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?

Beyond Smart Cities: Smart Rural?

Smart cities are coming of age, but are we forgetting the needs of rural communities?

A lot’s been said about smart cities: the use of digital technology to make cities more efficient and engaging. Consultancy firm Arup for example, estimates the smart cities market will be worth $400 billion per annum by 2020.

Understandably, the technologies and investment focuses on making cities more efficient and engaging for their citizens. Reaping the gains from digital technology by applying them to key urban sectors, has meant a focus on transport, energy, health and well being, waste and sanitation.

Ben Barnett - The Yorkshire Post
Ben Barnett – The Yorkshire Post

In all of this progress, what’s happening to the needs of rural communities? Ben Barnett, writing for The Yorkshire Post, claims “Too often rural issues seem to be sidelined by politicians of all stripes”. This is a worrying trend. Smart rural and smart cities are motivated by similar challenges and opportunities such as the global recession, climate change, the digital age and an ageing population. The focus of a rural community might differ from an urban one but their needs are equally important.

EE Connecting rural communities with micro networks
EE Connecting rural communities with micro networks

This isn’t to say that efforts aren’t being made: In Cumbria, predominantly rural county, Telecom provider EE is trialling mesh networking technology to connect over 1,500 communities to 3G and 4G by 2017. As rural communities have traditionally suffered from patchy connectivity, this will be an impressive boost to the uptake of smart technologies. And make no mistake, technology is permeating rural businesses and that influence isn’t limited to mobile phones. From (somewhat controversial) tracking farm animals with RFID chips to personalised weather reporting to smart farms, change is coming.


What’s missing it seems, is meeting the real, everyday needs of the people in rural communities. This is something the Open Data Institute node in Devon is tackling with their event: “Beyond the smart city“. With support from the Met Office, this event will bring people together to take smart initiatives beyond their current city-scope and provide benefits for everyone.

Next time you think “Smart City”, spare a thought for “Smart Rural” and make it part of your dialogue.

19 Fresh Open Data Stories

Data is only relevant when it’s used. This is even more true for Open Data, “data that anyone can access, use and share“. Be inspired by these simple ideas and physical objects to make greater use of Open Data.

These 19 tales of open data in use range from the really useful, like Australia’s The National Public Toilet Map, to commercial business models like BrightScope, to crowd sourced, social projects like Leeds Art Crawl. They cover a gamut of categories too: art, government & politics, smart cities and more.

The Leeds Art Crawl Map
The Leeds Art Crawl Map

The stories come from all over the world, but you just have to click on my Open Data Stories Pinterest board to explore them.

In no particular order:
1. Bicycle Barometer
2. Park Shark App
3. The Great British Public Toilet Map
4. National Public Toilet Map
5. UK Minecraft Map
6. Open Oil
7. Open Data Burkina Faso
8. Open Charities
9. Open Corporates
10. Leeds Data Thing
11. Transport API
12. Carbon Culture
13. Spend Network
14. Mastadon C
15. City Blocs
16. Smart Procure
17. Leeds Art Crawl
18. Bright Scope
19. Sweep Around

What to do next:

Read Open Data Institute’s open data case studies.

Buy Brett Goldstein & Lauren Dyson’s Beyond Transparency.

Check out my open data training and presentation resources.

Weekly Roundup: 04.01.15


Social Media Information Overload by Mark Smiciklas

Information overloaded? Reduce your signal to noise ratio with my curated list of the best of the week.

Smart City: The Timetable Clock


Why does a timetable need to be a list? Why can’t it be a clock? Especially if you know where you are and where you’re going. There are obvious issues how much you can display but this is much more intuitive for me than a list.

I made this pretotype back in January ‘14 when my partner kept missing her bus. I had half a mind to make it into a digital artefact but my customer was happy with a photo as her phone background.

The Timetable Clock by Edafe Onerhime is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Liberate the Library: From cost centre to social enterprise

I love libraries.

As a bookworm and bibliophile, libraries, especially those housed in beautiful old buildings are akin to heaven.

We’ve all heard about and felt the impact of cuts to funding. In 2013, the Guardian asked: Are social enterprises the future for libraries?

I ask:

  • How can libraries move from cost centres to sustainable community social enterprises?
  • How can they become organisations that can pay a living wage to library professionals and not rely on, but continue to include volunteers?
  • How can they be sustainbly commercial but remain the heart of the community

Now, I don’t have the answers, nor do I have library expertise but I do have some suggestions based on what I’d like to see as a library fan.

Space and location as an asset

Central staircase, Central Libary, Leeds

Leeds central library is housed in a beautiful building in the heart of Leeds. It’s open at convenient times.

Leeds Central Library Opening Times
Monday 09:00 19:00
Tuesday 09:00 19:00
Wednesday 09:00 19:00
Thursday 09:00 18:00
Friday 09:00 17:00
Saturday 10:00 17:00
Sunday 11:00 15:00

How can Leeds central library make more of it’s opening times, space and convenient, central location?

Here’s some ideas based on the lesser known services offered.

1. Book out the space.

Rooms for meetings, events and workshops crop up regularly on Twitter: Leeds Meeting Room Twitter Search. Leeds is a city for incubating ideas and innovating, we need a range of spaces to meet, mingle and make the magic happen.
Make it easy to find, book and use.

2. Be the experts on business.

Leeds central library already has all the expertise in place. The Business & IP Centre Leeds is a hugely valuable resource business and intellectual property expertise. Make more out of the consultancy, workshops and events for entrepreneurs and start-ups.
Make it the go-to place for business advice.

3. Bring all the folks to your yard.

Integrate an on-site bookshop with an on-line presence. I like to buy as well as borrow books, so it’s a no-brainer to do both in the same place. If you’re concerned about staffing a sales desk, might I suggest you steal like an artist? Consider automated supply chain. Maybe an Amazon Locker approach to click and collect? And once people are at your location, provide them with experiences that delight, enlighten and brings them back to the library.
Make it the enhanced library for more than borrowing.

4. Be the place to hang out.

And not just in the gorgeous tiled hall. Tie 3 in with book groups, coffee evenings, writing events, literary festivals, meet the author nights, starting points for tours of Leeds and guided tours around the beautiful building itself.
Make it the heart of the Leeds community.

Most importantly: Try things out → review → rinse and repeat.

Liberate the Library: From cost centre to social enterprise by Edafe Onerhime is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

Header image: Showing the strain by Brian Smithson