What colour is your household waste bin?

How far will I go to prove someone wrong?

Well, it turns out quite far. A few weeks ago @TillyWrites and I had a disagreement about the colour of household refuse bins. I think they are usually black, and Tilly thinks they are usually green.

Edit: This is about non-recyclable waste bins. Sorry for not making that quite clear!

So, on and off since then, I’ve been searching online for every authority in the UK with responsibility for waste collection, and capturing information about the colour of their bin, producing a glorious spreadsheet. (I like spreadsheets – spreadsheets are fun).

Suffice to say I’m winning. There are more authorities that provide black bins than green bins. And there are more people who use black bins than green bins as their main household waste bins across the whole of the UK (using ONS population estimates).

However, I’ve gotten a little obsessed. I now want to make a map to put on my wall – and I currently can’t find information online about bins in 34 authorities. I don’t want to have ‘unknown’ as a category in my final map if I can help it!

Can you help me make a complete data set and thus a pretty map?

If you live in one of the 34 authorities that is currently marked as ‘unknown’, could you add the colour of the bin to the spreadsheet? The rules are:

  • I’m looking for data on household waste collections only – not business waste.
  • If bins might be one of two colours, add both
  • If the bin lid is a different colour to the body, add both colours
  • The ‘black’ and ‘dark grey’ boundary is hard to differentiate – and I’m not sure authorities are using them distinctly. Add both if you aren’t sure!

When I’ve completed the dataset, I’ll publish a full list online, under an open license, with other data like population data, just in case anyone is geeky enough to want to use it for some reason. I can’t think why someone might want it, but who knows?!?

Thanks!

How can open data help democracy?

This post was originally published on The Democratic Society website.

It’s always good to read about open data and democracy in a mainstream newspaper , but often the focus of the pieces are too narrow, and it was in this case. While exploring broadly the idea of apps for democracy and open data, the focus was on voting as the main means of democratic engagement, without exploring how else citizens can engage in politics or policy making, and the article didn’t touch upon how to help citizens understand and use the data that is being made openly available.

At the Democratic Society, we believe that people should be engaged meaningfully in decision making more substantially than through the exercising of the right to vote taking place once every five years. While voting is a crucial part of a representative democracy, it is not the end of democratic engagement. Once elected, governments should be actively listening to, and working with, citizens, to develop policies and services.

The reasons for this go beyond just a democratic imperative – although this is obviously important – to the fact that it provides opportunity for public officials to tap into the collective expertise of the public; gaining insight to which they would not otherwise have access.

There are a range of activities that local and national governments carry out to listen to, and engage with, citizens. These range from the standard consultation model – in which a government department or body releases a survey, asking a set of questions around a set of proposals for either a policy or service – through to much more hands on approaches, like participatory budgeting. In addition, there are many other methods and approaches described in the open policy making manual.

If governments want to move away from the criticisms often levelled at consultation and engagement exercises – one of which is that consultations are often carried out as a tick box exercise, rather than a genuine attempt at hearing from the public – they could do far worse than consider how to ensure that consultation and engagement attempts are genuinely informed by relevant data, which is released under an open license, and presented in a way that allows citizens to explore it and understand it.

We are seeing an ever increasing number of government data sets being released openly – as any quick look at data.gov.uk will tell you. And this release of open government data is often held up as a public good, and as a democratic good. The evidential narrative being that this open data allows people to hold governments to account, and to better understand what government is doing.

However, what this narrative fails to address is that the vast majority of people don’t know how to use the data that is released, don’t know that this data is being released, and either wouldn’t have the time or inclination to use this data. This means that the main beneficiaries of open data are those individuals, journalists, and companies who have significant data skills – which is not the vast majority of citizens.

This evidential narrative also fails to address that the fact that the data sets being released are those which government choses to release; either because they are comparatively easy to release, there are existing business cases to justify the cost of organising and releasing the data, or as a result of lobbying from the open data community or big organisations. While there are mechanisms  that exist for individuals to request data sets be made openly available, these routes do not seem well known to many who would benefit from using public open data.

