How can open data help our city?

Cities are important urban areas where many of us live, work, study and raise families. There’s a push to make cities smarter.

Why? A smart city is a connected city – a place where Anna can get around easily because she can see her bus and train schedules in real time. A smart city is effective, integrated and innovative – a city that embraces Gina’s startup and makes it easy for Ali to find the best school for his daughter.

A smart city uses open data. 

Open data is knowledge for everyone; it’s information that can be shared with anyone for any purpose without restriction. We aren’t talking sensitive or personal information, we’re talking about the data that drives decisions and is the lifeblood of a city’s civic landscape.

Open data helps cities connect people and organisations, share information, create new tools, products and services. Using open data well means smarter cities. This series covers everything you need to know about open data for smarter cities. First, let’s get you started.

Where do I start with open data for my city?

It’s hard to know where to start with open data when you’re a city. With many moving parts, stakeholders and a huge wish list, getting started can be daunting. Here’s the key things to consider:

  1. Start with why: Have some idea of why you’ll need open during ata and how you’ll measure the success of your initiative. It doesn’t have to be perfect at the start but it will keep you on track.
  2. Think about delivery: You’ll need a way to deliver open data to the people and organisations that will use it.  There are several platforms and tools available. The right one will play nicely with your existing platforms. Remember, don’t reinvent the wheel!
  3. Find your audience:  Get to know who could use you open data so you can work out their needs. Check FOIA requests – that tells you what people want to know!
  4. Work with your community: You’ll need a community engaged around data, including developers, citizens & businesses – back to those FOIA requests and materials you already publish. What are people interested in? Who are these people?
  5. Make sure your open data all plays well together: Open data doesn’t have to be perfect. Start where you are and keep improving. Think about what’s needed to connect data together from the start: how would you connect data on parks to data on air quality.
  6. Think value, value, value: Think about the benefit of sharing and connecting data. Local government departments will probably be biggest user and benefit the most from connected open data, so keep them onside.

For more resources, the Open Data Institute is a good place to start.



#PeoplePlacePlay – Community Prototyping in #Leeds

It all started with an invitation from Playful Leeds to join a group of like-minded folk.

sharing stories, open space workshops and practical prototyping in a day

On a slightly gray day in April, we converged on ODI Leeds and turned our minds to play to get the creative juices going. We made our own badges because:

We heard from some folks who are doing great things in their communities and around the world:

And we made some prototypes:

We had a brilliant time!

Now we’re taking it forward with more meets, more prototypes and reusable recipe cards.

Hungry for more?

Are you there Mabel? Tech & The Art of Aging

There’s this thing about tech, you need to keep up…

When I was a much younger data whisperer, I worked for an e-tailer, so most of my pay packet went into buying the latest gadgets. I was up for bashing Twitter till I figured out what it was for and I jumped feet first into the whole smartphone shenanigans with enthusiasm and bucket loads of curiousity.

Lately, as I approach my 40th year, despite spending over half my lifetime in Tech, I’m feeling a sense of comfort with the staus quo. Nope, I don’t snapchat, I hardly instagram and I’ve never, ever swiped for a date.

"i saw you on tinder" Trastevere 2014 by Denis Bocquet
“i saw you on tinder” Trastevere 2014 by Denis Bocquet is licensed under an Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

It used to be that as defacto tech support for the OAPs in my life, I struggled for patience. I barely restrained the eye rolls at timidity  when it came to tech. I never really knew how to explain the love, concern, fear and hope I have for Tech and its myriad of products. I’m still a little irritated when old dears say “Oh you must be so clever to do that”. Not that I’m not clever, I don’t think you necessarily need to be clever to have digital skills. What I think you need are a healthy dose of curiousity, a dash of tenacity and a smidge of devil-may-care for making mistakes.

Dexter's Lab © Genndy Tartakovsky / Cartoon Network
Dexter’s Lab © Genndy Tartakovsky / Cartoon Network

It occurrred to me that I just wasn’t speaking their language. I knew deep down I didn’t understand how some older folks saw newer tech. It took one incident to really drive that home.

On a cold, autumn evening in 2014, Arriva Yorkshire’s announced bus timetable change landed. Not world ending you might think but the OAPs on my street were up in arms: Confusion abounded! Even the bus drivers were getting the new route wrong! All was not lost, the brave ladies who shared my route took matters into their own hands – they set up a social media page.

From my spot at the back of the bus, I listened in amusement as I learnt something new.

