Networked Councillor: connecting with your councillor (or council) online

Posted on
Rows of chairs in front of a line of tables
City Council Chamber, Seattle , 1962 from Seattle Municipal Archives (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This morning I came into work with the intention of writing a blog post about Networked Councillor. The idea was to try to say something meaningful about the project for myself. You can learn more about what that’s all about here.

Anyway, I couldn’t think of anything particularly meaningful that hadn’t been said by someone better qualified, so I figured it might be a good idea to investigate, for just a minute, how easy it might be to contact a councillor for myself.

Problem was – and this is a terrible confession to make – I wasn’t even sure what the name of my ward was, let alone my councillors’ names, so I needed to take a look on the Brighton and Hove City Council website to find out. Unfortunately – and while it really is a very nice looking website – when I found the ‘find your councillor’ page within the Council and Democracy section, it didn’t help.

I’d expected to find a postcode look-up service, which I remember the council having before. So I asked the council on Twitter. Within a few minutes, not only did I have a response, but a commitment to resolve the problem, as you can see from this Storify of the tweets…

Brilliant. A few years ago, a (very minor) problem like this could have gone unnoticed for weeks because, while people would have spotted it, they may have considered it too trifling to bother with given the time it would take to tell someone. Now social media permit people to quickly say something that can lead to real action with minimal fuss.

That is as important for councillors as it is for councils. If I’m being brutally honest, the time I’ve got to share stuff with politicians is limited. Just as if I’d been faced with filling out a form or writing a letter I might have not told the council about the problem with the website, if I’m faced with attending a surgery in person or writing a letter, I probably wouldn’t talk to my councillor. Frankly, if councillors don’t make it easy for me to talk to them, I won’t and I’m guessing I’m not alone in holding this sentiment. In that light, it’s natural that many of us don’t think councillors are people who can solve problems for us – when , in fact, they often are.

That’s a problem for us all, because it can have a corrosive effect on the power of local democracy to solve local problems, which obviously is a bad thing. But cases like the one I’ve highlighted offer a little light at the end of the tunnel, as does the Networked Councillor report, because it sheds light on how we can be better connected to local democracy.

This blog post was supposed to add to the debate around the report – on what we should expect from councillors and how they should navigate this world. I’m afraid it’s done absolutely nothing to help that. But at least, maybe, it’s illustrated why getting online makes sense – and how  it will help councillors connect with people like me, who are online, time poor, short of attention but nonetheless have something to say. There are more than a few of us, I’m guessing.


Brighton’s first social media surgery

Posted on

Brighton's first social media surgery

Last night I attended the first ever Brighton Social Media Surgery – a rather special if small event that marks an important landmark for a number of reasons.

  • For one, it’s the start of an important phase of the We Live Here project which is aiming to usher in a new relationship between the public, voluntary and community sectors in Brighton and Hove.
  • It’s also one of the first surgeries to have taken place since the Social Media Surgeries were honoured with a Prime Minister’s Big Society Award.
  • And, from a personal perspective, it feels like it rubber-stamps by big-money transfer to Public-i from Podnosh – the firm that through the enormous largesse, industry and general brilliance of its creator, Nick Booth, has made the surgeries the success they are.

OK, so I was slightly lying about ‘big money’ bit, but the rest is absolutely true – and being involved in social media surgeries (which I first blundered into in Fazeley Studios in Birmingham – as it happens without a computer and could only lend a hand moving the desks) has been a source of enormous enjoyment and reward for me. So getting the chance to become involved as a surgeon in my new home town is, frankly, fabulous.

Enough of the gushing… Now for the surgery…

The We Live Here project will be holding surgeries in the three pilot communities it’s running in. Two of these, Hangleton and Knoll and Brunswick and Regency, are geographical; the third, the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities in Brighton is obviously rather harder to define.

For that reason, Susie Latta – the surgery organiser, held the first one in the Black and Minority Ethnic Community Partnership building, which is at 10A Fleet Street. Here’s a map!

We sat in the foyer of the BMECP and, while I was a little late, Anthony Zacharzewski was able to help out three patients with Twitter (that’s Anthony in the picture above) – with this account for for Forward Facing created. Please give ’em a follow!

When Anthony went, I took over and helped Bert Williams of Brighton and Hove Black History to learn a little more about how he’d be able to use QR codes as part of his work. Bert holds tours of our city that devle into the remarkable role people of different ethnic backgrounds have played in Brighton’s history. As ever, being a surgeon was as much a learning experince as it was an opportunity to impart my own knowledge: I found out from Bert that – much to my surprise – the Emperor Haile Selassie of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) had visited Brighton while in exile!

