ICE INNOVATION: Ten case studies and ideas to innovate in the winter

Oh, the weather outside is frightful but the idea of doing cool things is always delightful.

Last year, the idea of tweeting when your gritters was going out was revolutionary.

Around half a dozen councils were leftfield enough to do it and the idea spread.

Public sector web standards organisation SOCITM picked up on it making it mainstream with their report for subscribers.

Is that enough?

Can we stand still now?

The fact is local government needs to innovate like never before.

Someone famous once said when you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts.

So, where’s the innovation this year? Here’s some ideas and pointers on how straight forward they are…

1. MAP YOUR GRIT ROUTES

In the West Midlands, there’s some amazing innovation from mapping geeks.

Bright people from Mappa Mercia including the excellent Andy Mabbett last year built a grit map on Open Street Map to show grit routes in Birmingham. They dug out the routes from pdfs on the council website.

Now, they’re adding Solihull and Walsall too ready for the winter onslaught.


Birmingham City Council have linked to it from their transport pages and we at Walsall Council are tweeting it when the weather gets bad.

That’s a good example of working with a talented and community-minded online community.

Advantage: Community engagement.

Disadvantage: You need mapping geeks to be grit geeks too.

2. TWITTER GRITTER

Everytime you go out you tweet the fact. If you’re not doing it you should. It’s not enough to provide a service at 2am. You need to tell people. Why? Because they won’t know your council tax is being spent in such a way and they may well ring your harrassed staff at a time when they are thinly stretched.

It’s something I blogged about last year with a case study mapping more than 70 tweets.

Advantage: Community engagement. Cuts down unneccesary contact.

Disadvantage: You’ll need some kind of rota or it’ll all fall on one person’s shoulders.

3. YOUTUBE

A short clip to explain what the gritting service is all about. Shot on a Flip video It’s a good way of communicating what is being done.

Embedding the video in the service’s pages should be straight forward. Linking to YouTube and posting via Twitter and Facebook is easy. Tweet the link when you’re team are hitting the road

Advantage: Creates blog-friendly web 2.0 video content.

Disadvantage: You need a Flip video. The process isn’t instant.

4. MAP GRIT BIN LOCATIONS

Publish grit routes as open data? Why not.

But beware the perils of derived data that quicksand argument that means anything based on Ordnance Survey is mired in dispute.

Advantage: Publishing open data increases transparency

Disadvantages: It can’t be based on OS maps.

5 FACEBOOK

As local government Facebook sites mature and grow there’s more reason to post grit updates there too.

Drawbacks? Not all phones will allow you to post to fan pages and you may have to log on at a PC or a laptop.

Advantage: You reach the massive Facebook demographic.

Disadvantage: Your Facebook fanpage is harder to update than a profile.

6. LIVE TWEET

A trip around the borough in a gritter with a camera phone geo-tagging your tweets. It works as a one off and builds a direct connection.

At Walsall, we tweeted the testing of the gritters in a dry-run for winter including geotagged shots from the cab itself as it trundled around the streets.

Advantage: A service from a different perspective.

Disadvantage: Labour and time intensive.

7. TEXT AND EMAIL ALERTS

Sometimes we can be so struck by new gadgets that we can forget the platforms your Dad and mother-in-law have.

Simply speaking, there are more mobile phones in the UK than people.

Many councils are charged around 8p a text to issue an SMS. That’s a cost that has to be picked up from somewhere. But using the standard costs per enquiry of around £7 face-to-face and £5 over the phone the 8p charge starts to look viable.

Advantage: You can reach large numbers of people and cut down potentially on unavoidable contact.

Disadvantage: It costs.

8. BIG SOCIETY TWITTER GRITTER

Not every council has the resources to tweet its gritting. In Cumbria, the community of Alsthom high in the dales regularly gets cut off in the snow. Fed-up with the council response the town clubbed together to buy their own gritter.

Community and digital innovator John Popham floated the interesting idea of the community stepping in to tweet gritting activity. In effect, a Big Society Twitter Gritter It’s a fascinating idea, would share the burden and may fill the gap where a council doesn’t have the digital skills or the staff.

