Northernlands 2 - In conversation...


Questions and answers about open data projects at the Department for Transport


This transcript comes from the captions associated with the video above. It is "as spoken".

Hi everyone. Welcome to Northernlands 2 and our Mobility in

Modern Cities sessions. My name's Paul Connell I'm founder of ODI

Leeds and I'd like to introduce you to Giuseppe Sallazzo at DfT

Tom Forth from ODI Leeds and Lily Dart of FutureGov

Hi thanks everyone. My name is Lily Dart I am the

experience director for Future Gov. So more broadly I'm

responsible for our client and employee experience but I also

have a background in front end web development so although

I've been a designer for about 17 years now, about half of that

I was writing code and as a result I also lead on some of

our more technical projects.

Thank you, Giuseppe tells about

yourself. Hi there. I'm Giuseppe Sallazzo. I head the data unit of

DfT which is a central data team trying to basically help

DfT on all the work streams were doing with data. I have a

background in technology and slightly as sideways as an open

data activist. I used to be nicknamed the open data rottweiler

I'm still trying to be a bit like that, but I'm a civil servant.

That's me.

Tom, over to you. Hello, I'm Tom Forth I am the head of data

at the Open Data Institute Leeds On transport specifically, I've

done a lot of work on bus fares,

train timetables, and cycling routes. All the fun stuff.

Well, transport's been really important to open data right

from the start and also for ODI Leeds it's been I think

one of our

key things we want to work on. And although flying cars and

autonomous vehicles are coming and they're going to save the

world, we love buses. That's why Tom has been working on buses and

bikes. Well, this is a quick discussion

about how we've all been working on different aspects of the UK's

transport data infrastructure and how that's going to

help change things. And I'm going to talk about some of the

things are happening now and in the future, and what we might

think what's going to happen next. So Giuseppe, you look

after data at the DfT.

What's happening now? What's gonna happen next? What do you

think is going to happen next?

So that's not to say we are in the middle of a pandemic, and

before that we had a few things to deal with, including EU

exit, for example, which is still an ongoing issue. I would say that,

DfT took a very interesting choice to develop a

central function for data, and we've been working on a number

of things that range from better policy making with data to

supporting analysis, data engineering, and engagement with

the external world. So some of you might know we were working

and we're still working on transport data strategy,

something we started half way through last year. We're still

working on that, but with the emergency that sort of changed

our priorities. We also have to work on different things. One

key element, I think even the pandemic has highlighted is

actually for me personally the discoverability and some of the

projects we've been working on in that space including what

we've been working with Lily.

So just data discoverability. Does that mean putting

it on the web?

Well, sometimes it is like that, but it's also to encourage

better data sharing, better framework for...

as much as I'm a big fan of open data is not just about open

data, it's also about making people aware that data exists

sometimes. Yeah. That data might be you know, I would say

encouraged to be shared under certain conditions. I fully

appreciate that that sometimes, especially private entities

might have commercial sensitivities in their data

sharing, so it's about how do we develop our thinking around the

rules, the framework, the values that we need to comply with to

support finding data.

Perfect so that leads into you Lily you been working on the

project with DfT. Would like to tell us about it?

Yeah no, I'd love to. So we've been looking into how we can

provide a national access point initially for road transport

data and then hopefully to take over all transport data in the

future. And to do that, we've taken an agile and user centered

approach to the project. So we did both in central

government terms we did both the discovery in and out first,

so the discovery was really about understanding the problem

and framing it properly. Doing research to understand the users

of the service and what they

need. And Alpha was about trying those things out. So what we've

learned, how can we prototype that and test that with people?