So how can we make open data more useful and valuable for actual citizens?

One thing that would be really transformational would be for the change we are seeing around increasing citizen participation and engagement in policy making, to be combined with the open data movement.

As local and national governments engage or consult citizens on policy proposals or changes to service delivery, I’d like to see like to see these bodies releasing open data sets relevant to the issues or services they are consulting upon. And I’d like to see opportunities to be made available for citizens to explore the data that don’t require them to have technological skills, or to know much about open data full stop.

At a local government level, this may include releasing the number of times a bridge is used by pedestrians and bicycles at various times over the course of a day, when consulting about whether access to a bridge should be widened. This data release could then be accompanied by a small event, inviting local residents and other citizens who use the route to come and explore the data, alongside civil servants and other interested individuals with relevant data skills, providing citizens with the opportunity to both learn some additional skills, and to gain additional insight to inform their opinions to respond to the engagement exercise. It would also act as a way of raising awareness of open data to communities and groups who have not previously come across it.

At a national level, running these events may be more challenging – it would be expensive and difficult to run events in all possible locations across the UK. However it shouldn’t be too onerous to go so far as to release data that have been used to inform the policy proposals, or are more broadly relevant to the consultation.

These proposals would result in open data sets that are embedded and connected more strongly to the process of helping to inform public decision making, rather than just data sets that are easy to release, or seen as desirable by individuals and organisations external to government. This can then allow more informed and honest conversations to take place, resulting in citizens who can be more effectively engaged in consultation activities, and civil servants and elected representatives having more useful and informed responses from which to build any policy proposals or service design changes.

That, to my mind, is one way open data could certainly benefit democracy.

Digital Catapult shows us how to build trust

The irony meter just broke.

The Digital Catapult is currently advertising for a new Chief Executive.

In the first paragraph of the job description they explain that the Digital Catapult focuses on “four areas of opportunity in sharing proprietary data: Sharing closed data between organisations; sharing personal data in a way that’s secure and trusted; sharing licensed data more simply and sharing data generated across the Internet of Things.”

I imagine this “sharing of personal data in a way that is secure and trusted” must include “using very long privacy policies that most people will not read but are obliged to agree to before allowing people to see the important information they’ve come to a page to visit”, given that you need to accept the rather long and small print privacy policy before you can even see the person specification and full job details.

They also must feel that burying clauses like “we may disclose your personal data to the prospective seller or buyer of such business or assets” way down in the scroll through box is also a good way of establishing trust:

 

You note that "may sell" clause?
Privacy policy on the job advert page

 

So I guess they’re not doing much about informed consent then?

Monthly roundup: January 2016

Between being broke, dealing with a huge load of work, and dealing with the fall out of a move half way across the country, it was a month when I didn’t go out much. That’s not to say it was dull by any stretch of the imagination.


What did I watch?

I’m aiming to see 52 films in 2016 (for no particular reason than that I didn’t watch enough in 2014 or 2015 due to life getting in the way). No Internet and no heating in my new house meant that curling up under a duvet with a friend, eating take-away, and watching films seemed like a great way to spend time, so I seem to have made great steps towards meeting this goal.

The Last Time I saw Paris – costarring Paris as itself. I struggled with the gender politics of this, with a plot that basically boils down to a woman being sacrificed so as to enable the redemption of an unsympathetic male character, the same character who having flirted with one woman, ran off with her sister, and upon deciding he felt bad about his now dead wife, despite his role in her death, was subsequently allowed guardianship over his daughter with no real questions about his suitability. Nope.

True Romance – great fun. Although the only woman in the film being little more than a plot device and an excuse for a tremendously gratuitous violent scene, clearly designed to arouse a certain type of individual, wasn’t quite my cup of team to be honest. But there were enough other amazing moments in the film to make up for that. Including the Sicilian scene which just made me remember why Walken is amazing.