For details of surgeries visit the Social Media Surgery website. The next one in Brighton will be on the 27th of February 2012 and there’ll be one in Hangleton and Knoll on the 29th of February.

SHARE THIS POST: (I’ve cross-posted this piece on my own blog and on the Public-i blog. Please re-post it to your own blog if you want to tell people about the surgeries – and modify for your audience, but please link back to the orginal and attribute the post. Thanks!)


Adding to the Twitter map

Posted on

I’ve realised that adding to the Twitter map for Brighton and Hove can be a bit of a pain, so I’m writing this quick post to explain to people an easy way to do it (which basically involves you telling me).

If you tweet me (@andbwell) and include the hashtag #bhtwitmap, I can add stuff – but only (and this really is an only) if you provide me with good latitude and longitude co-ordinates for what you want adding.

I guess there are two ways of doing this:-

1). you are standing in front of the thing and send me a geotagged tweet
2). you quickly visit this nifty site,, find the place and paste the co-ordinates into the tweet (or email me at andrew dot brightwell at gmail dot com).

Remember to send me the Twitter account (if it isn’t obvious) and any other instructions and contact details you’d like adding.

Of course, if none of this works just email or tweet me and I’ll help!!



Creating a Twitter map for Brighton and Hove

Posted on

Quite by accident I appear to have started a Twitter map for Brighton and Hove. Hove, actually. (Sorry, this is an in joke, those of you don’t live here.)

The map – which is currently useless, and will need other people’s help to get anywhere – is really just an attempt to straighten out who you might offer some kind of information on Twitter to if you’re a passer-by and find something disturbing/important that needs an authority to sort out.

So, for example, today I was in King Alfred’s Leisure Centre (he doesn’t actually own it, it’s just the name) and, as I waited to be served, I heard that the car-park ticket machine wasn’t working. The lady at reception didn’t know who to contact or who it’s owned by (it’s a local authority car park and, while the pool is owned by Brighton and Hove City Council, it’s run by Freedom Leisure, so she might not be expected to know).

So, anyway, I tweeted @brightonandhovecc. And someone there (and I’d love to know their name, but understandably they don’t give them out) told me that the message would be passed on to Brighton and Hove Transport, who also have a Twitter account. Great. That person told me that this information had been passed on and thanked me. I thanked them (cue warm civic feeling).

All this is good, but how often, I thought, am I unable to work out who I should contact? I’m fairly adept at the old Twitter, but not everyone even knows as much as me. And how would they find out? Twitter’s great at helping to get information into the right hands, but it needs a little finessing, right?

The same is true for the police, who in Sussex are pretty damn awesome at the Twitters. I should know, we at Public-i, have been helping them. That’s why I know, for example, that PCSO Nick Packham is in Hove Seafront and, if I tweet him at the right time, I can ask him about stuff and the like. He’s a smashing bloke, so he’ll tell me what’s up, etc. and he’d do the same for anyone else who lives in his patch. Again, great. But making the connections between people is what matters, right?

So this is what the map (lame as it is) sets out to do. It tries (for my purposes, at least) to map out who the folk are that should hear about something if there’s a problem (or can help when you need assistance). It strikes me that it could include resident associations and other groups that pay attention to a specific place, so could be quite helpful to all sorts.

OK, so it’s a Google map and that doesn’t mean it’ll be winning any usability awards in the near future – but it’s a start, right?

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who has added stuff (I’m going to have to make a list). I’ve now made some very simple instructions for anyone who’d like to add stuff but is struggling with Google Maps (don’t worry we’ve all been there). Follow this link to the post to find out more.

View Twitter map for Brighton in a larger map

Oh – by the way – if you want to put something on the map or edit it please do. I’m not going to get this done on my own!!!


Mapping deprivation in Brighton (a first, faltering attempt)

Posted on

For a few reasons I decided to keep out of the way at CityCamp Brighton. But I was still keen to try to do something with a bit of my time.

Paul Colbran and the folk at Brighton and Hove released some data around postcodes and deprivation at the beginning of the conference, so I thought I’d have a look at it and see if I could get anything useful from it. The data is presented on this page, here. It’s a biggish spreadsheet, with a lot of fields that take a bit of getting used to!

I’m no expert with data, but I imported it into Google Refine – which allows you to call APIs and augment the fields with other information. I added some Lat Long coordinates – so that I could have a look at mapping the most deprived areas.