And it's going really well. I think you know, on top of the

data discoverability and bits that Giuseppe has been

talking about, which absolutely is the key priority. Some of the

more interesting things that we found out we're really about the

variety of users that we are potentially serving with this

new service. And it really... when we talk about data

we often think about it in quite technical terms, but actually

there's a really wide range of people going from people who can

only use spreadsheets all the way up to people who are

confident in APIs and data models. And actually for a

service like this to be successful, we need to serve all

of those people and help to upskill some of the people at

the bottom end of the skills to move them further up to the

middle. And that's partially because they're providing the

data, and so if they don't have the skills to provide good

quality data then it might be visible to other data users but

not usable. And it's partially

because actually we make decisions with data and making

sure that people understand data sufficiently enough to

make decisions is really important. And so when we move

on to the next phase of the service, that will be very

much about actually, what are the specific pieces of support

that we need to put around this to make sure the less

skilled technical data users are able to do their jobs


Fantastic. OK this is all brilliant and as you know

it's ODI Leeds and sometimes we become, we can be a little bit,

we have an opinion I guess

So Tom, data is sometimes

political. How do you think transport and data impacts our

cities now and in the future, and how they might be run?

I think transport is one of the

main features of a city. Without transport you can't have a city

basically. Once you can't walk everywhere, which happens when

you city becomes bigger than a small town, you need some form

of transport other than walking to get around. I think the

politics of transport is really interesting at the moment. I was

watching, last week, France elected all of its new mayors

and in almost every city they elected a Green Party mayor.

Which is the first time that's ever happened and a lot of what

they're talking about is cycling, walking and not

traveling. And I think the biggest change we're going to

have in transport data in the coming five years is that we are

going to talk a lot more about not traveling, which I think is

very exciting. One of the things that's quite interesting.

Is that we don't actually have a lot of data on not

traveling. We know when people get on a bus and we know when

people get on a train and we know when there are queues and

traffic jams and parking spaces are filled. But we don't know a

huge amount about when people choose not to travel. Or maybe

when they choose to walk 5 minutes or when they choose to

cycle 10 minutes. So at the moment we've got these new ideas

that I think quite a lot of people agree that that's a nicer

way to live, but we don't have the data to inform what we

should do about it. So I think in the next five years politics

is going to start looking at

not just fixing the current modes of transport, so in Leeds

that's making sure you can know when the bus timetable is. Use

something like an Oyster card or a debit card to tap onto the bus

and pay and go wherever you like get on a train and the payment still

works. I think we need to sort that out in the next two or three

years, but in the same time we need to understand much more

about how we can travel less or travel in the ways we want

to. Walk. Cycle. Not travel at all if we don't want.

So that brings me into what's gonna happen next

And at ODI Leeds our experience with the pandemic has

been and you might have the same Giuseppe is that we get rung up

every week almost - people saying we must have the

data and Tom just mentioned it there not traveling.

The expectation is that we have it in a plastic bag under our desk.

The data specifically required to answer the question that

someone else has at that moment is available via us.

I think working, you know, looking at the new normal, what

sort of? We've got some ideas about how you access and make the

data infrastructure available, which we will talk about being

radically open, so sharing your thoughts on a blog, a story

blog, sharing a technical blog and then understanding what

data can be shared and what shouldn't be shared and what can

be open. What's really interesting for us at the moment

is the shared data piece, because everyone wants to

collaborate and fix the problem. Whatever the problem might be.

But then when you say OK, great have we got some data we can

share it,'s "I'm not sure".

And could you tell us which data you specifically want

at this specific moment in time to answer the question that you

have? We daid "we don't know. We don't know what data you've

got, so how can we know if it answers the question or not?"

So we end up in this mad

merry-go-round but if people were a little bit more open,

we might be able to find a way forward, so I'm not

going to... who would like to jump in first there about, you

know the data infrastructure that we set up next.

Well, if you can say one thing the pandemic has made people

on both sides of the spectrum, you know maximum openness to

maximum commercial, coalesce around. OK we have a problem. We

need to address that problem to address the problem we need data.

