All posts by Jamie Whyte

I manage the Trafford Intelligence and Innovation Lab - mixing data and technology to get things done better. Follow me on twitter @northernjamie

New Home for the Blog

We have decided to move our blog to a new home – onto the same platform that we use for our lab portal. The main reason for doing this is so that we have more flexibility around being able to embed objects, such as interactive maps and charts. It will also consolidate our analytics – so that we can better understand how people are using our site.

We will keep this WordPress site live, but not add any new content. All content from this blog will be ported over to the new site when we get chance.

You can  get to our new blog here

Thanks for everything, WordPress!



From Superheroes to Leisure Centres – #notinventedhere!

Keep calm and reuse stuff
Yet ANOTHER variation on the Keep Calm trope.

Early in February, as I was lazily flicking through David McCandless’s ‘Knowledge is Beautiful’, a tweet appeared in my twitterfeed:

It looked pretty interesting, so we had a look at it in the Lab. We have previously looked at the D3 javascript library as a way of visualising our data – but we have so far decided to focus on Leaflet for maps, and Highcharts for interactive charts.

I had even looked at examples of chord diagrams before – but decided that they weren’t particularly good at communicating information (Wrong!).

So we had a look at the Superhero visualisation – which shows superheroes on one side, and superpowers on the other. The interactive visualisation allows you to select either a power, which shows which heroes have that power, or the superhero, and which powers they have.

What was interesting about it was that it communicated a lot of information, in quite a small space. One thing that jumped out at us (not all of us, I have to confess – comics aren’t my thing), was that Spiderman had ‘Substance Secretion’ as one of his powers. Well -hell hath no fury like a nerd who has spotted an error. According to the team, Spiderman does not ‘secrete’ his webs. Rather, he developed canisters that spray some sort of polymer.  In order to check the accuracy of the information, then, we decided to go to the closest thing we have to an expert – Mark the librarian. Mark runs the cult film club at Stretford Library (he also does the Friday morning rhyme-time, but that is largely irrelevant). Mark suggested that actually, in the film, spiderman did develop the ability to shoot organic webs from his wrists. Something to do with being bitten by a queen.

Mark (and the team) spent a bit of time on the visualisation, looking at different heroes and traits. Mark was particularly outraged that Spiderman did not have intelligence – Spiderman apparently being a genius on a par with Batman or Daredevil. There were also discussions around Wolverine’s apparent stealth ability, Superman’s intelligence (disgraceful…), and Captain America’s physical perfection.

The point of all this is that there is a LOT of information here, presented in a way that is engaging, easy to access, and easy to understand. It sparked discussion, and that is what we are trying to do. So I decided that we would nick it.

We let Mark leave, and had a chat in the lab about how we might  make something that might be useful for people in Trafford. What datasets could work in the same way? We had a look at education data – attainment in Key Stage 2 (age 11) by different demographic factors. We grabbed the code from Mike Bostock’s Uber dataviz, and modified it, recreating it with this data. It didn’t take long to reproduce, at all (an hour..?), but when we looked at the visualisation – it was more confusing than anything else. We changed it slightly, so that the thickness of the line indicated what proportion of a particular demographic group (boys, white british, etc), achieved each level in the tests. It seemed to take a very long time, as users, to decode the information, so we abandoned it (didn’t even take a screengrab, annoyingly).

We then had a bit more of a chat about what might work – and decided that a diagram of physical assets along with the services that they provide would be useful, and it would look good. We decided then, to look at sports facilities across Trafford – Leisure centres, municipal golf courses and athletics stadia. We pulled the data off Trafford Community Leisure Trust’s website, and put it into the matrix.

Leisure activities in Trafford
Leisure Activities – Chord Diagram

You can see the interactive version of the results here:

It is really very easy to see what activities are available in Trafford, and where you can do them. It’s also useful to see what activities each centre accommodates. As an example, if Indoor Bowls is your thing, Altrincham Leisure Centres where it’s at for you.

We are really pleased with how it turned out, and we’ve now had requests from a couple of other teams to do similar visualisations with their data – from health service providers, to a strategy mapping viz..

Feel free to pull the code apart, and repurpose it for your own projects. Contact us if you need a hand.

