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Digital Transformation / Technology Innovation

Harnessing WordPress and Open Data Social Mapping to tackle homelessness

.Social Tech

The headline theme of our .Social initiative is to document ‘Social Tech’ best practice ideas and innovations from around the world, with a view towards how they might be applied towards Scotland’s local needs, in particular poverty and the chronic homelessness problem.

From chatbots, digital food wallets and online tracking there are a myriad of pioneers trying out new ideas to tackle social needs like homelessness.

In NYC the Blockchain is being utilized to provide the homeless a digital ID so they can better access services, and the universal applicability and benefits of this approach can be seen through how the same capability has enabled the world’s first “Blockchain Baby“.

Open Data Social Mapping

There’s no one technology that offers a panacea to tackle such systemic challenges, indeed the best approach is to combine many. Other fields are also similarly powerful, such as Open Data, especially when combined with Geomapping capabilities.

Their combination would enable “Open Data Social Mapping” – In its most simple form digitizing projects like streets maps created by the homeless in Newcastle, with the most important dynamic to note being the ‘peer to peer’ nature, ie. these are valuable information resources because they’re created by people who know why and how to use them too.

This potential for social impact can be illustrated through the knowledge that one of the biggest challenges the homeless face, especially those finding themselves there for the first time, is simply knowing what nearby help is available to them.

WordPress social innovations

My plan is to build such a user-driven mapping directory into homeless news portals like ‘the Edinbro.news‘.

Based on WordPress, the world’s most popular open source software, it means any progress and benefits achieved can be very easily repeated by any one else seeking to help their own local communities.

Naturally there is a powerful synergy between open source software and open data, one great example being Data.gov, which is available for download and repeat in this fashion. There are also numerous WordPress Open Data plugins that can be utilized, such as CKAN.

The Role of Local Government – Civic Crowdfunding and Social Cities

These examples lead into the role Government might also play in these scenarios.

Mapping is a powerful tool for engaging interactively with location-oriented data naturally, so especially relevant to cities and local authorities, and when combined with the community platform models, the key to unlocking truly transformational, citizen-driven digital government.

For example Los Angeles Clean Streets initiative is effectively addressing street cleanliness using the power of data and mapping. Los Angeles Sanitation (LASAN) uses the data to identify abandoned waste hotspots and improve deployment of cleanup crews.

Especially relevant is making better use of local assets like abandoned properties, an easy and immediate solution for homelessness obviously.

By utilizing easily available geomapping tools these types of valuable resources can be built relatively quickly and easily, and by using others like Open Data, for example factoring in abandoned street properties, the government can further accelerate how to better utilize public assets towards social needs.

Combining open data with citizen participation can unlock dynamic new models for transforming local communities, for example cataloging blighted properties could be further enhanced with crowdfunding projects to revitalize them for community needs, engendering both better civic engagement and also leveraging new financing models for cash strapped authorities.

San Francisco describes this as ‘Citizensourcing‘, a digital mix of hackathons, public engagement and a renewed focus on the city’s dynamic tech community. In Rotterdam citizens used a crowdfunding campaign to signal to government the need for a new footbridge to connect two parts of the city cut off by a busy road and railway line. The bridge project, called Luchtsingel, then attracted funding from the city government in order to complete it.

Next Bengaluru, an initiative by an NGO in Bangalore used online and offline methods to create a community vision for the redevelopment of one neighbourhood in the city. Between December 2014 and March 2015, 600 ideas were submitted by residents. A key outcome of the campaign was the identification of abandoned urban spaces as a major source of concern for residents as they are often used as places to dump rubbish. Residents were then asked to help create an online map of these spaces, to start a conversation with city officials about what could be done about them.

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Neil is a Cloud computing entrepreneur, specializing in cutting edge digital transformation and disruptive innovation, building teams and startups and helping clients of any size successfully exploit a variety of technologies.

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