We need curated data. We need to

be careful because sometimes the data might be available, but

might not be available in the right form. It might be not

accurate enough, or maybe just partially available or be

just inferred data. We need

authoritative data. So 2 examples I've come across recently were

about cycling lanes, and payment data. So in different problems,

cycling lanes, councils were basically switching cycle lanes

I think from advisory to mandatory and

someone told me that you should be able to measure this and why

don't you use things like open street map to measure this?

Well, it turns out that there is an infrastructure - a feature -

in Open Street Map that you can use for that, but that's not

widely populated. And there's no mechanism to get that data

either from an authoritative process. So the question is,

what's the best way to get that data if we need it. Similar issue

around payment data, there's been a lot of talking around

pavements in London are too narrow for social distancing.

Can we actually measure that? Well, it turns out that we can't

quite measure it because there is no effective measure of the

width of pavement. There's a variety of sources of UCL's

been using the Ordnance Survey data to try and infer the

width of the pavement, but at the same time, how

sure can we be and there's never been like a benchmarking of

the results of that. So I think the important aspect here is

understanding which problem we want to solve. Try to curate

the data so that we know where to tap into. Yeah, that's

fascinating that we've got. We've got a resource like

Openstreetmap which anyone can contribute to, and I know

because I used to work for an engineering consultancy that

there will be as built drawings and data, having all

of that infrastructure that will

be in a cupboard somewhere in and someone's office. And

if we had a clause in all of those contracts, which says you

must upload your as built drawings to Openstreetmap, we

would all of the asset and it would take no extra effort

whatsoever. It would take just to move forward and

some of the other things we're talking about funding teams to answer

these questions rather than funding projects.

That challenge... as soon as you get people from across

talking to each other. They said. Of course, we should set

the team and the outputs get shared and but how do we do that

is really really hard, especially in the culture we

have, which demands outputs and projects and procurement. That's

a conversation for another day. Lily you wanted to come in.

Yeah, I think we have to think about the data infrastructure,

but we also really importantly need to think about the

organisations that are using the data and I think one of the

things that we've seen in our clients over this last few

months and we've been doing actually a lot of covid response

work as well with various pieces of government and local

government and other public sector organisations and

everything to a degree has been coronavirus response, but I

think the interesting thing is

that actually, you can talk about timely data and having the

accurate data to make decisions with but most organisations are

not set up to be responsive enough to do anything with that

in the time frame that they need to I think that's one of the bigger

challenges that we need to tackle. We can get the

infrastructure in place, but if it still takes two months to

make a decision and make a change within an organization to

respond to that piece, then that's the trickiest thing and at

FutureGov we have this concept of what a 21st century organisation

looks like and responsive is like the top of the list, right?

If you come across a problem, how quickly can you respond to

that and serve the people you need to serve or make the change

you need to make? I think the technical kind of layer of

this is important, but actually the biggest problem is

going to be can we do anything with that data? Even if

we had our perfect infrastructure there, what can

we actually do with that

meaningfully? Can you work at pace? Yeah. Can you make

decisions? I remember standing up when we set up ODI Leeds

I would talk, as I can, for a long time about new

institutions and how they need to be porous and move and how

they develop. And that's really scary for the old institutions

or the existing ones. So how do we make that a friendly change

rather than a scary one?

Yeah, it's change point though about what Lily said is super

important in all this. We could have all of the best data

possible for our cities our towns our places.

And then we would run up

straight away with a legal barrier to making any change. If

you want to remove a bus stop in this country, you need

lawyers, right? Just to remove a bus stop, you need a lot of

them. You need a lot of time and some cities which have removed

bus stops. All they've done is put a little plastic hood over

the bus stop because that way they don't have to go through

the legal process of removing it. And it's the same with

putting in a cycle lane is a big job, and that's really

painful. But just taking one

parking space outside of a bar and putting 4 chairs in it is a

really painful experience in this country. So if

places can't do that, then there is a challenge around the data

that's available. You can have as much data and you could know

the answer, but if the answer is not accessible to you as a place

then you won't be able to make the change. I think there's

probably something else... that's a government restraint on

what we can do, and I think that

probably we'll think about whether we want to change that

or not. There's always a debate to be had. There's another side

of the restraint which I'm quite keen to bring up and wind people

up a little bit about... but

there's a cultural constraint about what we can do with data as

well, and I kind of hinted at it at the start. We don't know

where people walk. In our cities we don't know where people cycle

in our cities. Google knows.

