Healthy Cities- The Big Data Week challenge

Of all the talks I’ve attended recently, @GescheSchmid summed up what big data means to me when she said “Visualise the data, make it understandable to citizens so they can engage with it”.

It’s is a message which resonates because it perfectly describes what we are doing in Leeds. Over the past few months, I’ve been working with a number of others to bring people from different industries together across the city. Our focus is to highlight the ways different individuals and organisations use big data. We set up “Leeds Data Thing” to bring like-minded people together to talk about data, network, share ideas, learn a few things and have a beer or two together.

We couldn’t help but be surprised when the first Leeds Data Thing event sold out within 24 hours. We knew there were some people interested in data in the city, but hadn’t realised there would be such high demand to be at the event. We packed out a room with 50 people from health, academia, finance, business, marketing agencies, the city council, statisticians, designers, and developers!

Because of the enthusiasm and interest that we’ve had, the stage is well and truly set to take Leeds’ love of data to a global stage. The International Big Data Week is a festival held in over 20 cities worldwide from the 22nd -28th April.  2013 marks the first time that Leeds will act as a Big Data Week host city – and Leeds Data Thing, along with Bloom Agency, is at the heart of organising and hosting everything.

Aiming to attract a plethora of different sectors, we are running a range of events across the city during Big Data Week. From a session on market research and big data, to an opportunity for different community groups to discuss the data they hold, to a body of data experts, we’re also experimenting with creating a living, virtual capsule of how the city uses and consumes data in a day.

The week culminates in a Big Data Challenge where we’ve set the themese as “How healthy is your city?” Entrants from 20 cities - including Leeds, Moscow, Barcelona, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpa, Beirut, and Toronto will use data to explain why their city is the healthiest. Leeds Data Thing has managed to attract an expert panel of well-known judges who will be awarding prizes and ranking entrants on a global scale.

With each city focussing on finding useful data and localising it to their city, we’re hoping teams will be able to produce outputs that provide local citizens with information in an understandable format – highlighting how data can be used to engage with non-technical audiences.

I’ll be writing another blog post after the event to highlight the winning entries from Leeds, as well as each of the other international cities, along with the overall international winner.

In the meantime follow us @leedsdatathing / #healthycities / /

We’re launching tickets soon…


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  1. Comment by jwilliams posted on

    "will use data to explain why their city is the healthiest"

    Hm. You're encouraging people to cherrypick and manipulate the data to reinforce a preselected message? That doesn't seem in the right spirit.

    • Replies to jwilliams>

      Comment by barrettmark posted on

      Hmm perhaps I could have worded it a little better, jwilliams and I take your point. By setting the theme we are hoping to provide direction for the challenge. Also by keeping the theme open to interpretation we hope to see data about water and quality, sports facilities, local council spending, basically anything participants can use for “their” city. As participants are from around the world they may find the city they are closest to doesn’t actually have enough data available. In this instance they may choose to adopt another city as “theirs” and use their output to highlight what is possible if only the data was available in their local city. It should be interesting to see what data can be found to promoto a city as "Healthy".

      • Replies to barrettmark>

        Comment by exstat posted on

        Not sure you're quite there yet, Mark.

        While there are people whose job is to promote their city as the bees' knees, open data is not about PR.  It should be about providing data which might just as easily show your city to be unhealthy and certainly not about forgetting the unfavourable.  The way I'd put your last sentence is "It should be interesting to see what data can be found that are considered relevant to the "state of health" of a city. 

        What people then do with the data is up to them, but open data should be blind to whether data help or hinder a particular message.

        I don't think you are meaning to imply anything else, but it's all in the language!


        • Replies to exstat>

          Comment by redwards posted on

          I agree with what you're both saying. I think it's important to set a question and a theme to 'hack' around, but the real point of the challenge is to give participants the data and then the freedom to explore it, hopefully creating something around healthy cities. 'Proving' that their city is the healthiest isn't the point at all - it's more about data exploration with the view to creating something thought-provoking.