Getting ready for 7 May

 Infographic showing candidate  and constituency information for South Cambridgeshire , including the 2010 results Just one week to go until the General and Local elections, which in the district I work in means one Parliamentary*, 19 district and four parish polls.

Working with elections, graphics, web and mapping colleagues, we wanted to pull together some useful tools to help local voters. Looking at what other councils have done previously, we plumped for an online polling station finder and infographics showing Parliamentary and District Council candidates and previous results.

Find my polling station

As a rural district, my area is entirely made up of villages. We have 120 polling stations, but only one location per village as we tend to run double stations. Most stations are in the same place each year, so why the need for a map, especially when we send out polling cards which give all of the relevant information?

  • polling cards are often mislaid so it helps voters to easily find out where their polling station is
  • we want to help dispell the assumption that you need your polling card to be able to vote
  • there are always new people moving into villages who may not know where the station usually is
  • polling stations do sometimes move – three are in diferent locations this year
  • there are up to three polls to vote in depending on which village you live in – the map tells you which polls are being held in each village, which is especially useful as residents vote in two different parliamentary constituencies

    You can find the map here – covering the whole district. We’re looking forward to seeing how many people use it in the run up to, and on, polling day.


    Infographic showing candidates for the South Cambridgeshire Balsham ward on 7 ay 2015, plus previous 2011 election resultInformation about candidates for all polls is available on the council and other websites, as are details about previous poll results. It’s not all in one place though, so taking a leaf from the fantastic election work from Birmingham City Council’s newsroom over the last few years, we’ve designed infographics for the Parliamentary and District elections. 

    Each infographic is available on the Council website as PDFs, and via Flickr as image files with a creative commons licence. We’ve also provided them to election count and local media via Dropbox, and sent links to local political bloggers who have kindly shared them with their followers.

    Why no infographics for Parish Councils? Logistically, creating them for the four Parish Councils going to poll, and the 28 which have seen candidates elected unopposed, is more difficult:

    • candiates tend to stand in just their name without political affiliation
    • there are many candidates for many seats – often more than ten at a time
    • many are elected unopposed, so there is not always comparative voting data to display. 

    We have still made candidate information available, but via the standard electoral Statement of Persons Nominated and Declaration of Results. It may be that we’ll come up with a more user-friendly way to do this in the future.

    Images: infographics from South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Flickr stream

    *When I say one Parliamentary poll, constituency boundaries mean that we deal with one constituency, but only some of our residents vote in it – some vote in the neighbouring constituency which is dealt with by a neighbouring council. And we also take on a ward of yet another council into our constituency. 


    Crowdsourced squirrels


    This post is a chance to share my favourite thing in my garden and a fantastic crowdsourced research project.

    The black squirrel in this video took up residence last year after a stand of horse chestnuts was felled locally, forcing him and his friends to move home. 

    Black squirrels are the same species as grey squirrels, just with a different pigment, and are commonly sighted in East Anglia after a gaggle of them were released in Woburn around one hundred years ago.

    Anglia Ruskin University have been crowdsourcing black squirrel sightings for a few years on their Black Squirrel Project website. The project aims to: “gather data on the geographical range of the grey and black squirrel in the British Isles. This data may help explain why the grey squirrel is such a successful invader here.” It’s a fun, easy to use website and you feel that you’re involved in some interesting scientific research. That’s a great use of the web in my book.

    Photo: Black Squirrel_3377 by Robert Taylor on Flickr

    Open source mapping

    A map of South Cambridgeshire District Council

    © OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA

    This was the second of three topics at #Brewcamp on 6 October led by Stu Lester – @stu_lester and My Brain Dump

    Stu spoke about open source mapping (OSM) – a completely new topic for me – and the huge potential it offers to councils and communities to collaborate on local mapping. It could also save local government huge amounts of  money – always a winner in these straitened times.

    OSM can apparently be just as good, if not better, than paid-for information. And if it’s good enough for the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) ….. The UNEP is working with Vizzulaity on mapping methane info around the world. They take feeds from Wikipedia and link with Flickr and Youtube. Using Wikipedia as a Content Management System, UNEP pushes out data that other people can see and use.

    Humanitarian relief has also used OSM. After the earthquake in Haiti, Open Street Map used aerial photography from Yahoo to map the country and help direct aid and other activity.

    Current GIS products are often hard to use for non-experts. It’s easier for councils and residents to use OSM. New York City identified potential areas for hurricane issues earlier this year and produced PDFs for locals to download. Bloomberg announced them and the NYC site promptly crashed. The PDFs were instead posted to Tumblr – easy access and a social media win.

    Open source has fostered a sense of community. Stu cited that 15 to 20 people tend to work on systems based around the world, meaning there’s potentially 24/7 responsive IT support. If users come across functionality that would be handy it can be suggested and perhaps incorporated. It may be free, or could need a small amount of seed funding. Cheap bug ransoms can also help to iron out creases. It’s a real collaboration.

    And just because OSM is free, doesn’t mean it isn’t sound. The same goes for other online tools and sites. The website that kept coming up was Open Street Map – a free, editable map of the whole world. Yes, the whole world. Wow.

    Local uses for OSM include:

    • taking a screenshot of a map and adding it to your blog. As long as correct credit given, it can be used freely. Doesn’t matter if you’re an indivdual or an organisation
    • crowdsourcing to create information quickly and accurately – accessible public toilets – The Great British Public Toilet Map – and places of faith both examples cited – local government releases an area map and people/groups add their own details. It’s free, useful and the data is then available for everyone else to reuse
    • while people can and will abuse open source maps, others will correct it. If it’s a critical system, you can download a local copy and now and again fetch an update
    • The University of Nottingham is studying OSM to assess if it is better quality than other mapping. Open Street Map apparently has more correct roads that Ordnance Survey
    • Surrey Heath Borough Council is using Open Street Map data for tourist information
    • Open Street Map has even been used by artists to create new work.

    This is an area that is bound to become more prominent in local government. It’s very exciting and has the potential to create great working relationships between councils and our communities, and produce really useful information for people who live in, work in or visit our areas.

    Links – from @stu_lester and as tweeted by @siwhitehouse, @pigsonthewing and @mappamercia
    Stamen Design – the poster boys of the GIS world (apparently!) – push all their tools out as open source
    Indigo Trust – great example of user-generated content on OSM helping a community in Kenya
    Open Street Map – provides old, out-of-copyright Ordnance Survey maps
    Mapquest – personalise, save and share maps
    Quantum GIS – free, open source geographic information system
    Creative Commons: Map image of South Cambridgeshire District Council downloaded from Open Street Map. It was my first visit to the site and I found it  really easy to locate and download the image. Give it a go!