And it's shown us really well that Google knows by publishing

these fantastic mobility report data over the last three

months. So I don't think it's bad that Google knows, but I

think it's embarrassing that we

don't. And if we want to say that we are running a responsive

city or responsive place that looks after the interests of its

people and what they're doing, most citizens would expect that

when decisions were being made, they were being made on the

basis of what was known to be happening. At the moment we don't

have any of that data, and I think we should start thinking

all of us about why we've ended up in a place where only

Google knows where we move.

And as I say, the easy the easy answer. The One I hear too

often is to say, well, Google shouldn't know. So you go from a

stage where one person knows where everyone does and

everyone's moving to stage where no one does. Surely the answer

could be to have multiple people knowing where we are and where

we move, and for us to contribute where we are and when

we move in the hope of improving things. I think that's got to be

something that we work on extra quickly in the next

few years now. I think.

Yeah, just very quickly. I think there are very interesting

issues in there around ethics. Clearly, of course we want to do

the thing that is ethical but also of trust so you know if we

find a situation in which people tend to trust downloading

Facebook or Google apps less controversial than having

governments have access to their data, clearly there is a

question for us that needs to connect you know the purpose

for which we collect the data with the trust we instill in

people. You will remember.

The whole dibacle a few years ago, which was

probably done and it ended with all the good, you know, purposes in

the world. But the lack of communication created, the lack

of trust and the whole thing just collapsed at one point.

So I think there is a bit of worry in government to repeat

situations like that that were seen as a massive failure.

Yeah, I agree. I said on a podcast recently would you

download a bin app written by Dominic Cummings and the reason

I asked the question was because 20% of people in Leeds

download a bin app written by me and I think the reason

that they're willing to do that is because they know me. And

they know Paul, and Amy, and if we do something wrong they can

find us and shout at us and they probably... the only place to find

Dominic Cummings is in small Durham towns, right? So?

It's quite hard to trust that level, so I agree, I think

that the Department for Transport or the Cabinet Office

doing a UK wide national tracking app would probably not

get the kind of engagement they want, but you might be able to

do it at the scale of a city or a community. You might even be

able to do it as an arms length company. So in France, SNCF do

have an app which understands quite a lot about French

mobility and in the Netherlands the over a chip card has quite

a lot of data on mobility and it's separate from

government, so I think it probably does need to be quite

a bit separate from the very center of government.

OK, so we're coming to the end of our session. What I'd like to

finish on are some examples of some positive issues,

positive things we're finding so

Lily if you could start. What do you think is going to happen next

and what should we do next in some positive examples please?

Yeah, so we've had a few really amazing examples that we worked

on in terms of coronavirus response and some of which

haven't been in the transport sphere but I think are really

important to talk about. So we've helped different parts of

the NHS to track where their PPE is for example. Just

creating a process that just didn't exist before. We have

helped local councils to connect individuals up with support that

the council can't offer. So charities and various other local

support groups to help

vulnerable ndividuals get there and I think the the risk

with all of this is that we don't carry on at pace and what

we've done is created amazing things at pace, which is unknown

for public sector. For the most part. But I think there's also

an amazing opportunity here where everyone is talking about

data. They are talking about having the information they need

to make successful decisions, and I think we've all got an

opportunity there as the data community to really help

reinforce that thinking and provide solutions and other

opportunities where we can.

I think as individuals, we each need to lookout for those

opportunities and keep doing things. As organisations though

I wouldn't start from data. My piece of advice would be to

start from the question how do we make decisions right now?