What this revealed was that there are quite a few ‘dead’ postcodes – those being, essentially, dead locations that the API can’t help you to locate. While there are Eastings and Northings, for a novice these are harder to work with – and because they are not a universally recognised system (albeit very accurate) they are not as easy to automatically map. On Saturday night I manually inputed data for the first set, but I wimped out on the Sunday and simply left the locations out.

As it happens the vast majority, I think, are located close to the areas that are revealed in the map, below. I chose to work with the 10 per cent most deprived wards, based on the assessment of deprivation made in 2007 – the ‘index of multiple deprivation 2007 overall LSOA score’. There’s an explanation of what this is here, but essentially it’s a combination of seven different aspects of deprivation – including (according to Wikipedia) ‘deprivation, employment deprivation, health deprivation and disability, education skills and training deprivation’.

Because there is some data missing – and because of the hit-and-miss nature of this kind of first stab at using the data – my map SHOULD be taken with a pinch of salt. There are, for example, a couple of fishy-looking results (deprivation on a golf course?). SO THIS IS NOT SCIENCE!!. Nonetheless, as an exercise it has been useful in proving that, with relatively little preparation, it’s possible to begin to interrogate the data and understand more about the city – and its needs.

A map presented by Anthony Zacharzewski in his introduction to CityCamp Brighton suggested that there is much deprivation intermingling with more affluent areas – I think these are called ‘pockets’ in the trade. These don’t really show up in the data that I’ve used. This might be because deprivation can be measured in a variety of ways, but it may also be because there are different degrees of deprivation. The postcode data that I looked at distinguishes, by way of illustration, between ‘the 10 per cent most deprived’ and the 20 and 30 per cent most deprived. Since I went for the most narrow definition, it is almost certainly the case that a broader range would elicit a more complex picture of where deprivation in the city is located.

There are a few things that I think come out of this:-

1). There’s a need to revise and work on cleaning up the data – particularly the postcodes – which would certainly help the council.

2). There’s an opportunity for the city itself (i.e. not just the council) to work together to explore what deprivation means, where it is and how it can be tackled that good (not the use of a very lazy positive adjective) data can help to provide.

3). There are some important questions that need to be asked about need – particularly in the location of resources and services – that mapping of deprivation is particularly useful at helping to reveal. While the council may have been considered, traditionally, to be best-placed to do this, I think it makes sense that if we start to broaden who is able to explore and consider this kind of information, we will be more likely to come up with better ideas on how to go about dealing with these problems.

4). I feel there’s a responsibility on those who push for open data to start using it as soon as it appears – even if it is only to decide that it can’t be used and to feed that information back to government. It’s only by working on the data – demonstrating that it’s useful or that it’s not – that we can help those who want to help us in winning the argument that this stuff really matters.

Better get back to Google Refine!


Gritting bins in Brighton

Posted on

Brighton in the snow taken by Neate Photos - on a Creative Commons Licence

With all the cold weather I thought it might be useful to have a little look at the gritting information available for where I live.

I’ve taken a PDF file on Brighton and Hove’s website and made it into a spreadsheet, which you can see here.

I’ve also made the spreadsheet into a kind of pivot-table type explorable gadget, which you can see as a tab on the spreadsheet. This should make it easy for you to be able to play a bit with the data – and find out where the grit bins in your area are. Word of warning: This provides the location of the bins from the PDF – which, as I understand it, can be used by public when necessary. Lots of wards (including my own, Brunswick and Adelaide) don’t have bins, probably because they’re quite built up. The pixel limit of my theme means I can’t stretch it across the page, but you can see it below. To play with it properly I’d recommend that you go to the spreadsheet.

The council has recently added a number of bins since the cold weather last year (and early this year) and you can use the gadget to see where the new bins are.

What’s missing at the moment are the lat-long co-ordinates for each of the bins. It might (also) be helpful to find out whether the bins are full – and what ‘yellow, green, cream’ bins are specifically for.

Brighton and Hove has lots of information about the bins, but nothing specifically about routes. In Birmingham there was a list of the roads that get gritted. Dave Harte of the Bournville blog made that in to a map for his area and turned it into a spreadsheet. Inspired by this, a few folk who are members of the local OpenStreetMap group turned it into a more comprehensive map for the Midlands.

It’d be nice if we could start a similar bit of community activity here in Brighton, but I’m too new to the area to have a clue where to start! However, I’ve made an open copy of the spreadsheet. This is just in case anyone else wants to add information – for example lat/long or more info about the location of the grit bins.