Links for January 28th through January 31st

Some links for you:

  • Times Higher Education – How not to write a PhD thesis – "Here are my ten tips for failing a PhD. If you want failure, this is your road map to getting there." – very good (via D'Log I think)
  • Capsule Blog » Engaging regional audiences – how do we do it? – "it seems across the creative industries there is quite a limited regional audience that engages with independent activity. So my question to you wonderful folks is why do you think this is? What are the barriers and how do we work towards resolving it?
    We’d be really happy to open this debate so – answers on a postcard."
  • Beatbloggers recruited for Guardian Local project | Help | – "Late last year, Guardian News & Media advertised three brand new 'beatblogger' positions as part of our experimental Guardian Local initiative. The Local project is a small-scale community approach to local newsgathering, and will focus on the three politically engaged cities of Edinburgh, Cardiff and Leeds."

Links for January 23rd through January 27th

Some links for you:

Links for January 17th through January 22nd

Some links for you:

  • « Policy and Performance – Ingrid Koehler on local data: "there are some good reasons for opening up. There are efficiency gains – we can rationalise data middle-men and re-interpreters and stop paying for having data thrown back at us (except where it adds real value). We can eliminate much of the cost of FOI requests – we’ll just be able to point people to the URL. And we can get a much better picture of what local performance looks like, better than OnePlace, so we can use this data to better address the really tough issues in the LAA set. And if the data is used for really useful things, there will be all kinds of improvement and efficiency around helping people to manage their own neighbourhoods and care and access to services without expensive contacts and interventions. And that’s before we even look at issues of transparency and accountability."
  • Young people in Birmingham and West Midlands go for Creative & Media Diploma « Observations – "Recent data released by the Department for Children, Schools and Families shows that learner participation in the new 14–19 Diplomas in the West Midlands is focused on the Creative & Media course so far."
  • Colour-ful spring « More Canals than Venice – Very good. There should be more pen portraits like this. I'd also quite like to see this kind of thing in some of the more formal marketing that the City undertakes. I reckon those in charge of Birmingham's marketing budget have a very narrow view of business visitors. I suspect some of them would quite fancy a night in the Victoria listening to the kind of cool stuff these guys put on.

Journal article – cluster bluster

Just to note that I’ve got an article in the current issue of Creative Industries Journal: ‘Issues in Developing an Audio-Visual Cluster in the West Midlands’. Here’s the abstract:

The uptake of clusters as a model with which to develop regional economies has been variable since the UK government first issued advice to regional development agencies in the late 1990s. The West Midlands made clusters one of its key strategies for economic growth and nominated the audio-visual sector as an embryonic cluster in order to help support its development. This article examines the development of this cluster from its inception and identifies issues in the way it was conceived and the roles played by the regional development agency, industry and higher education. The author draws on government and regional policies, cluster strategies and other internal documentation produced for the cluster, as well his own experience as an innovation manager for the cluster.

The full article is behind a paywall on Intellect’s website or you can pay £12 to get a copy posted to you. If you’re at a university and your library subscribes to it then there should be a copy there soon as well. The full list of articles in this issue looks quite interesting.

Links for January 5th through January 15th

Some links for you:

  • Local innovation: collecting examples of best practice – Social by Social – "I'm writing a short pamphlet for IDeA and NESTA explaining the practical benefits of social media for councils and their partners. It's intended to be quick and easy to digest and show council officers how social media and other digital tools can be used by councils to meet their objectives in the coming years. I hope it will showcase the good work that's happening already, encourage more people to try these things out, and drive interest in this community"
  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times « Observations – Despite a positive performance in the last quarter of 2009, the Cultural Observatorys latest recession snapshot suggests the West Midlands cultural sector is facing a period of funding uncertainty.
  • Commissioners drag feet on meeting Webcasts – Lebanon Daily News – Student of mine doing good work in US whilst on his Christmas break: "As part of his dissertation research, he recently obtained approval from Jonestown Borough Council to broadcast or stream its meetings – at no cost – on the borough's Web site beginning next month. "
  • The Ruse of the Creative Class | The American Prospect – Great piece. Apparently Florida's new book says some cities in the US are beyond help. This piece takes him to task given that his previous position was about how investing in creative economies was vital for all kinds of cities.