I am verrry grateful to Mark Barrett and Hebeworks for the original inspiration. And Mike Bostock for creating D3..!

Childhood Obesity in Trafford – Infographic

One of the many roles that we undertake in the Lab is to support the National Child Measurement Programme in Trafford. I have written about this before.

As part of what we do, we agreed to look at the data, and produce an infographic that could be distributed to schools, nurses, commissioners, etc, to raise awareness of the programme, and the numbers involved. This is what we came up with, after some discussion with Trafford’s Director of Public Health:

Infographic showing childhood obesity in Trafford.
Childhood Obesity Infographic 2014

Despite us having access to all the raw data associated with the Programme in Trafford, we decided to only use data that is published through the Health and Social Care Information Centre website. Doing this ensures anyone could recreate the Infographic for another geographical area, if they wanted to.

We used Microsoft Excel to draw the charts, and Microsoft PowerPoint to create the Infographic. This feels like a good way to create simple, static Infographics, without the need for Photoshop/Illustrator skills. The only issue that we had was in exporting the slide as an image – the default resolution is not high enough to make small text legible, at 96dpi. This was soon fixed, by editing the registry, upping it to 200dpi, which made everything a lot clearer, whilst increasing the size of the .png file from ~100kb to a still-manageable 600kb.

The whole process took around 4 hours, from start to finish. Feedback has so far been very positive – with this style of presentation being much more engaging than traditional reports.

Next steps for us are to develop the maps further – adding schools etc. We will also be making an online, version of the infographic – less print-ready, but slightly interactive, using Leaflet and Highcharts.

As always, feel free to distribute or reuse. And if you have any comments or questions – we’d love to hear them.

All about the Lab – how we work, and who we are

Trafford Innovation and Intelligence Lab Logo

The Lab has been launched for a couple of months, and I figured now is a good time to put down a little bit about what we’re doing, how we’re working and who’s involved. I’ll update this as often as necessary, and I’ll also use this to point people to when they want to know about the Lab.

What’s the main purpose?

The Lab is essentially a multi-organisation, multi-discipline data lab. We are bringing together data and data/information specialists from the various organisations that work in Trafford, to work on particular problems, that we think data can help with. By combining datasets and co-locating people we’re pretty sure we can give a really good understanding of needs and opportunities in Trafford.

As well as using open datasets, we will also be looking to release as much open data as possible. Cleansed data will be a by-product of the analyses, so making them available as open data will help to support future work, as well as provide evidence for decision making. Part of this is making sure that people understand the data and intelligence that we produce, so we want to work with organisations to support bids for funding, or research projects, for example.

We are also looking at how we can use technology to improve the way we get, use and release data – things like sensors and web-technologies such as crowdfunding websites.

How does the lab function?

The lab’s workstyle is loosely based around agile – we are constantly talking to each other, and the people we do stuff for. We release things often, so that if there are problems, or a change in requirements, its picked up early on. We call this Rapid Iterative Deployment.

Projects are managed using Trello, which we’ve found to be very flexible.

We are trying to be open and transparent – blogging as we go along, and have active twitter accounts and facebook pages. Things that we develop are open source, and will shortly be available on GitHub. Sharing what we do increases its value enormously. We are currently thinking about how we can make our Trello board public, or at least a public view, so that anyone can look at what we are working on.

In terms of the work that we do, we have four priorities that have been defined by the Trafford Partnership:

  • Mental Health
  • Aging Population
  • Unhealthy Weight
  • Worklessness

Not everything we do has to fit into one of these areas, but it helps with the prioritisation of work.

We also have four objectives to adhere to. What we do should do at least one of the following:

  • Help to reduce demand on services
  • Help to redesign services
  • Improve peoples (citizens, 3rd sector, private, public) awareness / understanding of the area
  • Help to attract or retain investment into the Borough

Finally – we try and fit our work into the four broad categories of Digital Social Innovation:

  • Open Data
  • Open Knowledge
  • Open Networks
  • Open Hardware

Most of what we do currently comes under Open Data or Open Knowledge.

Who we are

The lab was established by Trafford Council, with input from Trafford Housing Trust, the largest registered social landlord in Trafford. Initial funding was provided in part by the Cabinet Office.

Confirmed collaborators

  • Trafford Council (Funding / data / resources)
  • Trafford Partnership (Network)
  • Trafford Housing Trust (Staff / data / resources)
  • Trafford Public Health (Data / resources)
  • Trafford College (Data)
  • Cabinet Office (Funding)
  • Trafford Community Leisure Trust (Data)
  • Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (Data)

Currently in discussion with:

  • Trafford Clinical Commissioning Group
  • Pennine Care Acute Trust (Trafford Division)
  • Greater Manchester Police


Profiles of all the staff involved in the lab will follow soon.

Where is the Lab?

We are currently based in Stretford Library (Bennet Street, Stretford, M32 8AP) in a room off the main library. We are looking to find somewhere a bit more flexible that we can use as a workspace and a hackspace, but that will come in time.

Some of our outputs/outcomes so far

Get in touch

The best way to start a conversation is by email , , or over twitter (@traffinnovation | @northernjamie)

You can phone us on 0161 912 5146, and you could write to us (!) at:

Trafford Innovation and Intelligence Lab

Stretford Library

Bennett Street


M32 8AP

Please feel free to get in touch..!



Manchester Disc Golf – Crowdfunding in Trafford

Someone throwing a frisbee at a basket.
Fling! (Photo courtesy Manchester Disc Golf)

A month or so ago, I wrote about a Nesta event that I went to which was all about Digital Social Innovation. At the time, I didn’t have any Trafford-specific examples of crowdfunding, to give an example of it in use.

Now I do!

Longford Park is a big park in the North of Trafford. It used to have a pitch and putt  course, but this is no longer in use. Trafford Council and Friends of Longford Park asked Didsbury Ultimate Frisbee For Amateurs (DUFFA), to help set up a disc golf course on the site.

Disc golf is like normal golf, except you throw a Frisbee at a basket, rather than hit a ball towards a hole. DUFFA set up Manchester Disc Golf to handle the campaign.  The idea being that they would raise enough funds for a 9-hole course.  Any additional money raised would go towards buying additional holes, with the aim of creating an 18 hole course (the nearest one to here is in Leamington Spa).

The course would be free to play, by anyone, at any time – though people would need to bring their own discs, or hire them from the café. Manchester Disc Golf are hoping that the course would act as a focus for the creation of a new community of players and volunteers, of all ages.

So – to the crowdfunding part. Manchester Disc Golf worked out that to pay for the course and equipment, they would need £5,500. They applied to Trafford’s Voluntary Sector Grants in July 2014, and were awarded some money (about £3k), which left a couple of thousand to raise.

To help with raising the funds, the group set up a campaign page on Indiegogo – a website for ‘activating the global community to make ideas happen’.

As well as the amount to be raised, and an indicator of progress against the target, the group have added a video, a description of planned activity, and a breakdown of the costs.

Campaigns are time-limited, to stop them dragging on, but this campaign is also set-up so that even if all of the targeted funds aren’t raised, the group still get everything that has been contributed – some crowdfunding models have a rule that if all of the money isn’t raised, then all money is given back to donators (this would be applicable  where the project could not happen without all the funds. In this case, less money raised just means fewer holes).

People contribute money in exchange for ‘perks’ – with a sliding scale of reward, from a mention on the website, to hole sponsorship (ie advertising space). Awareness of the campaign is raised through social media, leaflet drops, open days and word of mouth.

So far – the campaign site is showing (at 11 November 2014) 89% of funds raised, with 6 days to go.  This , I would say, is a success, and a pretty good demonstration of how crowdfunding can be used to support new community projects.

If any groups are interested in exploring how crowdfunding may be able to help them, this piece from Charity Comms is a good place to start.

Disc golf course map and leaflet
Disc golf course map and leaflet

Sidenote: I actually went to the open day on the 9th November 2014 to have a go. It was really good fun – good exercise, fresh air, and pretty intuitive. I didn’t keep track of my score, though, because I had one eye on the children (who LOVED it), trying to keep them away from the part of the course that the map euphemistically describes as being ‘boggy’.