I was reading with interest the 11 trends to watch in social innovation from Nesta, and really like each one of them. I think that as public sector organisations, as an absolute minimum, we should be aware of these things. There are some things on the list that we should be actively embracing, either through enabling communities, or actually doing it ourselves.
I’m going to look more in detail at each of the 11 from a local gov perspective, thinking about how we might use them.
Tough one to start with, this. Despite the current funding crisis in public sector bodies, especially local gov, I don’t think the public would be ready to support crowd funding of, say, emptying the bins, or providing a carer for a dementia patient.
The role for local authorities here is to at least be aware of platforms for crowd funding, so that they can signpost voluntary organisations or SMEs/startups to them. At an enhanced level, local gov could take a strategic approach, and understand what makes a successful bid to support future bids in the area, and possibly have an overview of what’s going on, aligned with other commissioned or funded activity.
In Trafford, we’re currently running a campaign to reduce dog fouling. One of the ideas that was suggested was a series of walks round Trafford, with bins highlighted as points on the map. Our problem with this was that there are just under 1,000 bins in Trafford, and the only record of them is as rows on a spreadsheet, with no spatial information, other than a description of the site (eg 4 bins outside shops on washway rd).
As a possible solution, I suggested asking the public, or our parks friends groups, to take photos of bins, with GPS enabled smartphones. Both were rejected, on the grounds that we don’t want to publicise the fact that we don’t know where our bins are (actually, we do know where they are, we just haven’t got them geotagged).
This approach would not have been perfect, but it would at least have done some of the work for us. I think even we are some way off being transparent about the things that we do not know…
Another thing that we are beginning to use is Open Street Map, an open source map of the world.We are beginning to add elements to the map, things like walking routes. We are also beginning to use it to get data, such as pharmacies, using this interface, built by Harry Wood.
In Trafford, we run a series of participatory budget events. Trafford Partnership make available an amount of money, ~£50,000, to each of our 4 locality partnerships. We analyse a whole load of data, to identify the priorities in each area, and invite organisations or groups to apply for funding to run projects to address some or all of the priorities.
Each locality then hosts an event where these groups have the opportunity to present their idea to the community, who then vote to decide which projects receive the funding.
This is a superb example of allowing people in general the opportunity to get involved in their local area, through running projects, taking part, or overall decision making.
Sensor networks are an excellent way to give people access to data about the environment.
Through Future Everything, Manchester has an established Smart Citizen Network, who feed data into a central point on air quality, noise, temperature, humidity and light. This data is then available to all participants.
Whilst these sensors cannot replace the precisely-calibrated sensors that Local Authorities use to officially record air quality, the potential is huge in terms of streaming real-time data with an effective mesh.
Encouraging schools to get involved in this sort of experiment would be excellent – letting children visualise their environment through data would help to foster an understanding of data, as well as environmental impact.
Trafford has recently had a new incinerator approved, which has been contentious, to say the least This type of sensor network would give citizens a greater understanding in terms of its impact.
The sensor network above makes use of a kit that was developed as open hardware in Spain. It should be the role of Local Government to create or encourage environments where these sorts of things can be developed. Fab Labs, Maker Faires and other similar ideas should be set up to unlock the latent innovation in communities.
Alternatively, or additionally – loaning out Raspberry Pis and other similar kits, or allowing free community access to 3D printers to people and groups would be an excellent way to kick start interest in these sorts of technologies.
Though there is a Fab Lab in Manchester, we in Trafford do not do anything to support this. Yet.
We actually use data pretty well in Trafford. Our area profiling is extensive, and we routinely publish data as Open Data. We were the first Local Authority to achieve a ‘Pilot’ level certificate from the Open Data Institute
The Intelligence and Innovation Lab has been developed to take our use of data to the next level, by combining partnership datasets.
I believe Local Government’s responsiblity towards data is two-fold
- It should ensure it uses all available data to support decision making
- The data that it produces should be made available wherever possible, to the highest standard possible
In Trafford, we are also participating in the Greater Manchester Data Synchronisation Programme (GMDSP), which is aiming to help public sector bodies in Greater Manchester release data as linked data, through the placement of Code Fellows. This has the power to make our data much more useful to ourselves, as well as the developer community.
The code that Local Government develops (for websites, etc) should be shared through Github. Many councils already have a presence on Github – see Trafford’s.
The beauty of using Github is that it helps significantly towards eliminating the awful ‘Not Invented Here’ syndrome. By being able to re-use others’ code, LOTS of time can be saved, and the net quality of the output will be higher.
Trafford is aiming to release all of it’s data under Open Government Licence 2.0. The data that we make is done so using public money, so we see no reason why we can do anything else.
The exception to this is where there is Ordnance Survey data – spatial datasets where OS data has been used to derive co-ordinates, for example cannot be released as open data. This is relevant for datasets such as planning applications, where co-ordinates have been derived using OS Mastermap.
Local Government should also ensure it is making use of media made available for free. I frequently use Wikimedia Commons to search for images that I put in presentations.
Not sure how local government could make use of this, other than promoting existing, large scale experiments that may ultimately benefit the public sector, such as Patients Like Me. Open to suggestions…
CodeClub is an excellent example of open learning – giving schoolchildren the opportunity to learn the basics of coding and programming from an expert. Camden Council have entered into a partnership with CodeClub to have a club in every primary school in the area. Whilst this might be a significant commitment, Local Authorities could just promote the CodeClubs in their area, and maybe releasing members of their IT dept (if not outsourced…) to run their own clubs in local schools.
(Disclosure: I run a CodeClub at my local primary school – and it is extremely rewarding…)
Another thing that local gov could do is allow and promote Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) for employees. The recent data driven journalism course is a good example that would be beneficial to employees and the organisation.
A fitting way to finish the list. One of the most exciting things about Trafford’s new Intelligence and Innovation Lab is the way that it will support collaboration. Bringing together specialists from different organisations will give a unique view of the data and intelligence. In addition to this, by creating a space where anyone can come and talk to us about data, we will hopefully start to shift the way people see and use data – from individuals, to voluntary organisations, to startups/developers.
We will be using the activities described here as much as possible to support what we’re trying to do. When we document stuff, we’ll be tagging them so that we can find, review and share much easier. We’re also going to be open about the way we use them, and try to be clear about what works well, and what doesn’t.
Watch this space…
Edit 11 July 2014 15:34 to add link to original Nesta article