A commission from the Welsh Government has resulted in new functionality for Mapumental, which now has the capability to display multiple points and to produce RAW data compatible with GIS applications. Here’s how it happened.
How accessible is your nearest school, post office, or GP’s surgery? In Wales, that’s not always a simple question: the country’s mountainous landscapes, rural populations, and sometimes infrequent bus services can mean that those without cars are rather cut off from public service provision.
But of course, like any other authority, the Welsh Government has an obligation to quantify just how accessible their services are.
For many years, they have done so using a number of different methods. Some of these involve literally millions of point to point calculations – so, naturally, when Bill Oates, Head of Geography & Technology, Knowledge Services at the Welsh Government, approached Mapumental, he was keen to discover whether we could simplify things.
We were keen to try it, too – plotting multiple points would add a whole new slew of possibilities to Mapumental. Previously, Mapumental has been all about travel from a single point, and this functionality would bring new applications across all kinds of industries and users.
There’s only one way to find out
The sensible way forward was to pick a single service and see what we could do. One of the government’s open data sets showed positioning of all the secondary schools in the country, and would give us a very good indication of how manageable the task would be across all other provisions.
So we set ourselves this aim: to display the shortest transit time to get to any secondary school in Wales, from any point in that country.
This project was not like the map we made for the Fire Protection Association last year, with its postcode input and interactive sliders. It bore more relation to our static maps, but with the additional dimension that the single map would have multiple points plotted on it. Each point would display its own associated journey times, and where travel to one school was quicker than to another, it would have to override the data of the school that was further away.
And here’s the (very pretty) result
Transit times by public transport to secondary schools in Wales, with an arrival time of 9:00am.
Time bands are in 15-minute increments, with red areas being those where schools are accessible within a 15-minute journey (the centres of the red dots therefore also represent the positions of the schools).
Purple areas are those where journey time is between 1.75 and 2 hours, and the colours in between run in the order you see bottom right of the map. White areas (much of which are mountainous and sparsely-populated) are outside the two-hour transit time.
But there’s more – data for GIS
Plotting all the schools on a single map required quite a bit of modification to Mapumental, but there was another important part of the project that also had to be worked on, if the output was to meet all the needs of the Welsh Government.
They needed to be able to export the raw transit time data to their own GIS tools – the tools that they use to feed into official statistics. This allows the transit time data to be combined with other datasets, such as population density, for in-depth analysis.
We added a feature which allows Mapumental to produce what is known as a ‘raster grid’ output – basically, an enormous matrix that gives every pixel on the map a travel time value. To do this, we used the open source GRASS format.
Bill Oates is keen to see where this project can go:
“I’m really excited at the prospect of combining the power of Mapumental with our open data, and fully understanding how accessible Welsh public services are by public transport.”
To him, the benefits are clear:
“Mapumental’s approach is significantly quicker than our current methods, so this work will help save us time as well as providing a more engaging output.
“We hope that future work with mySociety will give us a sustainable approach to calculating the accessibility of local shops, hospitals, post offices and other services on an ongoing basis to help ensure that we’re meeting the needs of our citizens.”
We’re looking to build on our success, and offer this service to others – initially on request but via our API as soon as we can. We’ll keep you posted as to our progress.
You can see multiple-point mapping in action, on our Mapumental Property project – now the tool allows house-hunters to take more than one person’s commute into consideration when choosing where to live.
Who might use Mapumental?
Now that Mapumental can plot transit times from multiple points, and provide RAW data for GIS applications, we have great potential for use by anyone interested in travel and accessibility. That could be in central and local government strategy, town planning, architectural consultancy, transport provision, large enterprises looking to save on parking, or start-ups in the green transport space…to name but a few.
Could Mapumental help you with your mapping needs? If so, please do drop us a line at email@example.com.
Photo of Welsh school bus (bws ysgol) by Aqwis (CC)
We’ve reframed our Wednesday meet-ups: they are now open to all, not just to coders. That’s not to say you can’t come and hack — some people do, and have even been helping us fix some of our longstanding issues — but that is entirely optional.
That means that YOU are welcome, yes you, and you. Come and hang out, find out about our projects or talk about your own. Meet people. Snack, drink.
Last week was the first of these more open evenings, and loads of people came by. It was lovely to host our first “special guests” Richard and Arnaud, and to meet an international partner who happened to be in town, Gaba from DATA Uruguay. Plus Sam, who apparently runs “the funniest computer ever” competition.
Heck, it was lovely to see everyone – we hope that you had a good time and will drop by again.
mySociety meet-ups are every Wednesday in the Mozilla London space, from 6:00 – 9:00pm. And – did we make this clear enough? – they are for everyone. Including you.
