In December 2017, the Open Data Institute (ODI) kicked off three collaborative UK–France projects, which support ways to enhance data collaboration between both countries. Working with partner cities (Manchester & Rennes, Bordeaux & Bristol, Leeds & Lille) each project was given £20,000 and used data to strengthen commercial opportunities or tackle societal challenges.
In this post, we talk to Noémie Girard, Thomas Parisot (from dtc innovation) and Alaine Burns-Laycock, to find out more about their projects, the lessons they learnt, and their future plans. Mind the Gaps is an open toolbox to collect quality-of-life data that is being developed and tested in Bristol and Bordeaux.
What is Mind the Gaps about?
Mind the Gaps is an open toolbox to produce citizen data about quality of life and wellbeing.
It examines how authorities (local, national, European) measure inequalities and quality of life, and makes the case for hyper-local sensing through an online and offline survey. Equipped with granular geographical and up-to-date data, it could be used by local authorities to prioritise spending and to invite citizens to take part in local activities and initiatives.
What are your biggest findings and achievements from Mind the Gaps?
Our biggest initial finding was the realisation that the way we currently measure and map inequalities could be vastly improved.
We discovered that cities in UK and France have very different approaches to collecting data on these topics: Bristol leads both in hardware-based citizen-sensing programmes (eg air quality and damp sensors) and in running a local quality-of-life survey which provides rich historical and localised data.
‘Citizen sensing’ is the use of smart phones and networked devices to engage with modes of environmental observation and data collection. Bordeaux has neighbourhood officers who keep in touch with local communities on a daily basis. They are able to respond to some local needs but rarely conduct more in depth qualitative research, but outsource these to specialised agencies when the budget allows.
To reflect the strengths of both systems, we used iterative design methods to create an online and offline conversational survey. We advocated for a mixed methods approach – a combination of qualitative and quantitative data, or ‘thick and thin’ data. Our intention here is to inform policymaking and showcase the benefits of involving citizens in the co-creation of data.
We conducted several rounds of ethnographic research (observations/interactions with study participants in their real-life environment) in diverse areas, we were able stay closest to ‘lived experiences’ and to understand local concerns. We designed questions around that process and were able to reach people and communities that local government have found difficult to reach and engage with. They saw value in a system that could help them learn about the needs of populations in disadvantaged and deprived areas, usually absent from the results of consultations, surveys and other data sets.
We noted a big difference in response rates depending on whether people were presented with an offline/online survey, or a more discursive, interview-style approach. This comes back to research postures and accessibility – we noted a distinguishable preference for the latter in disadvantaged areas.
Constantly seeking to connect with a variety of local organisations (government, community organisations, academia, etc) throughout the project helped us design with the richness of their insights at every step of the project.
How has Mind the Gaps helped connect data innovation in the UK and France?
Mind the Gaps, inspired by projects in citizen sensing in the UK, and by the investment in community outreach by France, has blended the strengths of the two approaches to collect citizens’ insights.
To challenge what is usually thought of when we refer to ‘smart cities’, we hoped to go beyond what is achievable with hardware sensors and find ways to put people at the heart of the process. How can we invite citizens to think about the future of their cities, how to be more resilient and reactive to changing social landscapes?
Offering a free, adaptable and replicable frame to equip people to develop and run their own surveys, connected to issues they care about, is a way to democratise and familiarise people with data production and ethics.
Where can we found out more about Mind the Gaps?
In two ways:
- go to mind-the-gaps.org to find an open toolbox that offers advice on how to build your own survey step by step and how to collect and store data
- or go to mind-the-gaps.org/research to find documentation of our discovery phase complete with diaries, team retrospectives, workshop material, etc. We tried to document our discovery phase in real time as much as possible!
What’s next for Mind the Gaps?
We’ll be sharing findings during conferences (we recently presented at Open Data For Development – OD4D – in Bristol for example) and at the UK–France ‘colloque’ on 5 July, connecting with other citizen-sensing projects, and developing the toolbox further in partnership with community organisations.