Kind Hearts & Coronets – a gloriously fun yet cutting film commenting upon the class structure (as it was/is?) in Britain. Who can imagine a better looking, more polite, and logical mass murderer?

Easy Rider – I’ve heard so much about this film, but I really struggled with it. It’s very pretty to look at, but I couldn’t accept that Wyatt and Billy in any way represented freedom or liberated individuals. Myself and a friend did keep ourselves entertained by shouting “FREEDOM” and “MURICA” at the screen at random intervals. This was more fun than the film.

Gone in 60 Seconds – you have 72 hours to steal 50 cars. What’s the best use of time? Oh yes, a heart to heart with your brother, going to see your mother that you haven’t seen for years, and engaging in some banter with the cops. Part of the “make Michelle watch Nic Cage films” plan that a friend of mine has, it was enjoyable, even if I spent the whole film moaning about the stupid project management of the car stealing process, and worked out the big finale about 30 mins into the film on the basis of a single line.

Chinatown – what a thoroughly depressing film. Brilliant, gorgeously shot, and I may now be slightly in love with Nicholson. However, I couldn’t help but find myself comparing it unfavorably to film noirs of old though…

Double Indemnity – Too much melodrama and odd acting. And I just checked out after MacMurray falling for the female lead in a stupidly quick time.

Princess Bride – always an incredible film to watch. However, the person I was with merely thought it was a ‘good film’. I may stop talking to them.

Transporter and Transporter 2 – No-one ever needs an excuse to watch Statham run around, hit things, and have his car explode. Realised part way through Transporter 2 that a friend of mine literally wants to be Statham, which will keep me amused for weeks.

The Big Short – I didn’t know what to expect from a film about the banking crisis, but I am really so glad I saw this. I loved how it managed to make an incredibly dry topic into something that is hopefully able to be understood by more people – aided by a guide to banking for normal people, delivered by cameos breaking the 4th wall.There were points when it did seem a little smug, notably a line delivered by Pitt that is simultaneously one of the pivotal moments of the film, but also seems a little heavy handed.

One thing did jar. In a film talking about a ridiculously macho culture, with few female characters, it was decided to have Margot Robbie sat in a bathtub drinking champagne to explain subprime mortgages to the viewer, and yet built in no male equivalent? Yeah, that’s problematic. I’m not against stupidly sexual and suggestive shots. I am against them just being of women.

What did I read?

I’m also aiming to read 52 books in 2016 – although I think this one may be a little harder to hit. With the whole ‘no heating’ thing, sitting down, staying still (without the associated body height of friends that you get when watching films) and reading wasn’t high on the to do list.

Activism or Slactivism – I think it’s really easy to dismiss actions dismissed as slacktivism, but I got very frustrated that this book seems to start with the idea of liking something on facebook, and then jump straight to the Arab Spring, seeming to equate what emerged from these as a result. It also helped crystallise some of my thinking – although largely in opposition ot it (ie. There was no mention of who drives the agenda when activist groups do wht they do online), and that’s useful. If problably not the point of the book.

Madame Bovary – I couldn’t decide if I was more angry with the way men treated Emma in this book, or with Emma for her romantic outlook and unsatisfied attitude to her life. Either way, any attempt to blame the books was clearly ludicrous.

What did I attend?

UKGovCamp 2016 – UKGovCamp is always a highlight of the year, and this was no different. Lots of fun, meeting old friends and making new ones, experiencing a very cathartic #FailCamp session run by @blangry, listening to the philosophical musings of @johnlsheridan, and generally being challenged to think.


What did I write?

Nothing that is published. Must try harder.



What am I looking forward to in February?

I’ve started reading ‘A Year in Magical Thinking’ which has already made me cry, and plan to write about open data, and something about democracy and campaigning. Deadpool and Zoolander 2 both come out, and there should also be a trip to an Escape Room. Pretty excited tbh.