Photo by AD Teasdale (CC)
September 28th is International Right to Know Day. 11 years ago a number of international Freedom of Information organisations and activists came together in Bulgaria and created the FOI Advocates Network. This network works to promote peoples’ right to access to information and open and transparent governance, and as a focus for the campaign on Right to Information, September 28th was named International Right to Know day.
Humans are a fairly sociable species, large numbers of us interact and share information on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest, Instagram on a daily basis. Before the advent of the internet we shared information through SMS, phone calls and before that, through letters and face-to-face conversations. We share ideas through books, lessons and discussions. Access to information is important because it facilitates this freedom of expression and sharing.
Information is important. It allows us to make good decisions based on what we know or have found out. If that access to information is blocked, decisions people make will be faulty because they simply cannot know all the facts. For example, if you didn’t have access to information on how the current government was implementing their promises, how could you make a good decision on whether to vote for them come the next election?
Access to information is also important for educating people and helping them improve their own lives. TuDerechoASaber.es is a great example of a group of people creating a platform with the aim to make information accessible to the general public. Though there is no Right To Information law in Spain, it hasn’t stopped David Cabo curating a successful site. The beauty of which is that there is a record of every time the government refuses to reply. The hope is that this will eventually spur a change in the law, while educating people about their rights and helping them improve their knowledge.
Finally, without information being shared, would there have been revolution in the Arab world? When people have access to information about the situation in other countries, they are more likely to stand up and do something. Be that standing up to help people somewhere else, or standing up to change something where they are.
There will be a number of events happening around the world to celebrate International Right to Know Day. The Philippines are having a social media and in person event called #LightUp4FOI, lighting candles in front of their House of Representatives in Manila “to symbolise (their) desire to have a government where information is illuminated and made accessible to all citizens”. The hope is that this will help push through an FOI bill in the Philippines. In Ukraine, a local NGO are screening a documentary about the road to the 2011 Access to Information Law called Open Access. In Liberia the FOI Network has organised a parade through the streets of Fishtown City followed by a radio talk show then a CSO vs Government Officials football match. You can find information about these events, and more, on this google map.
If you are inspired to create something to give citizens in your area access to information, then our Alaveteli platform is one way to do it. Please contact us for more information!
Whatever you are doing, Happy Right to Know day!
Images under creative commons licence | Fireworks by Joshua Sosrosaputo | Lanterns by Svtherland | Tuderechoasaber screenshot by TuDerechoASaber
We’re meeting up every Wednesday night at the Mozilla London space. Hope you can join us.
We mentioned that we’ll be joined this week by Arnaud from Google. We’re delighted to say that Richard Pope will also be there.
Richard describes his current interests:
- Location-based design “I have a bee in my bonnet about responsive design just being about moving pixels about, rather than responding to full context. I’m building an api/js library called ‘Habbit’ as an experiment using open street map data”.
- “I’ve just started to get my head around the Remote storage protocol, so it’d be interesting to hear from anyone else who’s been using that”.
Note: While these events have, up to now, been limited to coders, we’ve had a lot of interest from non-coders too. So we’ve decided to open them up to one and all. If you’re interested in any aspect of our work, you’re welcome!
Just add your name to our Lanyrd pages. Then other people with similar interests will know you’ll be there.
When? Every Wednesday, 6-9pm
Where? Mozilla London
Photo by Dan Cook (CC)
As I mentioned on my last blog Dave and I spent this week in Geneva at OKCon.
This was my first time at OKCon and it was great to see a number of familiar faces from both OGP events and AbreLatAm. Though this was definitely a conference, unlike the Latin American unconference, there was still that feeling of being able to walk up to people and easily start chatting about the projects you’re working on. I’ve been inspired by New Zealand (and their idea of open government data as the new “business as usual”), awed by UNHCR (with their open data for humanitarian crises) and discussed the risks of people getting involved in tech for transparency movements in closed countries.
One session we attended was hosted by Code For Europe. It’s an organisation based on the Code for America example and we listened with interest to their approach, and defense when asked questions by skeptics. Their main challenge to the workshop attendees? Instead of trying to solve a huge national level problem and failing thanks to government bureaucracy, find one Civil Servant or MP that has a great idea and work with them. And in fact, some of mySociety’s best known platforms were started before we had any buy-in from the government, but knowing we had support from a few key people.
