Your values?

In addition to all of the above, Ian, our founder CEO, is a non-executive director of the UK-wide Community Interest Company, Democracy Club. Its strapline is “Our vision is of a country with the digital foundations to support everyone’s participation in democratic life.” Now, Ian has joined the steering group of Scotland’s Open Government Network. He is also now on the board of Stirling University-led project, Data Commons.
The commitment of our charity and its founders is to create that better world underpinned by data and digital, from the ground up. That means running events of many kinds. empowering people, giving them the skills and knowledge they need.
You can do your bit too: come to meet-ups; share your work; be part of a network; becoming a STEM ambassador; coach and mentor others, put something back.
We all gain and the time has never been better.
Email us now if you’d like to help!
Thanks
Ian, Steve, Bruce and Andrew

AQ – what’s next?

For more background read this post and this one. 

Last weekend we hosted the second Aberdeen Air Quality hack weekend in recent months. Coming out it there are a number of tasks which we need to work on next. While some of these fall to the community to deliver, there are also significant opportunities for us to work with partners.

The Website

While the Air Aberdeen website is better, we still need to apply the styling that was created at the weekend.

draft web design
Draft web design

Humidity Measurement

We’ve established that the DHT022 chips which we use in the standard Luftdaten device model have challenges in working in our maritime climate. They get saturated and stop reporting meaningful values. There is a fix which is to use BME380 chips in their place. These will continue to give humidity and temperature readings, plus pressure,  but due to the different technology used will handle the humidity better. Knowing local humidity is important (see weather data below). So, we need to adapt the design of all new devices to use these chips, and retrofit the existing devices with the new chips. 

Placement of new devices

We launched in February with a target of 50 sensors by the end of June and 100 by the end of the year. So far attendees have built 55 devices of which 34 are currently, or have recently been, live. That leaves 21 in people’s hands that are still to be registered and turned on. We’re offering help to those hosts to make them live.

Further, with the generous sponsorship of Converged,  Codify, and now IFB we will shortly build 30 more devices, and that will take us to a total of 85. We’ve had an approach by a local company who may be able to sponsor another 40. So, it looks like we will soon exceed the 100 target. Where do we locate these new ones? We need to have a plan to strategically place those around the city where they would be most useful which is where the map, above, comes in.

Community plus council?

We really want to work with the local authority on several aspects of the project. It’s not them versus us. We all gain by working together. There are several areas that we could collaborate on, in addition to the strategic placement of future devices.

For example, we’ve been in discussions with the local authority’s education service with a view to siting a box on every one of the 60 schools in the city. That would take us to about 185 devices – far in excess of the target. Doing that needs funding, and while the technology challenge to get them on the network is trivial, ensuring that the devices survive on the exterior of the buildings might be a challenge.

Also, we’ve asked but had no response to our request to co-locate one of our devices on a roadside monitoring station which would allow us to check the correlation between the outputs of the two. We need to pursue that again.

Comparing our data suggests that we can more than fill in gaps in the local council’s data. The map of the central part of Aberdeen in the image above, shows all of the six official sensors (green) and 12 of the 24 community sensors that we have in the city (in red). You can also see great gaps where there are no sensors which again shows the need for strategic placement of the new ones.

We’ve calculated that with a hundred sensors we’d have 84,096,000 data observations per year for the city, all as open data. The local authority, with six sensors each publishing three items of data hourly, have 157,680 readings per annum – which is 0.18% of the community readings (and if we reach 185 devices then ACC’s data is about 0.10% or 1/1000th of the community data) and the latter of course, besides being properly open-licensed, has much greater granularity and geographic spread.

Weather data

We need to ensure that we gather historic and new weather data and use that to check if adjustments are needed to PM values. Given that the one-person team who was going to work on this at CTC16 disappeared, we need to first set up that weather data gathering, then apply some algorithms to adjust the data when needed, then make that data available.

Engagement with Academia

We need to get the two local universities aboard, particularly on the data science work. We have some academics and post-grads who attend our events, but how do we get the data used in classes and projects? How do we attract more students to work with us? And , again we need to get schools to only hosting the devices but the pupils using the data to understand their local environment?

The cool stuff

Finally, we when we have the data collected, cleaned, and curated, and APIs in place (from the green up through orange to red layers below) we can start to build some cool things (the blue layers).

AQA Data Layers
AQA Data Layers

These might include, but are not limited to:

  • data science-driven predictive models of forecast AQ in local areas,
  • public health alerts,
  • mobile apps to guide you where it is safe to walk, cycle, jog or suggest cleaner routes to school for children,
  • logging AQ over time and measuring changes,
  • correlating local AQ with admissions to hospital of cases of COPD and other health conditions
  • inform debate and the formulation of local government strategy and policy.

As we saw at CTC16, we could also provide the basis for people to innovate using the data. One great example was the hacked LED table-top lamp which changes colour depending on the AQ outside. Others want to develop personalised dashboards.

The possibilities, as they say, are endless.

Aberdeen Air Quality

Update: A write-up of this event which took place on 16-17th February 2019 is available on this page.

How much do you care about the quality of the air you breathe as you walk to work or university, take the kids to school, cycle or jog, or open your bedroom window?

How good is the air you are breathing? How do you know? What are the levels of particulates (PM2.5 or PM10) and why is this important?

pm25_comparison
pm25_comparison

When do these levels go up or down? What does that mean?

Who warns you? Where do they get their data, and how good is it?

Where do you get information, or alerts that you can trust?

We aim to sort this in Aberdeen

Partnering with community groups, Aberdeen University and 57 North Hacklab, we are working on a longterm project to build and deploy community-built, and hosted, sensors for PM2.5 and PM10. We aim to have fifty of these in place in the next few months, across Aberdeen. You can see some early ones in place and generating data here.

The first significant milestone of this will be the community workshop we are holding on 16-17 February 2019. If you want to be part of it, you can get a ticket here. But, be quick; they are going quickly.

Weekend activities

There are loads of things you can do if you attend.

Sensor Building

For a small cost, you can come along and build your own sensor with someone to help you, and take it home to plug into your home wifi. It will then contribute data for your part of the city.

But we will be doing much more than that.

Working with the data

If you have experience in data science or data analysis, or if you want to work with those who do, there are loads of options to work with the data from existing and future sensors.

These include

  • Allow historical reading to be analysed against the official government sensors for comparison
  • Use the data; wind speed, humidity… to build live maps of readings to identify sources of emissions.
  • Compensate readings from sensors against factors which affect pollution levels to attempt to understand the emissions of pollutants in a given area.
  • Build predictive models of future pollution
  • Fix a minor issue with the existing data Collected Data (see https://github.com/opendata-stuttgart/madavi-api/issues/8 )
  • Build an API for the access of the Luftdaten sensor data to allow querying of the sensor data

Software development

If you are a software developer or studying to be one, you could

  • Create alerts systems to warn of anticipated spikes in pollutants, perhaps using Twitter, or email.
  • Add to the code for the Luftdaten sensors to allow connection over LoRaWAN interface.
  • Create LoRaWAN server code to allow sensors to feed up to the Luftdaten website.
  • Security testing of the IoT Code used by the Luftdaten sensors.

Community Groups / Educators / Activists / Journalists

You don’t have to be a techie! If you are a concerned citizen, and community activist, a teacher, or a journalist there is so much you could do. For example:

  • How can you understand the data?
  • Identify how this could assist with local issues, campaigns, educational activities.
  • Help us capture the weekend by blogging, or creating digital content

Even if you just want to be part of the buzz and keep the coffees and teas flowing, that is a great contribution.

See you there!

Ian, Bruce, Andrew and Steve

Header image by Jaroslav Devia on Unsplash

2018 – A year in review

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.

Data Meetups

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.

Open Data

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!

Research

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!

Ian, Andrew, Steve, Bruce

 

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.

20171125_121742

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.

20171125_123730

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.

img_20171125_120837-1

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.

img_20171125_130252

Heartshare

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