It never rains but it pours..
I’m still catching up on everything that’s happened in the past year, but it seems that Ordnance Survey are opening up their toilet data!
Or to be very, very, specific..
“..recently we have enabled our IP to be used in an open data release of one council’s toilet data, and if any others approach us for releasing toilet data this is likely to be on the same terms”
It’s great that OS have recognised that open toilet data is in the public interest and personally I think they deserve a really big hug.
Past posts on the OS saga:
BIG NEWS in the search for local council toilet data.
After years of emailing councils requesting open data about their toilets, it is now suddenly being published, in bulk, in a useful format.
22 datasets have already passed ‘technical review’ in the last couple of months, with 80+ in the pipeline!
22 is already about as much as I managed in 3 years…
But how? (quick answer – the Local Government Association asked them to)
and why? (quick answer - they’re paying them)
In February 2013 I made a formal request for public toilet location data via data.gov.uk.
The Open Data User Group took up this request – cogs whirred, people in meetings said ‘Toilets!”, plans were developed (OK so I don’t know the details..) and the Local open data incentive scheme was born, with public toilets as one of the three datasets it would focus on.
Managed by the Local Government Association (LGA), the Local open data incentive scheme offers up to £7000 to councils if they publish open data about key themes in a consistent format.
The current themes are public toilets, planning applications and licensing of premises. They get £2000 per theme and a bonus £1K if they do all three.
Approved data will be collated and will also appear on data.gov.uk for people to use and make maps and find toilets etc. etc.
Thank you people who made this happen for taking the request seriously, not overlooking the unsexy topic of public loos and spending your money to get better information about a vital public service.
On Friday 5th September I gave the Open Data Institute‘s weekly Lunchtime Lecture about The Great British Public Toilet Map.
You can listen again/flick through the slides to my talk ‘Excuse me, where is the toilet (data)?‘
The ODI have also written a blog post to summarise it, ‘How open data can help us all to find the toilet‘
Thank you, ODI, for inviting me to do this.
Councils have a statutory obligation to respond to FOI requests within 20 days. Our Research Assistants Lizzie and Billie were tasked with sending out the FOI requests to the councils, as part of our current work on the project, funded by the Nominet Trust.
They identified 405 district councils and unitary authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If the public toilet (and community toilet scheme) information on each council’s website was sufficient, they recorded this data. However if it was non-existent, or so brief that it was useless (e.g. “We have 6 public toilets.”), they sent FOI requests, working through the UK region by region. In total they sent 314 FOI requests.
As luck would have it, someone (Jonathan Roberts) had already made FOI requests to 31 councils for information about their public facilities, including toilets, including many in Wales, through the website What Do They Know?, so they only had to follow up on a few of these.
Lizzie wrote our request based on the advice from that site and feedback from Owen Boswarva following a previous blog post. Our request can be read at the end of this post.
Did it work? At last count, We had responses from 199 councils, equivalent to a response rate of 63%, in excess of our 50% target.
We were still waiting for a reply from 115 councils. A few had been chased 4 times as the 20-day period had passed without response. Of those that replied, the majority have sent data (or a pdf of data). A minority have directed us to the information already on their website. A couple have sent links to pre-existing open data. At least 1 council asked us to foot the bill, requesting £450 for the data to be collected. We declined.
Next we have to unpick what we can actually do with the data.
Whilst The Great British Public Toilet Map is a non-commercial use, the map does have to be sustainable, so we need the option to use the data for commercial purposes too.
Guidance shared by @_datapreneur about Section 102 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 says that datasets have to be made available for re-use, including for commercial purposes, if certain conditions are met.
Does the toilet data fit this description? I think it does. So long as the council ‘own’ the data it is theirs to release for re-use.
An exception would be Ordnance Survey location data. I’m also not sure about toilets provided by a third company, e.g. the Superloos. Could they ‘own the rights’ to the information about their opening hours, rather than the councils, for example? Is that even practical? At what point is information simply in the public domain?
At least one council has decided to share the information under EIR (Environmental Information Regulations) instead of the FOI Act, which makes things different again.
And what about the councils who specifically said it could only be used by The Great British Public Toilet Map, and for non-commercial gain? If they had no right to, are we ignoring them at our peril?
My next task it to get to the bottom of these questions, hopefully in a way which doesn’t involve extensive back-and-forth email conversations with 300 separate councils.
Suggestions, as always, are extremely welcome.
