Crowdsourcing Your Neighbourhood at the Edinburgh Fringe

This time last week I was getting set for my first ever Edinburgh Fringe show as a performer, a Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas event which took place on Monday5th August at The Famous Spiegeltent on George Street, Edinburgh.

The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas (#dangerousideas) is a strand of afternoon shows that describe themselves as “Debate, discussion and discourse in the company of some of the fiercest intellects this country has to offer.” That means academics, researchers and other clever people spending an hour talking about big ideas in a very intimate and characterful venue.

When I was invited to be part of the strand, by the lovely people at Beltane Network and Fair Pley, some thinking was required… the shows are a fantastic opportunity to reach and engage with new audiences but that meant showing something off that would have relevance to a broad range of people, not just those in UK HE and FE. And that’s when FieldTrip GB came to mind, and my EDINA colleague Addy Pope came on board to create the “Crowdsource Your Neighbourhood” event.

What is FieldTrip GB?

The FieldTrip GB logo.

FieldTrip GB is a new mobile phone app and authoring tool created by my colleagues. It’s origins lie in the need for those on fieldtrips to have access to good quality mapping (currently of Great Britain but hopefully we’ll expand to cover further geographical areas). So FTGB supports download of a high quality but entirely open source collection of map data.

But Fieldtrips also tend to involve the collection of data and that’s where FTGB gets extra clever with a custom authoring tool that enables you to create whatever data collection you need for your project or research. You set up a form for different data types then you sync your phone (via Dropbox) and, as if by magic, you will instantly find the new form available on your phone and you can save records to the app whether or not you are connected to the internet. Every form records your location but you can also edit this at the time – for when you can’t get quite close enough, conditions are dangerous, or you forget something that you want to add later.

The app and authoring tool was designed with some particular academic uses in mind, but we reckon it has huge potential beyond that…

So what was our dangerous idea

Well we wanted to challenge our audience by asking them what they would change about their own neighbourhood through crowdsourcing. We asked:

You can map anything, anyone, any issue, any opportunity in your hood…

What are YOU going to do? How will you make a difference to your neighbourhood?

This isn’t actually an easy question – especially with the existing set of sites like FixMyStreet, and iSpot – so we also put together an example of something that a number of our audience might want to explore: the public toilets of Edinburgh.

Image of a public bathroom sign in Edinburgh

The Public Toilets on the Mound, Edinburgh.

Now why did we pick public toilets? Well firstly when I asked friends, colleagues and the Twitterverse what they’d like to map public conveniences were mentioned several times. Secondly our audience was coming in for a Fringe show and, whilst all venues do have their own facilities, it is not unusual to find yourself in a very long queue or a very long way from a public bathroom at this time of year. In August Edinburgh’s population doubles so demand spikes making such a guide properly useful to visiting Fringe goers.

Image of a twitter conversation between the author and the eccentronic twitter account

A Twitter conversation highlighting @eccentronic’s request for public toilet information.

However there was another reason for picking public toilet: bathroom access can be a political issue. In a city as old as Edinburgh many public buildings and facilities have had a real challenge ensuring they are accessible and meet the requirements of the Equalities Act 2010. But there are guides to some accessible bathrooms already. Directory Inquiries provides an excellent listing of the special RADAR key-access bathrooms across the city for those with appropriate access (usually those with substantial physical disabilities – more information on the Disability Rights UK website). But not everyone has one of these keys, and not everyone needs entirely flat/ramp access to their bathrooms.

Blue Badge Style includes a specific guide to the Accessible Fringe, including public toilets.

So we knew we wanted to record what accessibility really looks like in the city – what is the distribution of public bathrooms that are wheelchair (or buggy) friendly and how many are there? But, with an awareness of conditions that reduce mobility but do not rule out the use of stairs (e.g. arthritis) we also wanted to capture accessibility in a more subtle way – which toilets have only a few steps versus many steps for instance?

Disability is a “protected characteristic” but there are other potential inequalities around public bathroom provision. Are there a comparable number of male and female public bathrooms for instance? Historically women were not part of public life and where older bathrooms remain in use this can still be apparent in asymmetrical provision – for instance the Mound public bathrooms include only male facilities. So we knew we wanted to capture the designated gender (if present), the distribution and the differences of any provision around gender and facilities.

On a related note we also wanted to know which bathrooms include baby change facilities, rest spaces and breast feeding spaces/rooms (as a very few do). And we knew we needed a few other more personal bits of data. Are there towels or handdryers? Is there a mirror (essential for Fringe performance make up checking for instance)? Are the bathrooms pleasant, clean, safe?

Screenshot of the SUN newspaper

A February 2013 Scottish Sun headline.