Data is the New Grit

I’ve taken over the reins at Bournville News for the duration and one of the things I did recently was to produce a map of gritting routes for the area (idea nicked from Northwood Local):

View Bournville and surrounds – gritting routes in a larger map

Now I’m not all that sure that in the course of things seeing a gritting map is particularly useful for Bournville residents. However, I thought the potential grit shortage might mean that some roads would stop getting gritted should the cold spell continue and knowing which roads were meant to be gritted would be useful knowledge.

‘Will my road get gritted?’ is an easy question to answer since the City Council has a alphabetical list of all the roads that are gritted in order of priority. Should supplies run low, I thought, then some roads around Bournville wouldn’t get gritted, residents would get annoyed and the story might grow.

But anyway, doesn’t exist to tell you about annoyed Bournville residents. Instead I wanted to go through the whole pointless, tedious process of creating the map and why this hyperlocal blogging thing is doomed to failure unless we get a rich supply of local data to feed off.

Creating the map – the tedious way:

  1. So, as I said above, the data exists in some rather clumsy, unsortable data on the Birmingham City Council website. I cut and paste this data into a google spreadsheet.
  2. I ordered the spreadsheet to just show the Bournville area.
  3. I then used this information to create a new map in google maps tracing the roads that were to gritted using the ‘Draw along Roads’ button. It was easy then to label up each road as to its gritting priority (level 1, 2 or 3)
  4. Hang on though, what the list called Bournville and what is generally thought of as Bournville aere two different things. A search under Weoley Castle, Northfield and Selly Oak eventually teased out the remaining Bournville roads
  5. Simple now, just get the embed code and place in new blog post.
  6. What? Google Maps has split the map into pages if there’s too much data. Some roads are on page two. Aaaargh. Hang on, google always has the answer
  7. So, get the kml data from the map I produced and import it into a new map to get over the above issue. Now get the new embed code and erm, embed
  8. Look up from laptop and realise that the entire football match you had intended to watch has now finished

Creating the Map – the easy way
The data for the gritting lorry routes already exists. The City Council has it. They have data in usable formats (kml) for loads of stuff like this. If I had that I could, with a click and a few tweaks, create a gritting map for the whole city. It would probably show the routes the trucks went on as well. I (and other local bloggers) could then embed a map for the bit we need. And get this, I (or someone else with an equally mediocre technical knowledge) would create the grit map, not the City. Free the data and we’ll do it for you.

How London Borough of Sutton do it
Not gritting routes maybe but still useful. They’ve got a google map with grit bins on it. If your bin is empty then let them know. If it’s been nicked then let them know. The map is the result of some useful trickery by Adrian Short who is pushing the data through a yahoo pipe. I’m presuming the data for where the grit bins were wasn’t sourced using OS maps. Rather, their locations were plotted by blokes in vans and then input into the council’s GIS (geographical information) system. Adrian took a csv file to feed the pipe. Take a look at Adrian’s version of the map – it incorporates streetview, very smart. And it’s all open. You can clone the pipe, use his data file, create your own map with your own funky grit bin icons.

What all this means for hyperlocal blogging
I wasted too much time creating the Bournville gritting map, I got some nice praise for it but on the whole it was wasted time. There’s a bit of a discourse around spending too much time on things like this that annoys me a bit. I don’t want to be putting in loads of effort for the greater civic good, I don’t want to be making sacrifices of my personal time – I’d much rather watch the football. But give me the data to make it easier and I’ll happily do it again because it would simple, easy, quick. Hyperlocal is going nowhere without data. It’s just a local freesheet without it. Give us data and we’ll be the frontline to citizen queries that could save a local authority an expensive phone call. If you idly type into google ‘Which roads in Bournville get gritted?‘ see what you now get.

Of course, we’ll also enable citizens to cause a fuss when their road is meant to be gritted and isn’t. But that helps create dynamic democratic relationships between citizens and local government – itself a government target I believe. But until we get the data we need we’re doomed.