Why Data? A Conversation With Sam Milsom from Open Data Manchester – Part 1
Sam Milsom is one of the local people involved with Our Streets Chorlton. He is also works at community interest company (CIC) Open Data Manchester.
A data expert, one of his passions is communicating data in a simple, understandable way and enabling people who ‘don’t do data’ to enjoy it, access it, use it and be empowered by it.
As part of his work with the Chorlton Climate Action Partnership he, along with ODM colleagues Julian Tait and Sophie Walker, is supporting the three mini-projects with data collection and analysis. We’re also working with the community to develop a cohort of Data Champions who will be involved in collecting and understanding data about Chorlton.
They are here to help Our Streets Chorlton tell the story of current traffic levels and air quality in the neighbourhood, as well as measure any changes over the course of the project.
We’ve spoken to Sam about their work with the project to date and he’s written a series of bitesize blogs to share more about who they are, what they do and their work with Chorlton. Here’s part one – Why Data?
Why Data? A Conversation With Sam Milsom from Open Data Manchester
As one of the partners on the Our Streets Chorlton project, Open Data Manchester is accessing and collecting data about traffic and air quality in Chorlton. This is an important tool for us to baseline and test the efficacy of the project.
Importantly, it also helps us tell the story of Chorlton’s streets and community.
We live in a world awash with data, where there is much collected about us and where we live. From demographics and employment rates, to road usage and bike counts, data is collected and used to inform policy and decisions about local development – that may be distribution of services, utility provision or urban planning, like the placement of the new Chorlton cycle ways.
ODM and all of the partners at OSC believe that making this data freely available for everyone to access is a step towards seeing more openness and transparency on how decisions about our communities are made, and, ultimately, a fairer and more equal society.
Local Data Can Be Hard To Find
However, much of this data can be hard to find and the skills and tools needed to understand it can be unnecessarily inaccessible. Information like road traffic counts could be extremely useful information for, say, the concerned parent who wants to get a better understanding of road usage near their child’s school, but too often this information is hard to access. It may only be available in an obscure file format, or perhaps the potential user lacks the necessary skills, confidence – or indeed – time, to sit down and make sense of it.
As such, decisions about things like road closures or a new cycle network are often implemented in the ‘spirit of openness’ and community engagement, but are often based on opinion or anecdote. Data collected that could influence the design may not be readily available to the public and so people don’t always understand the reasons for certain decisions, nor can they participate in a discussion around it with planners. There is a general sense that data is something ‘done by others’, behind closed doors – or that it is something done to us. We are monitored, we are surveyed, but rarely are we aware of the process, let alone actively part of it.
Engaged And Active Citizens in Chorlton
As engaged and active citizens, we need to move beyond solely being consumers of reports and graphs. We should feel confident and empowered to understand what data is and isn’t telling us, challenge our own perceptions, but more importantly to feel like we can engage in the conversation, to question and – where necessary – to challenge decisions. And to help see that the ‘right’ choices are made about where we live, based on a well-informed mixture of opinion, desire and fact.
Chorlton Community Data Workshops
Part of our work with OSC has involved running a number of community data workshops. Based on our Data For Communities programme, they are a mixture of presentations and practical exercises, in which participants learn:
- the basics of what data is
- what it can and can’t tell us
- some simple tools to access and explore this information – without a single spreadsheet
We ran our first one back in November, exploring information available from sources like the Office for National Statistics and MappingGM.
As we collect more data over the coming months, we intend to run more of these, where we’ll explore what the data from the project is telling us.
If you’d like to get involved as a Data Champion we have two training workshops coming up in June, and our first mini-project traffic surveys in June and July. You can sign up to the workshops by following the links below: