These are my links for October 26th through October 31st:
mySociety » Blog Archive » Harassment problem leads to FOI strangeness – Interesting story about how government departments are making quite subjective judgements about which information to release through FOI: "Today we have a strange story about a department that appears to think that it has a duty not to release information under FOI if it makes people angry."
We Share Stuff – Accredited course in Social Media – A triumph for wesharestuff: "We’re really pleased to announce what we think is the first officially accredited course in understanding and using social media for those with no previous experience. We Share Stuff has developed the course and it’s now part of the OCN framework (WSS are an OCN Centre), as three units of 10 learning hours each."
Data is what we want – but why? – Birmingham Post – Business Blog – Paul Bradshaw explains in simple terms: "The best analogy I can think of is polymers. When the technology behind polymers was developed in the last century, it created a whole new market – innovative producers could create new products, and cheaper ways of producing old products. Similar opportunities are available with the release of data – release postcodes for businesses to use cheaply or for free, and you have the opportunity for new businesses creating applications based on location. Release transport data and others can tell you which direction to head in for the next bus."
Blog | Birmingham Conservation Trust – Really interesting film about The highline – a community campaign to save an old elevated railways line in New York as a green park. Fascinating ideas about how to galvanise community.
Green shoots of recovery – Birmingham Post – Lifestyle Blog – Kate Copper: "The accidental empires of the 20th century weren't forged in workshops (not even facilitated ones), but in back bedrooms, unused garages and fusty university research labs. At the forefront of this revolution were pizza-fed, caffeine-fuelled nerdy boys who couldn't get a date. These brainy T-shirted lads did weird math, challenged their mates to do even weirder stuff — not in order to make money or lead a revolution, but simply to explore what it was that they could do."
Help Me Investigate allows people to ask civic questions and work together to find answers. Since it emerged into life a couple of months ago people have sought answers to questions ranging from:
“Why wont’ Birmingham City Council hand over the running of Lightwoods Park to Sandwell Council”
“Help me investigate why my doctor has an 0845 number”
“What is the tracking process for petitions handed into Birmingham City Council.”
The site feels quite Birmingham centric at the moment simply because we are experimenting using questions about the place where many of us live. As the site evolves that will change.
Who pays for this?
It is funded by Channel 4’s 4ip fund, Screen West Midlands and Advanatage West Midlands and it’s launch attracted interested from the mainstream media. The Guardian summed it up like this:
Rather than a publishing platform, the site is a tool that could equally benefit news organisations and the public; it follows the MySociety mould of successful activism sites like TheyWorkForYou and FixMyStreet.
“Journalists think investigative journalism should be very secretive, but [HelpMeInvestigate] has to be seen to be owned by the community than by journalists because that puts off the public. People can contribute their expertise to answer specific questions, and journalists with no resources could use the site to call on the community for help.”
Today the site, still in a private experimental phase, saw it’s first spin off mainstream media news story.
The Birmingham Post runs an HMI story on Parking Tickets.
This morming the post ran this story about how HMI had found the worst street for parking fines in Birmingham. The story began here, with a question from Heather Brooke:
Help me investigate on which Birmingham Streets are the most parking tickets issued?
It’s an interesting HMI question because it is about something which bothers many of us, but it’s also specific and local. It’s also a classic local newspaper question, but what thye may not take the time to ask.
The next stage was a freedom of information request, which you can see here on MySociety’s brilliant WhatDoTheyKnow service, which makes FOI requests public and easy to make.
When the information finally arrive in three files another user of the site stepped into to help. Neil Houston likes messing around with spreadsheets (part of the point of Help me Investigate is to allow people to play to their strengths).
He quickly established the 10 worst places to park for ticketing were:
•Alum Rock Road, Washwood Heath (3,995)
•Stratford Road, Sparkhill (2,418)
•Corporation Street, city centre (1,748)
•Alcester Road, Moseley (1,545)
•Waterloo Street, city centre (1,455)
•High Street, Harborne (1,391)
•Gas Street, city centre (1,083)
•Whittall Street, city centre (1,022)
•St Paul’s square, Jewellery Quarter (1,008)
•Dean Street, city centre (978)
Neil normally blogs about food, so even though he wanted to right about this he didn’t want to contaminate his normal blog. He borrowed some space on Be Vocal to write this piece, including the observation that:
it’s surprising to see that the warden BM739, issued 5,080 tickets. The next ‘top’ ticketer issued 3,559. This shocked me, as that’s a LOT of extra tickets by BM739.
Tom Scotney at the Birmingham Post started to use his papers position to seek explanations for the figures from the council, and this morning he posted the article including explanations for these questions: 1/2) Why is Alum Rock Road the most ticketed area in Birmingham?
3) Why did the number of tickets given out rise significantly over the last full recorded year?
So what do I make of this?
Thanks to the Birmingham Post for running the story and more importantly sharing credit for the story. It’s important for news organisations to get used to being open and generous with sources.
It’s good to see citizens and journalists (who are also citizens, I know) collaborating with each other to get to the bottom of something
This one set of data has already triggered new questions about car clamping and could lead to a flurry of similar questions across the country.
The other thing to remember though is that this may not be typical of what happens on Help Me Investigate. This is a question which has general interest, hence useful for a mainstream news organisation. Many of the questions though may be, on the face of it, more mundane and more about how thre system works or perhas problems that are very very local.
For these the collaboration could involve public servants using the questions as a means to improve the work they do. At least let’s hope so.
I’ve been asked by MADE to write 200 words for the Birmingham Post. They’re gauging opinion before the Technical and Environmental Mayor of Copenhagen speaks in Birmingham next week. Klaus Bondam will be at Town Hall on April 6th to share with us how he expects Copenhagen to stays a wonderful place to live.
I was asked about an hour ago and the deadline is tonight. Here’s a bashed out draft of what I fancy saying. Please encourage, discourage amend etc in the comments. Does anyone have details of that survey that put us the 2nd best place for social media behind, is it Chicago?
Is this a good place to talk? It’s not a question we often ask about cities. After all the whole point of a city is that we can connect, trade and work. Non of that happens without talk, does it? No it doesn’t, and neither does innovation.
Conversation is about scale, it happens where it’s easy for people to gather in small groups. The ICC is evidence that we know about audience on a grand scale, but how well do we do small scale gathering?
We need many places where we can meet, deliberately or by accident. That means a city which is easy to walking but above all has many interesting and modestly scaled places that people want to go. It means a tolerance of other’s ideas and interests, a city where people also like to listen.
These are partly planning issues and partly cultural issues. How good are our public services at setting the example and being interested in us, how good our our planners and designers at encouraging the interesting?
And of course we don’t just want to talk to ourselves. Birmingham needs take part in a global conversation. So our schools need open access to the internet and our school teachers and pupils helped to have the confidence to take part in sharing and developing ideas with people across the planet.
Oh and Birmingham doesn’t have free internet access in the city centre, whatever our PR folk may so. So Birmingham Fizz needs to be turned of or turned into a proper free wifi service, so we can finally start hearing each other speak.