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A Year in Open Data Manchester – in a year like no other

2020 has been a year unlike any other and – like everyone else – we have been forced to adapt to and overcome the various challenges that COVID-19 has thrown at us.

This year should have seen us celebrate 10 years of Open Data Manchester, but we are certainly not alone in having put off big plans until we could all be together again.

These challenges have also affected us both on an organisational level, because the majority of our work involves interacting with people directly, and at personnel level, where we’ve had to quickly adapt to new ways of working while also trying to support those that we work with.

The ‘new normal’ for us, where everything is being done online through collaborative platforms and endless video calls, has revealed the limits of what can be done online – but also surprised us with what online working allows us to do, especially our events and training.

Taking ODM online

As the lockdown took effect back in March, we began online Watercooler Chats for anyone to drop-in, talk with others and keep connected. These conversations were notionally data related, but the reality was that this was often the last topic on people’s minds.

The skills of the Open Data Manchester community are many and varied, and it is with this in mind that the new Pick N Mix series was developed as an online selection of tasty training delights, by the community for the community.

Week after week, people were invited to try out a new shared skill, such as coding using Python, building databases or making music from data.

Originally, this was intended as a series of eight, but their popularity meant we decided to host a second, follow-up series in Autumn. It was great to see some regular faces, but also to make new friends in places like Singapore, Canada and the US too.

The weekly sessions here developed a regular audience, with some then attending another 2020 debut – a virtual Data Expedition, run in partnership with 360Giving, where teams of people came together each week to try to answer a question using data.

Moving events online has certainly created an opportunity for us to engage a broader group of people and so we will be continuing our online programme even if and when we emerge from the shadow of COVID.

Our community is no longer bound by proximity to Manchester, or the accessibility challenges around getting to an event in person.

Launching the Declaration

In September, we launched the Declaration for Responsible and Intelligent Data Practice. Co-designed with public, private, academic, and voluntary and civil society participants over 18 months, it is a shared vision of what best practice in data should look like in GM and beyond.

With 23 principles covering nine themes, including everything from how to consider people to how to consider the planet, it offers a pathway to making good decisions regarding the design and application of data technology.

It has already gained support from public and private sector organisations, and in 2021, we will developing tools and governance procedures for the Declaration.

Supporting cities and neighbourhoods

Over the past year, we have worked with the City of Izmir in Turkey in partnership with the International Finance Corporation to assess the maturity of the city’s use of data, the needs of the data re-use community, and to develop an open data strategy and roadmap.

Closer to home, we have undertaken a consultation on behalf of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) to understand how to make local open data more usable, here’s the brand-new report on The Future of Open Data in Greater Manchester. And, following on from previous work for the European Commission’s (EC) Digital Cities Challenge, we will be working with a number of European cities to help them develop their open data programmes for the EC’s Intelligent City Challenge in 2021.

We also kicked off the Our Streets Chorlton project alongside partners WalkRideGM, Groundwork Greater Manchester and Sustrans. Funded through the National Lottery Community Fund’s new Climate Action Fund, it is an ambitious project to encourage people to choose more environmentally friendly modes of transport.

Through 2021 in Chorlton, we will be working with a local school, a shopping area and a residential neighbourhood to collect data from a variety of data sources, measuring air quality and traffic flow.

Most importantly, early next year, we will be working with residents to develop a cohort of community traffic surveyors and data gatherers, and running workshops to help people understand and use the data being collected.

Saving the planet

We know data can help us understand more about our environment and this year saw us start two further projects in this area, one looking at waste and recycling, and the other about how sharing energy data could drive energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Working with YourDsposal and building on previous work done to create an open-data standard for waste movements, we’re developing a prototype data standard for household waste recycling centres and an open dataset built on this standard. The project aims to make it easier for local authorities to publish and share the correct information about local recycling centres, helping to promote better recycling facilities for all.

Since 2012, we have been interested in the potential of cooperative organisations to enable people to look after and share their data more effectively, so we’re delighted to be working with Manchester’s Carbon Co-op to develop a model for small, energy cooperatives to collect, pool and share their members’ data. This is being done to test new ways for data to be used to help reduce our reliance on fossil-fuel-generated electricity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

If nothing else this year, even though the COP26 climate negotiations in Glasgow have been postponed until 2021, 2020 feels like the year more people started taking our impact on the planet more seriously, and we’re proud to be playing our part.

Making ends meet

We are fortunate to continue our relationship with Luminate and Coop Foundation, and their financial support has given us much needed stability in this tumultuous year.

It has allowed us to develop our organisational foundations and increase the size of our team, as well as helping us build our income from other sources.

We have been involved in a number of grant-funded programmes, as well as developing our commercial work, with any surplus going back into our core programme.

Although it feels like we’re in the midst of a never-ending COVID crisis, and with the UK’s relationship with Europe still uncertain, we’re glad to have got through 2020 in one, even slightly bigger, piece.

We couldn’t have done this without our community – thank you one and all – we really look forward to sharing our birthday celebration with you, wherever you are in the world, whenever it is safe to do so.