Participatory Design and Open Data Platforms for a Data Commons in Scotland: case study - waste management

Lead Research Organisation: University of Stirling
Department Name: Communications, Media and Culture


How can we design technologies that go beyond simply making data publicly accessible, and instead open up data to effective, innovative and potentially transformative public use?

There is a broad consensus that the availability of digital data and communication technologies can foster economic and social well-being, as well as business innovation and productivity. Indeed, this has been a key expectation of Open Data policies since the G8 Open Data Charter of 2013. Following Open Knowledge International, the recognised definition of Open Data ensures quality and encourages compatibility between different pools of open material. It is data that anyone can access, use and share: "Knowledge is open if anyone is free to access, use, modify, and share it - subject, at most, to measures that preserve provenance and openness". Citizen empowerment is a principle driven by expectations that new technologies facilitate more responsive governments - access to, and use of, information engenders economic growth as well as creative and social fulfilment.

Research in the UK is forward-looking in terms of thinking about Open Data as a public resource for connecting communities and empowering citizens, and creating prosperity. It is hoped that the development of "transformational technologies which connect people, things and data together, in safe, smart, secure, trustworthy, and productive ways" will help foster a data economy for a Connected Nation. Although there are a few examples of excellent practice, Open Data platforms in Scotland are often characterised by an isolated, silo approach to design and implementation.

Through initial scoping research, the project team has identified three major problems resulting from this: disjointedness; single-level use design, and inconsistency. Using the everyday social issue of waste management as a case study, "Data Commons Scotland" will prototype an adaptive, learnable Open Data platform with multiple secondary applications and immediate UK-wide implications for Open Data infrastructure, to tackle these problems. In bringing together research expertise in the fields of Human Computer Interaction (HCI), digital learning and data ethics, we will develop participatory design methodologies needed to produce learnable Open Data platforms, underpinned by intentionally designed economic, social and ethical values.

Our objectives are to:
1. Design and prototype an Open Source, multi-level Open Data platform for waste management information and community engagement.
2. Develop a learning methodology for participatory design, embedding a recommender system in the platform to support user data literacy.
3. Develop a (co-)design methodology for learning platforms.

These objectives address issues relating to at least two Digital Economy Priority Themes:

Trust, identity, privacy and security. The project will operate within policy guidelines as set out in the G8 Open Data Charter (2013), the Open Data Strategy for Scotland (2015) and will be fully compliant with ICO guidance on GDPR. This project will take as its baseline principles, a number of the EPSRC's ambitions for innovative research. Amongst these, the project will deliver an Open Data prototype platform that will contribute essential understanding of human interaction with Open Data, in turn contributing to the development of a secure, collaborative, socially-aware Open Data infrastructure.

Content creation and consumption. This project will build a prototype to enable the co-creation and exchange of content for social, cultural or business purposes We will explicitly develop, through co-design research and technical standardisation, a platform for curation and distribution of Open Data on waste management. We believe that such inclusive technology will support behaviour change in a number of fields (such as circular economy or Open Energy), fostering collaborative, sustainable environmental awareness through data literacy.

Planned Impact

Through a series of project deliverables, we will build impact in the following ways.

The Project Website will link to the prototype once a public-facing version has been iterated. Updates will reflect project board meetings, KE workshops and dissemination events. This will increase understanding of the role of linked Open Data in promoting participatory democracy, freedom of information, and public services for a wide range of audiences including individuals who are extensions of our existing networks. The main beneficiaries of this activity will include civil servants and other LA representatives, through the Life in Data Network membership [see Track Record]; HCI and service designers working on linked OD projects; project partners and networks [as outlined in the CfS]. Project Advisory Board Meetings will promote benefit to our project networks. We will work with our Advisory Board to facilitate understanding of the role of linked Open Data in promoting the above principles for scientific advance in HCI; knowledge of OD and design-thinking best practice in multiple sectors; increasing project network through people pipeline associated with board membership networks and website interaction.

Knowledge Exchange Workshops, themed according to project stage, will accelerate this process through building multi-sectoral understanding of the challenges faced in service design, in local government and civic life, and in specific waste management and environmental awareness. Beneficiaries will include project team, project network members and affiliates, and LA representatives participating in the workshops. Additional HCI professional workshops will disseminate practice-based findings. Benefits will include awareness of and increase in Open Data skills; data ethics, commons & literacy; research method innovation; design methods, and development of co-design methodologies for learning and participatory design for Open Data. The project itself will benefit from insight into investment opportunities, product forging, and wealth creation. This will be fed forward into follow-on project development.

Academic papers will report on conceptual framework, empirical data and analytics generated from the project to share knowledge about the potential of Data Commons in Scotland. There will be a number of academic beneficiaries from this activity [see relevant section on Je-S form for details]. The material benefit that will come from the applied, practice-based orientation of this research is anticipated to include developing knowledge of data ethics. Also, the notion of data commons, as a concept and a practice as part of a publicly accessible, reusable Open Data infrastructure. The beneficiaries of these activities will include members of the University of Stirling Research Programmes, their networks, and researchers at HEIs included in the Life in data membership.

Our project partner, Stirling City Council, has instigated work to open up data relating to waste management. This is timely, and provides an opportunity for prototype development around this theme. From household domestic waste, to street cleaning, to the environmental impact of industrial waste, this is a multi-level problem for which there is a public requiring information who would benefit from the opportunity to engage in participatory problem-solving. DCS will encourage immediate replicability across high-profile environment policy to benefit local and national government, including individuals and organisations working in (Open) Energy; Heritage, tourism and conservation; Planning and place-making; and circular economy sectors. The prototype is replicable across a number of applications in citizen engagement, participatory budgeting, community decision-making, and public administration. This will provide benefit to citizens, activists and campaigners for greater local democracy.


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