We made some great new friends, and caught up with DATAuy. Dave helped them set up FixMyStreet for Montevideo right there at the conference. This was a pretty amazing moment for us because it proved that the platforms, especially the Amazon EC2 hosted ones, really can be set up in less than a day! Don’t forget Dave is working on improving the documentation for this so if you are setting it up, please do fill in our survey.
For me, the most inspiring talk came from Jay Naidoo. He spoke about young people using technology and the internet to fight corruption as digital warriors bringing a “tsunami of hope”. The dream is that these young people can get information into the hands of the communities that can use it to hold their leaders to account. The ideal would be that we create a world free of corruption, where aid money and NGO initiatives get to those that need it most, and moreover that once it arrives, people understand how and why to use it – all because they have access to that information. You can read his blog about the talk here.
Thanks to OKFN for organising such a great event with such inspiring speakers. I’m looking forward to the festival in Berlin next year!
The next big event we’ll be at is OGP in London at the end of October, though we’re hoping to speak at some of the surrounding events as part of Transparency Week. Please do get in touch with us if you’re coming to OGP and want to meet up! We’d love to see you! Plus, you could join our Meet up on the 30th October and meet some mySociety staff!
OKCon main room photo by Arnaud Velten | Other photos by Jen
We’re meeting up every Wednesday night at the Mozilla London space. You’re welcome to join us!
This coming Wednesday, we’ll be joined by Arnaud Sahuguet from Google. Normally resident in New York, he’s Product Manager for Google Maps infrastructure.
Arnaud’s areas of expertise are digital mapping, cryptography, databases and data management.
He describes his current areas of interest as “Civic Search Engine Optimisation; open data; and civic CMS. In general, I like to hear about a new problem and try to provide a first quick and dirty solution”.
What happens at a mySociety meet-up?
- Meet mySociety developers and other people interested in civic and democratic projects;
- Talk about project ideas you may have; get advice or find people to help you;
- Chat about our projects, data and tools;
- Do some coding if you’d like to;
- Drink beer, eat crisps and socialise.
There’s no need to book – just turn up; BUT, do add yourself to our Lanyrd pages. Then other people with similar interests will know you’ll be there.
When? Every Wednesday, 6-9pm
Where? Mozilla London
Links to Lanyrd pages:
Photo by Jonathan McIntosh (CC)
Come and say hello
We’re out and about at quite a few local government conferences over the next few months. Come and find us! We’d love to hear what questions you have about mySociety’s digital services.
At all the events below, Mike will be speaking, and both Mike and Myf will be available at our table if you’d like to chat.
Channel Shift in the Public Sector London, September 26th
Digital Public Services Wales Cardiff, October 18th
Channel Shift in Scottish Public Services Edinburgh, October 31st
Channel Shift in the Public Sector Manchester, December 5th
Want to meet for drinks?
We’ll also be around for informal localgov digital chat and drinks, the night before the Cardiff, Edinburgh and Manchester events. Drop us a line if you’d be interested in joining us.
Photo of Cardiff by John Greenaway (CC)
WriteToThem allows you to email the people who represent you – even if you don’t know who they are. Input your postcode, and you’ll see all your representatives, from local councillors, to your MP and MEPs. You can then choose who you want to write to, and send off your message.
Never done anything like this before? You’re not alone. In fact, we ask all our users whether this is the first time they have contacted a representative. The number who say ‘yes’ is consistenly over 50%.
Of course, once you know WriteToThem is there, you can use it whenever you need to. Like Kate:
Kate found WriteToThem in the same way that many others do: searches for phrases such as ‘contact my local MP’ bring a lot of users to the site.
I first came across WriteToThem a few years ago when looking for my local MP’s contact details. It was the first time I had contacted an MP, apart from when I wrote a letter to Parliament as part of a secondary school project.
I chose WriteToThem because it had a full list of representatives, as well as a letter template.
The first time I used the site, I got an almost immediate response from my local MP.
That’s great. Of course, every MP is different, and we can’t guarantee that they’ll respond – but it’s good to hear that yours was on the ball. So, what do you contact your representatives about?
I only write to an MP when I feel that public service providers have acted unprofessionally or not helped in any way.
I have written about more support being given to single working parents. I have written about traffic wardens handing out unjustified parking fines to cars with permits displayed, and I have also written about the lack of housing.
Has it been useful?
I have had responses to every letter, and I have also seen results: one of my letters about single working mothers was sent from my local MP to Iain Duncan Smith, and since April there has been more support around child-care.
WriteToThem is a direct and simple way to contact representatives. The site is easy to use, and every time I have used it I have had a response from the MP either by letter or email.
It’s a good way to get your opinions heard by politicians, and a good way to encourage positive change within local and national politics.