And is it the right way?

Fantastic! Giuseppe? Well, I can just repeat what Lily was saying

about, you know, using data to take decisions, and actually

starting from the user and in transport we have a variety

of users whose needs sometimes are incompatible in a way.

The drivers. The people who use bicycles. People with

accessibility issues and to me clearly being the data person

means trying to understand what are the infrastructure of

datasets first of all and how we form a view of that

infrastructure so that then we

can better analyse the needs of these people. So I think there's

been a lot of energy recently and a lot of people now understand

that that requirement. As you know I'm now working on the

development of NAPTAN, which is historical. Actually, a

relic of the past which was created for a very noble

purpose, providing journey planning and now we've moved on

and we realizing that we have location of bus stops in that

data set which are not compatible with the needs of a

wheelchair user, for example. So the question for us is how do we

improve that piece of infrastructure which is still

used by Open Street Map, Google and other providers to highlight

a bus stop in the map and make sure that that location is

actually suitable to users with different needs. So I think

yeah, that's a lot of chain of thought there from getting user

needs and understanding there's multiple user needs and link

them to the infrastructure.

Fantastic Tom? Can I go to you? Yeah, so in terms of

looking at positive things. I think the UK has quite a

strong history on data in transport and we should

take some time to appreciate how well we do in a lot of areas, so

the number one area, the example that all of us use is any of us

can now go on pretty much any online mapping website and plan

a walking, cycling, driving public transport journey

anywhere in the UK and we will get the correct answer. And

that's not to be taken lightly, right? That doesn't happen in

most of the world. So we do have these great foundations I think

we also have, with Transport for London, we have genuinely

one of the world's best city level organizations that working

with data and integrating it with policy. So we have this

opportunity to learn from

a fantastic place that's done really good work on this and is

also quite open so you can download almost all of TFL'said

data. You can understand the processes. They write, short

blogs that explain what they're doing, so we have that

opportunity and I think probably the third opportunity that we

have is, in terms of active travel, the UK is not

particularly good at active travel, we drive a lot and

if we don't drive we tend to use a train, use a bus.

We do have some places though that are very good at

active travel, so as part of this event we're obviously

talking to one of the world leaders in active travel because

we were working with the Netherlands on this event. But

cities like Cambridge and Oxford to a certain extent

Brighton with walking as well. You would look at them and the

Dutch would feel at home, and I think there's this opportunity

to learn from those places. So learn from our own history, but

learn from our own places on what good looks like and there's

just lots of great things to copy and start with now.

Fantastic, so just to finish up with that.

I don't think I've we've made more progress around sharing and

being open with data in the last three to four months then

we have in the last five years of ODI Leeds being or six years

it's been. And the number of different

organisations have been in touch with those that say, OK, we know

we need to share. The only way we're going to fix this is

to share can you help us? And I think that's what I take out of

the last three to four months is that people have got it and I

don't think they're going to forget that, OK, we do need to

share more. We do need to think about design. Or do

need to think about how this works? But the most important

thing I think is it's almost as if hard infrastructure has woken

up to the web and software

and the way we develop and if we share, doesn't that mean

we just use the web? We don't create something new or we don't

create a new thing or pay for a portal. No, we

actually publish it and you could use a blog post to do

that. But yeah, that's amazing. Well, people to start understand

that. The way in which software and web development is

smashing into hard infrastructure. I think is a

really positive thing. And people are looking for help to

do that. So just to finish off, let me just say thank you to

everybody. If you've got any last points, let me know.

Otherwise we'll finish off from Northernlands 2.

Thank you.


Nothernlands 2 is a collaboration between ODI Leeds and The Kingdom of the Netherlands, the start of activity to create, support, and amplify the cultural links between The Netherlands and the North of England. It is with their generous and vigourous support, and the support of other energetic organisations, that Northernlands can be delivered.

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