New Year, New Me – Part 2

Do I spend too long on a phone? I often wonder this. Building upon January’s goal of meditating more, I wanted to find other ways to be more mindful about how I spend my time – and I know my phone is my biggest time drain.

I decided to give up my privacy temporarily and install Space  – an app that keeps an eye on how many times I’m unlocking my phone, on what apps, and creates a summary of how long I’m spending on my device.

The app has a habit of sending you slightly passive aggressive messages – suggesting you step away from your device. Sometimes this is exactly the nudge you need. However, if you are lost, desperately trying to work out where you need to go, and running 20 mins late to a meeting, a message like this is enough to make you want to lob your phone into the nearest bush.

 

Messages like this popping up can either be really helpful. Or really, really not.

I’ll be honest – the data showed to me horrified me. One day I spent up to 8 hours on my phone – and  in the 2 months since putting the app on my phone in Feb and April 4, I spent circa 3.3k minutes on twitter, 2.7k on chrome, and 1.7k on gmail. There was also lots of time spent on Slack and Facebook.

Now there are some reasons behind the data looking like this. On one hand, I use my phone for almost everything. I use it as my map – and travel a lot for work. I use it as my WiFi hotspot when travelling for work – and as I mentioned I travel a lot for work. I also use it for work – and it’s been a busy as hell few months. The app also isn’t great at differentiating between those occasions when you are spending loads of time on a thing, and when you’ve just happened to leave your screen on (even on the home screen) and walked away.

I also happened to fracture my arm during the time in which I was trialling the app. Turns out having little to do than lie around while your arm throbs and stops you doing things like eat and playing computer games really increases your tendency to fritter your days away on social media.

Despite these caveats, the numbers are still much higher than I would like – and I have found that although I struggle to keep within my target number of minutes and unlocks, I am much more mindful about how and when I use my phone (outside of times that I need to for work). The app doesn’t quite create enough nudges to be a really effective way to help me reduce the amount of time on my phone, and has had the major impact of my demanding to use my partners phone to navigate us with when we go exploring together – however as an approach, I love not spending all my time in my phone, and deliberately noticing the world around me a bit more.

Let’s see how the next 2 months go – when I hopefully have fewer fractured arms.

I’d also love to hear if you have any insight or thoughts into how to help step away from your phone a little. Do you have an app that might be better than the one I’m currently using? Or another tip I could try?

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?

Data based moralising

There are all manner of complex reasons why people may sign up to Ashley Madison (and other related sites). Some people are in open relationships while some people may be in all manner of unhappy relationships (those that are abusive, that have mismatches around sex drives). Others may have contemplated doing something, but only thought long enough to sign up to having an account, and never actually contacted anyone. Relationships and cheating are complicated.

This leak has huge potential damage to cause a *lot* of harm to real people. And even more so in countries where extramarital sex isn’t just considered morally wrong but is illegal, or where homosexuality is illegal (some of the data reportedly indicates this). Saudi Arabia is an example of this.

I really hate people forcing their morality/perspective on relationships on to others in this incredibly public and identifiable way. And I think we’ll (very sadly) see more instances of incidences like the suicides reportedly related to the hack.