City Infrastructure Lab

Our team working hard at The City Infrastructure Lab. This was a two day event where we designed and prototyped potential civic projects that made use of the newly released Greater Manchester Open Data Infrastructure Map.

Our team at the City Infrastructure Lab

Image credit: @GregorioFaralli (team facilitator)

In June, I participated in The City Infrastructure Lab held by FutureEverything in partnership with New Economy Manchester. We explored how open data could provide opportunities in the development of new civic innovation.

On day one, Paul Graham Raven (futurist and researcher) set about disrupting the way we think about infrastructure. He talked about the relationship between interface and the infrastructure beneath. We were encouraged to be bold in our thinking and question the systems around us.

A successful civic innovation already in operation is the Biosphere Foundation. CEO Vincent Walsh shared his aims of turning Manchester into the first biotechnological city. He reminded us of an already successful project in Salford where his team were growing mushrooms using the waste generated from making coffee. This premium product was being sold to high end restaurants in the city. They are also currently work in partnership with Manchester Museum on The Study, an exciting project that will see the top floor of the museum turn into an interactive learning space in conjunction with various local organsations / community groups, which will be launching in September.

City Infrastructure Lab Groups

Under the guidance of mentors, we spent the rest of the afternoon finding and framing the problem our team was going to investigate. We concluded Day One with the aim of providing people with access to linked data in a visual way. This needed a little refining on morning of Day Two as we realised that it was a huge topic to tackle in an afternoon.

The ‘Flow of People’
In our discussion about the flow of people and how we might direct them to better use of resources, a particular group in society emerged – the elderly.

We decided to focus on this demographic and how we might empower them with knowledge of local transport options that would allow them to access cultural hubs / activities that were outside of their immediate community. I was pleased that we were veering on going down this route as it was an area of interest to me. There were two news stories that brought attention to this topic recently:

While there may be issues regarding loneliness suffered by the elderly in our local area, I shared with the group my awareness of Manchester’s status as UK’s first city to be recognised as age-friendly by the World Health Organisation.

The art and culture institutes in our city, such as the Whitworth Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery also hosts age friendly events. With the former recently recruiting for a Age Friendly Culture Coordinator.

I was really keen to enable the elderly the ability to get to these event or generally to have an increased engagement with culture. Often participation in the arts can increase a sense of community and improve wellbeing. Unfortunately, strong opposition within the group pointed out that mobility was a stronger factor in preventing the elderly from making the most of GM transport options.

With this in mind we decided to address the following problem:
How might we give the elderly access to visual linked data that allows them to make the most of the transport system.

Exploration of Solutions
Through a series of design and prototyping exercises, some of them inspired by The Hyper Island Toolbox, we proposed some solutions that would overcome the barriers and enable the flow of the elderly within the GM transport system. Key considerations and concepts included:

  • Factors that prevented the elderly travelling included: fear of crime, the inability to get help if they found themselves in trouble (fall or get lost), the weather, lack of transport information, lack of motivation because they don’t have a destination to go / look forward to.
  • Using the TV to transmit transport data to our target group, as this was an interface they were already familiar with.
  • Encourage the elderly to travel in groups, so as to overcome anxiety and increase a feeling of safety.
  • A facility that allowed the elderly to phone their local bus stop and register their interest to travel with others registered on the system

Our Solution: The Ryder
Our wristband product, The Ryder, was to provided the elderly with real time travel information that allowed them to make the most of their local bus services. We identified that the datasets we would need for it were those relating to transport and the rights of way.

The wristband would be activated by pushing the one button on it and users would input their request by speaking to the built in mic. The information, generated from our identified datasets, would be provided back to them in an audible format, an interaction our target group was already familiar with. The product aims to empower its users and allows them to remain independent by giving them the specific travel information that they want.

It was a very engaging two days exploring the potential use of open data. The workshop wasn’t designed to be a technical hackathon or a competition, but it made me see the appeal of those kinds of events. A special thank you to Kevin Smith at FutureEverything for sorting out my last minute attendance, and Gregorio Faralli for expertly facilitating our talkative team to produce some actual prototypes.

The Greater Manchester Open Data Infrastructure Map that we were exploring is available at: http://mappinggm.org.uk/gmodin/

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