Firstly, they didn’t talk about tech like I do. Sure, this may be a geographical or life experience thing but what struck me was the conversation was like all their conversation (what can I say, bus journeys can be boring!). It went a little like this:

“So, what you do is, you go onto this website and put your details in. Then you say, ‘Are you there Mabel?’ and if she is, she’ll say hello.”

No “log in”, no “type”, heck, barely any tech terms.


Jargon via
Jargon via

As if to drive the point home, a few months later I was on a train (this happens more than you’d think). Someone had barely missed being hit on a track and delays were inevitable. The silver-haired lady next to me tried and failed to send a text, so she called instead. Getting an answerphone messsage, she said:

“I’ve sent you an electronic message”

No “text”, not even a “message” but a very preceise “electronic message”.

This made my day. My point here isn’t that their terms are right or wrong, simply that they are. Could my newfound understanding of the language barrier help the OAPs in my life ignite, well, not a passion but perhaps less of an aversion to all things digital?

So what if I started this quest from a self-centered point of view? My own sense of loss of being at the cutting edge of tech was the trigger, but Mabel and her friends planted a seed of curiousity that blossomed into conversation and a renewed passion for “Tech for everyone”.

In April, I began my project “Are you there Mabel?”. Every month or so, I’ll be talkng to OAPs about tech, how they feel about it and what it was like in the analogue day. The intention isn’t to convert them to tech fiends but to tell the story of new tech with old words, to connect the dots between their experience in which they’re comfortable and the alien Tech world they may feel excluded from.

Aged by Ronnie
Aged by Ronnie is licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Tech is for everyone and we can learn so much from people who’ve lived through things you only ever read about. People who have a deep life experience to share with us only we reach out and include them.

header image: Aged by Ronnie

Talks: Agile, Remote Team Work – Without Losing Your Marbles!

The future of work for remote teams, especially in technical and creative fields is remote working. Remote working let’s you hire or collaborate with talented people from all over the world, or just in your country, without the overheads of relocating. It also saves you from filtering out great fits because they don’t happen to be in a certain location.

That’s why on a chilly spring day in March, I presented a talk on agile remote team work – without losing your marbles at Agile in Leeds. The venue was packed, the audience were amazing and I can’t thank Emily Webber enough for ably running the show.

Here’s my 3 steps to working productively as a team when you don’t all work from the same space.

Step 1: Hire the right people

Q: You wouldn’t hire just anyone to (fur) baby sit, what do you look for in a potential sitter?

  • Responsible adults – People who do, are trustworthy and are independent.
  • Smart creatives – People who can highlight problems *and* bring solutions to the table.
  • Right mindset for remote work – People who don’t need the office environment (or are happy to recreate it through other means like co-working).

Step 2: In the right environment

Q: Have you ever brought home some supermarket herbs that didn’t thrive?

  • Be adult about dealing with problems – don’t let things fester, healthy group dynamics are at the heart of successful remote working.
  • Mind the micromanaging – this goes back to trust and productivity, focus on what people are producing not on ensuring you wring 8 hours out of them.
  • Remove barriers to productivity – environment (encourage coworking if needed and good working spaces), clear leadership (be a good scrum master, remove barriers and have clarity about task allocation or selection), staff wellbeing (make sure work life balance is retained and have good employee resources to manage stress), regular face to face (meet regularly to co-work together and bond).

Step 3: With the right tools

Q: Have you ever watched a professional at work?

  • Develop good processes around key needs (especially documents, tools, HR, health & safety).
  • Streamline your tools (find what works well for your team, mix it up, but don’t go mad).
  • Eat the elephant (Understand that this is a continuous group effort and take small steps).

These approaches have kept us at Open Data Services on the straight and narrow (today is our 1st anniversary!) and we review these as we grow our team (from 7 to 9 soon). Find out what works best for you and remember, keep working at it.

#fundingHack Crowdsourcing Q&A – Help me fund an indoor skate park in Keighley

Hackathons are not just about code. They are about solving problems and sometimes we can hack a problem by crowdsourcing the answers from a collective pool of knowledge.

That’s what we did when we were faced with a problem at #fundingHack on international open data day: my urban sport of skateboarding is amazing but there’s very little UK-based statistics I can use for evidence when applying for funding. What can I do?

A little background: Skateboarding has many benefits but there are few skate parks in the UK and little statistics showing their benefit. Most of the statistics and case studies come from the United States which is different from the UK socially, economically and geographically.

