… Progress

October 4, 2011 at 12:47 pm 1 comment

For 2 years I’ve been researching ways to improve public toilets for older people, as part of the TACT3 project to help older people to manage continence concerns.

This soon became an inclusive design project to improve all publicly accessible toilet provision for people of all ages.

Rather than going down the ‘traditional’ product design route, I took a service design approach – applying the research, process and creativity of a designer to the design of a service.

I did this because:

  • It interests me
  • there’s no money for redesigning toilets
  • Toilets have been redesigned, but people don’t follow the guidance
  • Suggesting improvement to a service can have a wider impact, and needn’t cost much at all
  • It’s relevant to the biggest providers – local government
  • It seemed like the right thing to do

2 things came out of the project: a website called The Great British Public Toilet Map, and a publication called Publicly Accessible Toilets: An Inclusive Design Guide, which was actually funded by the ESRC Connected Communities programme as part of our 6-month concurrent research project called RATs – Robust Accessible Toilets – looking at conflicts between ‘Design out Crime’ guidance and Inclusive Design.

The Great British Public Toilet Map

This website, initially for London, is a way of showing the work that I’ve been doing with public toilet open data, with an element of public engagement.

The principle is to show the data of the London Boroughs who provide it, and to convince those councils that don’t that they should. This is done by a) showing that others councils do and b) giving the public an easy way to ask their councils to do so.

It’s a bit of an experiment.

The main stumbling blocks are that

a) the public don’t know what open data is,


b) neither do the councils.

However that’s also where the map succeeds. It’s an opportunity, in its infancy, to explain and encourage open data use to new people, whether that’s the public, or parts of a council (public toilet providers) who are far removed from those council officers who may be open data aware (GIS managers, transparency and democracy peeps, finance).

So that’s going OK.

Publicly Accessible Toilets: An Inclusive Design Guide

We wrote an inclusive design guide to publicly accessible toilets (‘any toilet that the public can use without having to buy anything’). You can download it as a pdf here: http://www.hhc.rca.ac.uk/CMS/files/Toilet_LoRes.pdf


It includes a lot of quotes from the 100+ members of the public and from 20-ish public toilet providers and professionals that we spoke to during our research.

It’s aimed at local authorities, providers, designers/architects, or anyone with an interest, such as campaigners.

  • It profiles 4 different users of different ages with particular needs that featured frequently in the research but who struggle with current provision.
  • It makes around 40 suggestions for better provision using examples from real toilets
  • It presents arguments for and against charging for toilets, and for equal provision for women
  • It shares 4 case studies of public toilet provision from around the country (though 3 are in London. Don’t hate me).
  • It explains the Great British Public Toilet Map, and gives a few examples of design ideas that are OK, and that could be copied, adapted, or built upon.

I like it.

What Next?

The projects have now ended, however no one likes research that dies the second a project ends. What. Is. The. Point.

The research councils put a lot of emphasis on ‘impact’ – getting your research and outcomes out there into the world, to have an effect.

So we’ve applied for ‘follow-on funding’ in order to develop the website until October 2012, and, whilst we wait to find out if we’ve got it, we have ‘research development’ money from the RCA to let me carry on working on public toilet open data and the website, part-time, until January 2012.

We’ll wait and see what sort of ‘Impact’ the research projects and outputs have, both on the toilet world, and on me, in whatever research or work comes next.

But for now,  ‘Public Toilets and..’ will continue.

Thanks for reading x


Entry filed under: About, Service Design. Tags: , , .

… The Great British Public Toilet Map, v.1 … The Open Data Consultation

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Anon  |  October 4, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Thanks for reminding me about ‘Publicly Accessible Toilets’ Gail. One of the problems is that so much is published, it’s easy to forget it, and very difficult to find it again. Perhaps we need funding for a centralised research database!

    Good luck with your projects – I hope funding continues, as the research and development is badly needed.


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