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Allotment (publics): an open data and data driven journalism perspective


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This talk was delivered at the USING OPEN DATA policy modeling, citizen empowerment, data journalism workshop (19-20 June, 2012), organised by the W3C, hosted by the European Commission.

The talk addresses issues of everyday data, related to ‘mundane issues’ that people relate to easily, principally because they feature in their everyday lives. This allows for a rethinking of political participation and civic engagement beyond the rather stale ways in which this is measured traditionally. The paper is interested in ‘really useful’ data, which has the ordinary end user firmly in mind. Specifically it highlights these issues through a case study of allotments in the UK, small plots of land rented from the council to grow fruits and vegetables. This case study highlights larger issues concerning the use and value of open data as well as how data driven journalism can play a role in telling these important stories. It highlight this as an open data case study that could embed open data ideas more firmly in the mainstream and take it outside the world of technology. Having an allotment and growing your own food have become incredibly popular in recent years. Due to a real shortage in allotments, lack of creation of new plots, and ever-growing waiting lists, this research is interested in building on and extending previous work in this area, addressing the following questions: How can allotment data be made really useful?; How can open data go mainstream, securing wide use adoption?

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Allotment (publics): an open data and data driven journalism perspective

  1. 1. Allotment (publics): an open data and data driven journalism perspective Farida Vis and Yana Manyukhina University of Leicester | Open Data @flygirltwo
  2. 2. What is an allotment?Small piece of land rented from the council for the cultivation of fruit andvegetables for home consumption. Sign a tenancy agreement every year. Since the Allotments Act of 1908 a standard allotment is ‘10 rods’. Rods are also called poles or perches. 10 rod = 250 sqm.
  3. 3. Allotment data as ‘really useful’ dataPeople care about growing vegetables
  4. 4. Allotments Act of 1908: Clause 23 ensures that councils provideallotments. It takes six citizens. Responsibility of local government. Ifsites sold money can only be spent on allotments.
  5. 5. Threat to the Allotments ActSpring 2011, the Department for Communities and Local Government issued apublic consultation on 1294 Statutory Duties pertaining to local authorities topossibly reduce their number.These duties included Section 23 of the 1908 Allotments Act, which ensureslocal authorities provide allotments, causing some newspapers to suggest that‘The Good Life’ was now under threat.The Act remained unchanged however in the summer the governmentannounced that of the 6,103 responses received nearly half contained acomment on the Allotments Act.
  6. 6. Standard ways in which allotments and growing your own arediscussed in the mainstream media in the UK: Dig for Victory (WWII) The Good Life (1970s sitcom)
  7. 7. Waiting lists: huge demand | tiny supplyIn 1940s: 1.4 million allotment plots in the UK. Now: 200,000. Cycles of popularity. What do you do when everyone wants one again?Waiting list crisis (our local site): 12 years ago, waiting list was 2 months.Now: 15 years. Lots of people with children want to grow food with them.Transition Town West Kirby (TTWK), Margaret CampbellGrow Your Own | Land Share initiative | guerrilla gardening | alleyway gardensRecent changes – rent increases, water rates, tenancy agreements
  8. 8. Sources of information on allotments in UK National Society for Allotments andLeisure Gardeners (NSALG) – official bodyAllotment Regeneration Initiative (ARI) – official body,policy documents, mentors and adviceTransition Town West Kirby (TTWK) – waiting listsPerennial problem: good allotment data. Difficult to get anoverview of what is going on at local/national level.Evidenced based policy making on allotments difficult
  9. 9. Collecting data = time consuming (mainly not available). Not precise Location data doesn’t tell you very much
  10. 10. Mapping plots in Manchester – AMAS (incomplete) + Trafford(open data of allotment locations released by the council)
  11. 11. Allotment data: focus on unreliable waiting list data (difficult to collect & track)New maps using TTWK FOI data: Enriching existing data
  12. 12. Allotment data: difficult to collect & track (focus on unreliable waiting list data)New maps using TTWK FOI data:
  13. 13. New data (through FOI)Tenancy agreementsChanges | consultationsCost of hiring a plot(past, current, future)Cost of water useDiscountsCost of waste of removal
  14. 14. New data obtained through FOI: rent, water charges, discounts, tenancyagreements
  15. 15. Data displayed on interactive map – How did your council compare?
  16. 16. Mainstream media interest: about growing vegetables, not open data
  17. 17. Strong interest from the horticultural and allotment communities
  18. 18. Data for 2011 – all from Transition Town West Kirby. But with new maps.NB! Does not show how many allotments a council has in total –only data for which the council had information.Place with longest waiting list (per 100 people, based on available waiting listdata): Wyre BC has 307 people waiting for 26 plots, that is the equivalent of1181 people waiting for 100 plots, which make it the highest in England)Place with shortest (per 100 people, based on available waiting list data): NorthEast Lincolnshire C has 87 people waiting for 1852 plots, that is the equivalentof 5 people waiting for 100 plots, which makes it the shortest waiting time inEngland.Councils that have closed their waiting lists altogether - Redditch BC,Wellingborough BC, North Hertfordshire DC, Enfield, Woking BC, WalthamForest, Elmbridge BC, South Derbyshire DC, Slough BC, Lambeth, Telford andWrekin BC, Barnet BC, Haringey, Preston CC, Melton BC, Brighton & Hove CC,Stockport BC, Greenwich, Swindon BC, South Tyneside BC, Eastleigh BC, Bury BC,Hounslow, Barnsley BC, Mid Sussex DC, Merton, Brent, Hinckley and BosworthBC, Arun DC, Islington, Camden
  19. 19. Responses to the projectOSM community in West Midlands
  20. 20. Quite a few responses via email. For example (on old measurements):… The Rod was phased out as a legal unit of measurement as part of a ten-yearmetrication process that began in May 1965 but metrication has often beenignored and, in many instances, imperial measurements prevail: roads aremeasured in miles and yards; we measure our height in feet and inches andweight in stones and pounds; and it is difficult to change football goal posts from8 yards x 8 feet to their metric equivalent. Some measurements changed fromimperial to metric and back again: farms have reverted from Hectares to Acresand office rents from £x per square metre to £y per square foot. Sometimes weuse even older measurements: the length of a cricket pitch between stumps is 1chain (22 yards) horse races are run over furlongs (220 yards); and, onepeculiarity, railway bridges have a metal plaque on the side of their brick orstone arches stating x miles and y chains from Victoria, Waterloo, etc. Now, Iwork in metric units every day but, in some cases, old measurements are nottransferable: 10 square rods means something, 253Your research into Allotments is not complete: it concentrates on Councilscharges and waiting lists. It does not include anything about their history; thereis no reference to Rods, Poles and Perches.
  21. 21. Now what? Building national allotment data hub Working with local councils – Trafford Council Working with engaged/engaging communities Finding out what is going on at local/national level Contribute to evidenced based policy makingFinding solutions: can more growing spaces be created?
  22. 22. Who has / will give you the data? Central Government Local Government Allotment Officers Allotment Associations Allotment secretaries Plotholders
  23. 23. From September 2012 re-boot of the project @allotmentdata @flygirltwo