Data Story - #hackCambridge

Cambridge is growing with approx. 33,000 houses being built over the next 15 yrs. and an expected additional population of 50,000 people. This will put enormous pressure on the transport network, environmental management, energy infrastructure and health and social care. Additional pressure on public services comes from a population that is becoming older and more frail. The backdrop to all of this is major cuts to public funding; Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) is facing savings of £41 million next year and more than £100 million over the next five years. We have already made £218 million savings since 2009. Cambridgeshire is the fastest growing county in the country and the demands for our services are increasing as, too, is the cost.

So how do we address these challenges? Part of the answer is to build and deliver more infrastructure which eases pressure on the transport network and looks to support the development of more houses and economic growth. The City Deal a partnership between Cambridge City, County and South Cambridgeshire councils, the Local Enterprise Partnership and the University of Cambridge and looks to fund infrastructure through funding provided by Central Government.

Smart Cities and a Smarter Cambridgeshire

In Aug this year the City Deal recognised the role that technology can play in helping address these challenges and so the Smarter Cambridgeshire programme became an official City Deal workstream. Smarter Cambridgeshire has started to look at how technology and data can help address the challenges Cambridge faces.

We have been looking at ‘Smart Cities’ models which look to use technology and data more specifically open data to help solve challenges. By freeing data that is currently locked away in council systems what could citizens do with it? – well, there is only way to find out and that’s to release the data and to get citizens to start using it.


hackCambridge looked to do just that, to begin build a community of software and hardware developers as well as interested citizens around existing open data and to begin to explore how we can use data to make Cambridge a better place to live.

This is the first hack event we have organised and we collaborated with Cambridgeshire Insight, Collusion , Thingful and The Junction as well as the University of Cambridge. Our first step was to bring a community of interest together to co-create the event which we did through a meet-up. People were interested in having an event with as wide a set of challenges as possible and for it to be run over 24hrs.

Before the event we prepared a brief which set out the challenges and associated data sets. So we all gathered at the Junction on the 31st of Oct and kicked off with an introductory session. Cambridgeshire Insight went through the data that the partnership has released, Thingful went through their API and the University of Cambridge went through the real time bus data they have been working on. We also had some introductory talks (Thanks to Antony Carpen for filming)

The hack then kicked off and saw people working in teams late into the night and into the next day when we finally came to a halt at 12.00 the next day for the pitches.

The Pitches - (watch them here)

We had 8 teams pitch some had used data but other just pitched ideas. The ideas that used data were;

Map Visualisation – They visualised data that had been released such as traffic count data, crime statistics and then visualised it onto Google Maps making it easy for people to understand and use.

Cycle Streets/Planning Data – Cycle streets presented two ideas that they had worked on over the two days of the hack. The first looked to help give greater granularity to some of their displayed data by exploding grouped data into more detail. The second addressed an issue that the campaign and others have identified. The various planning systems that councils use for planning applications make understanding what planning applications are live in a current area difficult. The proposal scraps planning data and then allows you to easily search by an area and see live applications – parameters can be set which allows you to filter out applications for tree works etc. This would help campaign groups and citizens to engage more fully in the planning process -

‘Why don’t we take the bus to work’ – Used the historic bus data that the University presented and looked at journey times on specific roads. It then looked to see whether there was any correlation between the two. One of the conclusions was that journey times tend to be irregular and it is this irregularity which could put people of using them as they never know how long they will take. This project shows what can be done with limited data but also shows that with a richer data set (and more time) much more could have been achieved.

Motion Map – Building intellect have been working on the Milton Keynes Motion Map which visualises transport data to inform transport choices. They came to the hack to begin to use the available transport data to populate a Cambridge map. The more and richer the data the better this tool can be and the more intelligent transport choices people can make -

Crowdsurf– The basic premise of Crowdsurf was that if you can’t get the data you need to solve a problem collect it yourself. The basic problem that Crowdsurf looked to address was how can you avoid crowds in Cambridge? The team looked to use Radio-frequency (RF) profiling to pick up the density of mobile phone signals and then to display them as a heat map which gives an indication of crowds. This would look to build up a map of the city and could through a mobile device show quite routes and areas.

Citi Pulse – Was a proposal to build a platform for better engaging citizens allowing a more meaningful dialogue – giving better opportunities for citizen ideas to be developed, give and visualise data in a more meaningful way and to create dialogue through city screens.

There were also two more esoteric pitches ‘not a vision’ which pitched a monorail and a 3D Jigsaw puzzle for blind people. The judging panel deliberated and in the end ‘map visualisation’ won for its easy to use and understand visualisations. We also had at the event data shadow commissioned by Collusion an art piece which aims to make the public question the privacy they sacrifice by using an internet connected mobile phone using apps, cloud storage services, and social media. Just what are you agreeing to share?

Next steps

hackCambridge shows the power of putting data into the public domain. By bringing residents, the tech community, the public sector and the creative sector we can start to develop tools and visualisations which can begin to improve the quality of life for residents and in the case of things like cycle streets and motion map really begin to impact on some of the major challenges around congestion.

So we need more collaboration, more data and co-creation and an open approach to innovation to help Cambridge address its challenges.

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