Using a mindmap, we started breaking the problem down into questions and answering the questions we could. We didn’t answer them all, so if you can help, get in touch.

The questions and suggestions are available as qualitative open data, to download and use under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License: #fundingHack Skate Park Q&A

#fundingHack Skate Park Q&A donut by Edafe Onerhime
#fundingHack Skate Park Q&A  by Edafe Onerhime

Doing funding research

Question: How can we overcome the barrier of lack of niche statistics evidence to get funding for an indoor skate park in Keighley?

Suggestion: What activity is similar to Skateboarding?

  • Describe why the activity is comparable to Skateboarding
  • Use the relevant statistics from that sport
  • Describe the unique aspects of Skateboarding and why it is a sport that needs funding in Keighley.


Question: I’m not a researcher! I’m happy to use and talk about statistics but who can help me with researching niche sports?

Suggestion: Get in touch with local universities to see if they have research around these sports or would be interested in working with you to research skate parks.

  • Leeds Beckett University has a world class sports research facility in Carnegie centre, maybe they can help?
  • The student data labs may be able to put you in touch with phd students working in this area.
  • Have you tried #phdchat on twitter?


Question: Where can I find easy to use and relevant statistics that I can copy and paste?

Suggestion: None yet, can you help?


Question: The census is pretty out of date, where can I get up to date statistics?

Suggestion: None yet, can you help?

Impact of project

Question: How can we effectively and persuasively describe the impact of Skateboarding?

Suggestion: Talk about the impact through both stories (and quotes!) and statistics. As UK Skateboarding statistics are hard to come by, we’ll use our similar sport where we need to fill in the gaps.

  • What is the impact of similar sport on:
    • crime related to young people?
    • alienation amongst young people?
  • How does Skateboarding captures the imagination of young people?
    • Skateboarding gives young people a focus
    • Skateboarding is an accessible sport
    • Skateboarding has cheap equipment costs
    • Skateboarding attracts people who won’t join in certain activities
      • because of costs
      • because Skateboarding breaks down social barriers
      • because Skateboarding removes class differences
      • because Skateboarding suits people who don’t like group activities

Need for project

Question: Why does Keighley need an indoor skate park?

Use local statistics to demonstrate the need. This is an area where using health statistics and research from other countries is useful because the health conditions aren’t unique to the UK.

  • There is a lack of youth resources in Keighley
  • There is a problem with physical and mental health in Keighley and skate parks can help
    • young people to get active
    • young people with hidden disabilities like aspergers and autism
    • young people who are lone rangers or shy

Getting feedback

Question: Young people won’t fill in forms? How can I get feedback?

Suggestion: You need to think about data protection and consent when gathering feedback, this will affect how you collect, store and protect their privacy in a safe and legal way.

See if you can collect feedback verbally (Evernote has an audio note tool), through social media, by text or in person.

How about asking simple questions and giving coloured voting cards? Whatever you do, be consistent and be safe.

More information about #fundingHack can be found here:

Image City’s Park by Guilherme Cardoso is licensed under  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Open Grant-making, a linkedIn style mockup from #fundingHack, Bradford

Liam Bolton os Student Data Labs, mocked up this linkedIn style community tool as part of #fundingHack on international open data day.

Open Grant-Making by Liam Bolton for #fundingHack, Bradford
Open Grant-Making by Liam Bolton for #fundingHack, Bradford

This is how he describes his idea: “A public forum and a message board for applicants to voice their concerns to professionals. Applicants can chat about their experiences with grantmaking. Applicants can also choose to message professionals – funders,
bid writers, marketing professionals – for advice. The idea was inspired by efforts to new developments in crowdsourcing, something that shows huge potential in grant-making.”

The Open Grant-Making mockup is ready for comments! Do you regularly apply for funding for your charity or nonprofit? Tell us what you think of this mockup.

More information about #fundingHack can be found here:

Grant Seekers – A for funding mockup from #fundingHack Bradford

Grant Seekers attempts to open up a forum for people seeking funding and grants application processes.

The concept counts on collective knowledge and experiences from others in similar situations to help each other on a website. Think of it like a / Money Saving Expert for funding.

As part of #fundingHack on international open data day, Wetgenes, Bradford based serial creators and games developers, worked on ths idea to build help funding seekers build an online community. The prototype lands soonish.

More information about #fundingHack can be found here: