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]

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.

Code the City 12 – Tourism

The Challenge

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.

Timings

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.

Tickets

You can get tickets here (on Eventbrite).

Location & Getting There

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.

Sponsorship

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.

We look forward to seeing you in February!

Ian, Steve, Andrew and Bruce.

Code the City

Registered Charity in Scotland: SC047835

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.