Thanks very much to Kate for telling us how she uses WriteToThem.
This post is part of a mini-series, in which we meet people who regularly use mySociety’s websites.
In a break from tradition, I’m going to start this blog with an appeal.
We on the international team at mySociety are trying to improve the install process and documentation for all of our internationalised websites. Since we built the original sites, we’re not the best people to ask on what needs to be improved, as I’m sure you understand. If you’re interested in helping us out doing this I’ve created two surveys, you’ll find them at the end of this post! Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can ask you a few questions. On to other exciting things…
In site news we are working on Alaveteli sites for Uganda and Italy. Both of these should be finished and ready for launch soon, thanks to our developers and of course our partners for showing interest.
We’ve also been helping set up a FixMyStreet site in Cape Verde and a demo FixMyStreet site for Whypoll in India. While these two sites are being installed on mySociety’s servers, three people from Singapore and two people from South Africa are also working on FixMyStreet for their countries, as self installs.
And in Pombola news we are helping with websites in South Africa, Zimbabwe and are hoping to work with a team in Malawi.
But these are just the most recent sites! People are working on sites in Uruguay, Bosnia, Croatia, Italy and a number of other countries. Follow our twitter @mysocietyintl to find out more.
We’d love to help you set up your own site, or just give you advice on why sites like these can be useful. Send me an email at email@example.com to find out how!
Finally, we’re going to be attending a few conferences and we’d love to meet up with you to chat and get to know you. You can find us at:
15th to 19th September – OKCon, Geneva (Jen and Dave)
27th to 28th September – OverTheAir, Bletchley Park (Dave)
30th Sept to 3rd October – African Entrepreneurship Summit, Mauritius (Paul)
25th to 27th October – Mozfest, London (Dave)
30th October to 1st November – OGP London (Paul and Jen)
27th to 29th November – World Forum for Democracy, Strasbourg (Jen)
Please do drop by and say hello!
By the way, if you are hosting a conference and want us to come along and speak (for free! We don’t charge, and a lot of the time we try to pay our own way!) please drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org . We love to connect with new people and would be delighted to be involved!
As promised, here are the survey links. If you have ever installed or had us create one of our websites for you please take a look at them and fill them in.
One more thing, as a p.s. Hopefully these “What we’ve been up to” updates will soon come to you in video format! Be kind to me if the first one is awkward!
Hand photo by Alban Gonzalez | Android photo by Tiago A Pereira | Bike photo by Raul Lieberwirth | Thank you for making your content creative commons distribution.
WhatDoTheyKnow is mySociety’s Freedom of Information site. You can use it to make FOI requests, and it publishes them – and the responses you receive – for everyone to see.
You might think that making a Freedom of Information request is something that only journalists or investigators do. But actually, one of WhatDoTheyKnow’s aims is to show that anyone can access this right. If there’s something you want to find out, and the information is held by a public body, WhatDoTheyKnow makes it very easy for you to request it.
WhatDoTheyKnow is mySociety’s most-visited site, with around 100,000 people viewing the information on it every week. Not all of those people make FOI requests, but they are all benefiting from the information uncovered by those who do.
And who are those ‘people who do’?
Jonathan works for a digital company in Brighton, as a project manager. He first became aware of WhatDoTheyKnow at a local conference on open data in the city.
I make FOI requests as a Brighton citizen. Mostly I ask about data that is held by the council. For example, I’ve recently made requests about parking revenue, council pay levels – that sort of thing.
These are topics that are of clear interest to everyone in the city – but why does he make these requests?
It is about getting the data into the public domain to start an informed debate.
Public authorities don’t always provide data that is requested (and not always because they are being difficult, or inefficient – there are a number of situations where they are not obliged to). So, has Jonathan received the information he has asked for?
The most important data that I have asked the council to release has been refused. But I am still hopeful they will eventually release it.
All of mySociety’s websites hope to lower the barriers to civic participation; we hope that we encourage people to access channels of communication that they may never have previously considered open to them.
In Jonathan’s case, he says that if WhatDoTheyKnow wasn’t available, he would have made his requests by email – he’s already switched on to the existence and potential of the FOI act. But, he says, WhatDoTheyKnow is “a fantastic resource”.
When information is requested via email, it stays almost entirely hidden from view, unless the recipient chooses to publicise it. But on WhatDoTheyKnow, information becomes fully visible to everyone – all part of starting that ‘informed debate’ that Jonathan mentioned.
Thanks very much to Jonathan for telling us how he uses WhatDoTheyKnow.
This post is part of a mini-series, in which we meet people who regularly use mySociety’s websites.