Mapping – where to next?

09 Dec, 15 by Suzanne Wilson

(is all data about people or places?)

Remember maps, they came in books, or giant folding sheets that only skilled ramblers and those acquainted with the old style broadsheets could master handling without creasing, tearing or generally feeling overwhelmed. 2D, codified, they told us names of places, roads, rail, rivers, buildings, the contours of the terrain. There were authoritative sources, trustworthy but limited by infrequency of updates, the layers of codified information you could include before the legend would take up more space than the map itself. Then came digital maps –google, open street map and others – 2D, 3D, retail listings with review material, satellite images from google earth. Open source maps that allow communities to create their own maps stringing together places of interests. Digital maps allowing different layers of information depending on preference – Bristol City Council’s Know your place an excellent example of how different sets of information, including community sources pictures and stories can be layered on to a map; many of the Bristol European Green Capital small grants created maps, showing walking, cycling, community food growing trails, and community art trails around the city.

So where to next with maps? They’re no longer a means to navigate from A to B but a way of understanding data, of connecting people and of making more informed decisions not just about what restaurant to go to, but also about public services, about where your energy is created and used, about what actions contribute to poor air quality and how that impacts on health. As the wealth of data increases, so does agency for those who own and can interpret that data. If we assume that most (all?) data is either about a person or place, shouldn’t we devolve it to that level and allow insights and value of data to be an exchange between the creators, owners and broader community benefits. In Bristol we are exploring a number of ideas to unlock the value of data and support its use to create agency for individuals, communities and society. The key components of our approach include:

  • Individual data custodianship. Supporting the creation of a citizen’s account (citizens collect their own data and determine who it should be shared with to ensure joined up delivery of services)
    Community data collection and use. Our citizen sensing approach supports data collection, skills development and reward for active communities
  •  open data platform: Unlocking value for the council, citizens and businesses by sharing Bristol’s data to address city challenges, promote innovation and make the city more open and accountable
  • Data inspiration. Using our Data dome as a place to share data insights and inspire interests in data stories. Creating a shared environment to be immersed in data at At-Bristol’s planetarium
  • Explore, play and analyse. Bristol Brain, presented by Stephen Hilton at COP21, has five layers of development from physical 3D city model, a data layer projected on to the model, a digital version with integrated analytics exploring economic, environmental and social systems and virtual reality space to leap in and explore virtual Bristol
  • Data devolution. An ongoing conversation with Future City Catapult and the Government about how we can devolve data central government holds to local government to support better decision making

With the number of smart phone users predicted to jump from 2bn to 6bn by 2020 our ability to collect and share data is immense, data which is linked to a person (phone user) or a place (location data), to say nothing of the growth in internet of things sensors producing machine-to-machine place based data sensing environmental factors such as air quality, temperature, noise, movement. Who owns this data, who can understand it, and who can make use of it are the big questions that will define where next for maps.