Dear ### Council,
We are writing to request details of your public toilet provision. We intend to use this information as open data for the Great British Public Toilet Map. This is a project started by the Royal College of Art and funded by the Nominet Trust to make it easier for people, in particular those with reduced continence, to find toilets.
Please treat this as a request for information under both the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and under the Re-Use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005, we request a dataset that covers all your toilet provision including public, library, parks and associated offices (one- stop offices for council tax payment etc). In short any toilet provision you offer to members of the public including those under any community toilet scheme you may have in operation. The specific data we require, if held by the Council, is:
- the longitude and latitude / postcode / exact location
- Opening times
- If there is a cost to use the facility
- Male / female
- Disabled access (including RADAR scheme)
- Baby changing (male and/or female)
- specialist provision such as urinals and/or squatting toilets
We request that this data is provided to us via email and if possible in a spreadsheet (XLS) format. We also request that this data is provided under licence that allows reuse, ideally the Open Government Licence.
Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter,
The Great British Public Toilet Map
The following video was made for the application and explains our project in 2 minutes – click to watch ..
We began work in March and will work on the map for 6 months. As I am on maternity leave, the project lead is the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design‘s Senior Research Fellow and Toilet Enthusiast, Jo-Anne Bichard, while the design ideas, data collection and day-to-day work has been embraced by Research Assistants and (soon to be graduating) MA students, Elizabeth Raby and Billie Muraben. Meanwhile, Neontribe are figuring out how to make it all work.
In brief, we aim to add A LOT more toilets. The existing site is little more than a prototype, consisting of data for a handful of London boroughs, a few other councils, National Rail Enquiries and Transport for London, the latter of which is four years out-of-date to my eternal frustration.
We also aim to improve the information about each toilet, since at the moment we have opening hours, wheelchair accessibility info and baby-changing info.
Therefore, we (.. and by ‘we’ I mean Lizzie, Billie and Neontribe) are:
- Trawling council websites for public and community toilet details
- Sending Freedom of Information requests when the info is missing or poor
- Importing the 4000-odd toilet locations from OpenStreetMap (OSM)
- Developing a means for the public and councils to add/amend entries, in order to crowd-source for data, to make it more reliable and complete
- Developing a means for all this extra info to be added back into OSM
- Redesigning the interface so that all these extra toilets and info can be seen and understood easily
..as well as a million other things that will help us to provide a useful, sustainable website by the autumn for everyone to benefit from.
I will try to blog about things as they develop, such as our massive FOI efforts (I believe the East Midlands are winning for the most replies), our upcoming paper-prototyping, and the licensing headache that is starting to emerge.
However, we met up with Harry and Rupert form Neontribe on May 1st and got very excited to have our first big toilet/data conversation for a very long time.
With such loo-mapping enthusiasm in the room, only good can come of this.
I’ve updated my records of which councils publish open data about their public toilets.
I’ve not checked every council, but I have checked every council listed as ‘open’ or ‘semi-open’ on openlylocal.com’s Open Data Scoreboard.
The links tend to go to their open data page rather than straight to the data itself.
There seem to be 25 councils that publish public toilet open data, which sounds a bit rubbish, although that’s several hundred loos. Also, a couple of those councils sent me a spreadsheet rather than publishing the data online.
Nearly 20 of these datasets were made because I asked a council who were publishing other data if they could also make an open dataset about their toilets, and they happily obliged.
I mention this because I’ve not asked anyone for any data in 2-3 years, and from what I can remember about 4 more datasets have appeared in that time.
Which is a bit sad. This suggests that either a) progress in council data moves at a snail’s pace, with not many more councils joining the revolution, and still no one thinking of toilets or b) if you don’t ask you don’t get. Or maybe c) both.
.. Open Data Councils (Jan 2011)
.. More Open Data Councils (June 2011)
This follows on from the previous post, where I trawled the council websites of England and Wales and found just under 5000 public and community toilets.
I’ve quickly searched through the district and borough councils of Scotland and Northern Ireland, and can add another 756 toilets to the count, made up of 706 public toilets and 50 in community toilet schemes.
The community toilet schemes are all in Scotland, where they’re known as ‘comfort schemes’. I found 5 listed, but I expect there are more.
Northern Ireland will also have more loos, but the council websites are a disappointment for the average toilet-hunter. I only found toilets listed in 11 of 26 borough council websites, and only one passing reference to a toilet scheme.