Advantage: If there are residents willing it’s a good partnership potentially.

Disadvantage: It’s dependent on volunteer power.

9. QR CODES

What are they? Funny square things that your mobile phone can identify and can download some information about. I don’t pretend to fully understand them and I’m not sure if they’ve reached a tipping point in society just yet. However, Sarah Lay of Derbyshire County Council is looking at adding QR codes to grit bins to allow people to report problems. It’s a fascinating idea that needs looking at.

Advantages: Tech-savvy citizens can use them to pinpoint problems.

Disadvantages: A format that is still finding traction amongst the rest of the population.

10. OPEN DATA

What can you publish as open data? Wrack your brains and consult the winter service plan. There’s grit routes themselves. There’s the amount of grit stockpiled. There’s the amount of grit spread day-by-day.

Advantage: Open data is good for transparency.

Disadvantages: Day-by-day updating could be tricky as engineers are snowed under. If you’ll forgive the pun.

Links:

Creative commons:

Walsall grit pile Dan Slee http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5087392858/

Four Seasons bridge http://www.flickr.com/photos/fourseasonsgarden/2340923499/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Twitter gritter Dan Slee http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5115786276/

Road m4tik http://www.flickr.com/photos/m4tik/4259599913/sizes/o/in/photostream/


7 Comments on “ICE INNOVATION: Ten case studies and ideas to innovate in the winter”

  1. Loulouk says:

    It’s not often I get to read down a list like this and think ‘yep’ and ‘done that’ and ‘yep that’s coming next week’ and ‘working on that’.

    It’s nice to be reminded occasionally that we’re doing some innovative things up here, quietly, getting on with it and taking it as read that that is what we’re supposed do be doing, that that’s our job.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Pack, Dan Slee, Carl Haggerty, LouLouK, simon smith and others. simon smith said: RT @danslee: Just blogged – Ice innovation: 10 ways to innovate in winter http://bit.ly/bpJiX6 #gov20 #localgov […]

  3. Adrian Short says:

    Publishing data like the size of the grit pile or the number of miles of road gritted per day is easy using the Pachube Data Logger app for iPhone. Just create a feed on Pachube for each quantity and type in the amount as often as you’re able to update it. Then the council’s own developers and third party developers can access the data feeds through the Pachube API.

    On QR Codes — they’re just identifiers that might point to a form at:

    http://www.mycouncil.gov.uk/gritbins/123

    where someone can simply press a button to say that bin 123 needs refilling.

  4. The issue with Ordnance Survey is pretty much sorted, as long as the data you release isn’t directly copying features from OS maps then you’re fine (i.e. points on maps is OK, but stuff that’s based on natural features like lakes isn’t). There’s a (suprisingly easy to understand) guide here:

    http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/business/licences/using-and-creating-data-with-os-products/free-to-use-data/index.html

  5. Thank you for the mention – I’ve always wanted a number one chart hit😉

    Much as I’d like to, I can’t take all the credit for the OSM work – it was a team effort, with much input from Brian Prangle and Christoph Böhme in particular.

  6. It’s not always wrong to automate some of the interplay between different social media. I think this is one of those moments.

    Whoever is going out could fire off a text to Ping.FM by text and then it will automagically post to Facebook, Twitter, etc.

    You could have a dedicated gritting blog (even if it was just a Tumblr) and pre-load the schedule to post as and when someone was going out. Then it could be set up to automate the updates to Facebook and Twitter.

    That cross posting to other websites will be pretty much real time but I think automating email or texts are going to be slightly harder?

    There is an interesting experiment going on at Google labs India for RSS to SMS – http://labs.google.co.in/smschannels/ but not sure there’s anything similar in the UK? And are there any free RSS to email services that use rssCloud or PUbSubHubbub so that an email alert could be automatically pushed from an update rather than a daily update at a particular time a la Feedburner?

  7. […] to prompt discussion. Sometimes they do: one notable example was sharing Dan Slee‘s post on how to innovate in the winter which resulted in our being on Tumblr, Posterous and […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s