Coming out. Again

You don’t come out just once. You come out many times over the course of your life…

[I wrote this for National Coming Out Day, but have been rather ill since I drafted it, so only just getting around to posting it.

I was asked to write this piece by a friend of mine when I was trying to explain to her how coming out isn’t a one time only kinda thing]

 

 

You don’t come out just once.

So many people presume heterosexuality as being the obvious default that for someone who isn’t attracted to/only to people of the opposite gender, there are always people who don’t know, people who are making incorrect assumptions about your sexuality. On a regular basis you have to choose whether or not to correct them. Whether or not to come out. Whether or not it’s worth it this time.

The first time I came out I walked hand in hand into a place of work with a woman I had kissed the previous night, where I was met with colleagues telling me they had seen me the night before, that it was hot as hell, and asking if this meant I didn’t like boys any more. I hadn’t been kissing a girl for any reason other than the fact I fancied her, but I didn’t have the words to really explain this (other than that simple statement), nor did I have the words to say much more than that I liked both men and women. I learned how to express my sexuality quite effectively though as I spent the next few years with men trying to convince me and said woman to have a threesome with them.

Was it worth it? Yes. Despite the hassle I got afterwards, it was worth it as it was the first time I really admitted in public that I liked both women and men. I found something very empowering in making the decision to own my sexuality at that point in my life…

Then there was the time I was forced to come out. A man I had been dating for a while had been told by a friend of his that I had slept with women in the past, and he wanted to know if this meant I was promiscuous. By this stage I was older, wiser, and far more able to explain that sleeping with a woman rather than a man provided no insight into how promiscuous I was.

Was it worth it? Well, I didn’t really have a choice. I didn’t think it was really any business of anyone else at the time who I had slept with in the past, and had clearly made the decision not to get to tell the guy I was dating at the time too much about my past. It did however have the benefit of pointing out to me that I should probably end my current relationship…

Another time I came out was while talking to mental health professionals when trying to get treatment for depression. The woman I was talking to asked about my sexual and romantic history, so innocently I provided it, mentioning both male and female ex partners. She raised her eyebrows about these, and told me it may be indicative of an underlying instability. I was more than a little angry about this, ranted to a few friends as soon as I left the room, but wasn’t in a place to do anything about it. Given the response, which also made me close down about being open about any other parts of my life history, made me feel that someone was trying to interpret my sexuality as a sign that there was something wrong with me, it certainly didn’t feel worth coming out this time.

And then there was the time I mentioned a girlfriend to my father. And the last time I consciously mentioned an ex girlfriend to my work colleagues because for some reason at the time it felt important. And… And…

I can’t count how many times I’ve either had to or chosen to come out to different groups and individuals. And I know that I’m not alone in this – it’s something that many of my non-heterosexual friends have experienced. When you ‘come out’ the first time, it may be that you tell someone significant – be that close friends or family – but it is far from the only time you will have to own your sexuality, and correct other people’s preconceptions.

And each time takes the same calculations about whether or not it is worth it this time, whether or not you’re in the place to deal with possible questions, and how important it is to be true to yourself measured against any possible negative judgments or repercussions.

Although time makes it easier– and for me at least, so does the fact that I’m lucky enough to have been born in a country where my sexuality isn’t illegal – there are still too many instances when I slightly hold my breath as I casually drop in mention of an ex girlfriend when in conversation with people who aren’t aware, those who are newer in my life and haven’t known me when I’ve been dating a woman (the last significant woman in my life was pre-university).

And because I’ve realised it does matter to me that I don’t feel I’m having to hide a part of who I am, and because most people do still tend to default to presuming you are straight unless you say otherwise, and because I plan to keep meeting new people, people who don’t know that I’m attracted to both men and women, I guess I’m going to have to keep on coming out.