… The Great British Public Toilet Map, v.1
We made a first version of The Great British Public Toilet Map.
It’s not really a toilet map.
It will be, when there’s more data (initially for London – this link tells you why). At the moment, it’s more a way of seeing the data that’s available, and asking for more.
I think it could do those two things quite well.
Seeing the data that’s available
Seeing the data that’s available isn’t just useful for the public. It’s useful for the councils that have provided the data, to see how it looks and how it compares to others.
For instance, I’ve often sent councils a link to Wandsworth’s data as a good example, because it’s a .csv file and it provides latitude and longitude points for the locations rather than a postcode, and it has a LOT of toilets.
Now that it’s on the map, it’s not actually that great. This is because there’s none of the extra data – what type of toilet is it? (public toilet.. automatic public toilet… community toilet…) When is it open? Is it wheelchair accessible? Is there baby-changing?
The map is also useful for councils that do not provide data. It shows them 1) that other councils do this and 2) how they do it. They can also gauge whether it is worth doing it themselves.
This leads on to the second function of the site – asking for more.
The most important aspect of the site, which I may have been too subtle about, is for people to ask their councils for more data. This is a lobbying/campaigning/public-participation angle.
Councils do things to serve the public; to address a social need.
How do they know there’s a need for public toilet data? They don’t. I’m not sure they even know that there’s a need for better public toilet information, which is the problem that the data is trying to solve.
So we need people to tell them. Not a lot of people – there’s no 100 000 signature threshold. Although, an e-petition for better public toilet provision, now there’s an idea… http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/15258
Two or three UK councils published toilet data simply because they thought it would be useful. About 20 councils, (or 1 in 4 of those I’ve contacted) published the data because just 1 person asked. Me.
A few more are thinking about it. It’s on a to-do list, and they’ll get round to it eventually. A second person asking for the data would make a big difference here.
Quite a few councils (1 in 4 again, I’d say) reply by saying ‘we already have a web page / map showing where our toilets are’. I’ve then explained the difference between open data and the current info/maps, and most are then more sympathetic, although the council officer might not know how to go about it. If no one else asks, they’ll forget the conversation happened.
The other half of the councils don’t reply. Maybe they don’t know who at the council to ask. Maybe they don’t know what open data is. However I bet that each time they receive an email, the issue gets a bit further down the chain. They’ll find out what happened to the previous emails. They’ll look up the ‘open data’ movement, or our toilet map website itself. They’ll decide if they think they should publish the data, and how to do so.
Two or three or four emails could be more than enough. And the more councils that publish data, the more incentive there is for the other councils to do so too.
So please, look at the site – then send a message too. Click on a council, then the button for ‘write to Bexley’ or whomever, and you’ll find a sample letter ready for you to send, or you can write your own.
You don’t even have to live in that council area, or even in London. Decent public toilet info is more useful to strangers to an area, so anyone who visits London, (or who is planning to visit London), would benefit. Writing to the City of Westminster would be a good place to start.
Then, if we have more data, we might get nearer to what the site would love to be: A Great British Public Toilet Map, with the open data behind it that allows others to make the maps and apps to find, map, lobby, analyse, research, compare, mash-up… whatever you like!