Turning dry data into something people will love isn’t always easy. It’s a lot easier when you know what people want.
But don’t ask the public!
We’ve found that directly asking the public for hack ideas mostly results in blank stares. People rarely know they want something before you invent it (unless it’s a light sabre).
The trick is to turn the direct approach on its head: Quit asking, start snooping.
People’s past behaviour is a much better gauge for what matters to them.
Public chatter and modern media sources are delightfully easy to track, and they provide a rich source of ideas for what the public are interested in, what bugs them and ultimately what things might make their life easier.
These nuggets are hack ideas: Understand the problem, then decide if you can hack a solution (in 36 hours).
Bath is lucky to have some vibrant digital communities so we went straight to the biggest and asked them what’s hot:
“It’ll come as no surprise that buskers and seagulls are the most popular topics in tweets to We Love Bath, but dodgy parking and lost & found items are also prominent. There’s also the never-ending weekly quest for the best Sunday roast!” – Felix, @WeLoveBath
“Our most popular stories on the NOW Bath website since our launch in 2010 all relate to either traffic, weather or crime. What also comes up a lot is planning permission/projects from the Council. Bath and North East Somerset Council do have all the relevant info on their website regarding these, but it would be useful to show all recent applications/projects on a map or in a simple format the public can easily view.” – Seb, NOW Bath
“We have lots of enquiries on Bath Mums about moving to the city and which areas are best, affordable, accessible etc. After people have sorted their property, the next headache is finding and getting into their kids into the right school. Once they’ve waved goodbye to the removal men and they begin enjoying life in Bath, the final challenge is navigating their way around the city. Good luck!” – Lisa, Bath Mums
Bath’s subreddit is also pretty active (and occasionally hilarious).
The Bath Chronicle is also an obvious one to watch, although their more eccentric commenters take a little filtering.
We don’t (yet) have an official breakdown of Report It forms to the council but an insider has told us missed bins (recycling, refuse, garden) are way ahead of anything else, in addition to potholes, flytipping, and faulty streetslights.
Another popular alternative for reporting local problems is the FixMyStreet Bath page.
For problems that local leaders are actually grappling with, reports from council meetings are a rich (if dry) source of ideas.
Freedom of Information requests are a fabulous indicator not only of problems, but often just availability of data. As our data store grows it may be that we already have information people are requesting.
Simply signposting and better visualising such data is a worthwhile hack idea.
Good sources for FOIs in BANES:
And finally… don’t be afraid of simple
These are still early days for open data and everyone is still figuring out how to make it genuinely useful. It’s easy to get wowed (and intimidated) by amazing projects like Shoothill RiverGauge.
However there are already some remarkably successful open data projects in Bath, that are also remarkably simple.
Meanwhile @BathFood has hooked food standards reports into Twitter and built a following of 1,300 people. It has arguably done more to educate us about food hygiene than any costly campaign.
Simple is just fine when it matters to people.
The list is by no means exhaustive so if there’s anything we haven’t included, please ping me. We’ll be happy to add it to the list.
Our next hack is on 1st & 2nd November and it’s fully booked, but we are running a waitlist. There will be some movement on tickets in the final week so if you’d like to hack, it’s still worth signing up.
Best of luck with your idea!