We also wanted to address some current Edinburgh politics. Edinburgh City Council, who also provide a thorough listing of bathrooms that they operate, are currently upgrading seven public toilets in Edinburgh city centre. They have announced that once those refurbishments have been completed they will charge 30 pence for use of the toilets. This has been a controversial move (see above) and potentially limits access to the bathrooms only to those who can afford to pay. The locations of these toilets do seem to coincide with areas with heavy tourist footfall so they tend to be well used but by locals as well as visitors to this city.

With the upcoming public toilet changes in mind we wanted both to record all of the Council toilets – already well mapped by Open Street Map – but also nearby facilities and, in all cases, what the current charge for using the bathroom might be. This would also enable us to capture public toilets not operated by the usual suspects (e.g. in shops, cafes, etc.) and what the terms of their use are – do you have to make a purchase or can anyone use them?

Turning the idea into a form for our phones

So, we had an idea. We knew what types of data we would want to collect. And we had an idea of how this data might be used: on a practical basis; for campaigning; for assessing planning decisions and changes; etc.

Next, we used the FieldTrip GB Authoring Tool to create a suitable form.

Screenshot of the fieldtripGB authoring tool

The FieldTrip GB Authoring Tool in action.

And with that we were ready to prepare for our show by getting out into Edinburgh and collecting data on public bathrooms. We wanted to make sure that lots of people could add to this data collection process so we had set up the form following the FieldTrip GB crowdsourcing advice, and that means that you can also add to our map of Edinburgh Public Toilets.

Start by downloading the FieldTrip GB App – you can click on this link or use a QR code reader with the image below:

QR code for FieldTrip GB App

Download FieldTrip GB via this link

Once you have downloaded the app you will need to login using our shared details.


Password: n31gb0ur

You can now add to our growing collection of public toilets in Edinburgh – or you can add the public toilets in your own area, anywhere in the UK. I’ve made a short video to show you how capturing a new record works, see below.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The form to complete is “Public Toilets in Edinburgh”. We would, if you are in the city for the festival, also encourage you to take a look at the “Fringe Wildlife Spotter” form as well.

As myself and my partner toured the city collecting public toilet data for the weekends leading up to the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas show I received an offer I just couldn’t refuse from one of those original  Twitter commentators. @eccentronic vowed to create a music video using the public toilet map to shoot scenes of perfomer despair – read more about this in their post on their “people-powered Edinburgh Fringe documentary”, Two Pints of Irn Bru and a Packet of Crisps. This now gave our data collection a new purpose: crowdsourced art!

You can view all of the toilets that we have mapped in a few ways. Firstly you could log into the FieldTrip GB Authoring Tool and clicking on the “View Records” tab.

Screen Shot of the View Records Screen

A view of the Edinburgh Public Toilets already mapped using FieldTrip GB.

Or you could take a look at the files exported from FieldTrip GB (accessible via the same Dropbox login):

screenshot of public toilets KML

A screenshot of the Edinburgh Public Toilets KML being viewed in Google Earth.

We have also taken the CSV file and imported it into Google Maps Engine Lite (removing the heading for the spreadsheet and sorting the entries by name but otherwise making no edits) to create a web-based map of Edinburgh Public Toilets which you can access here. This is also the map we suggest the lovely folks of Eccentronic use for their video as it gives the quickest overview of the data without login being required.

So, with a detailed map of Edinburgh’s Public Toilets to hand, a number of print outs of the data and images we had collected with us – to allow our audience to try out the app for themselves without having to leave their seats, our colleague and FieldTrip GB expert Ben Butchart, and a bag full of FTGB badges, we set off to do a Fringe Show!

You can view our presentation from the show here:

And audio will follow shortly, along with a link to that music video inspired by our data collection.

image of FieldTrip GB badges

FieldTrip GB badges created for the show and for future events.

We didn’t get a huge audience along but we had some great ideas about what people would crowdsource, from woodpeckers to bike paths to the best bars for students. I would really welcome your own thoughts on what you would crowdsource about your neighbourhood in the comments below or via the hashtag for this event series, #dangerousideas.

 :: Update: the Eccentronic video is now live here, new blog post on that to follow ::


This entry was posted in dangerousideas, fieldtripgb, Week In the Life by Nicola Osborne. Bookmark the permalink.

About Nicola Osborne

I am Digital Education Manager and Service Manager at EDINA, a role I share with my colleague Lorna Campbell. I was previously Social Media Officer for EDINA working across all projects and services. I am interested in the opportunities within teaching and learning for film, video, sound and all forms of multimedia, as well as social media, crowdsourcing and related new technologies.

Comments are closed.