Local Digital Waste Standards Project

Full discovery and API design process

Can the UK’s local councils improve services and make significant savings by adopting shared digital standards? The Local Digital Waste Standards Project tested this idea for waste services in the UK. A chance encounter in a workshop at LocalGovCamp 2015 led to Paul joining a group exploring data standards for local authorities. Our experience subsequently led to us being brought onboard a major project to co-create open data standards for waste services in local government.

Background

Following a workshop at LocalGovCamp 2015, we joined a group exploring data standards for local authorities and our experience subsequently led to us being brought onboard a major project to co-create open data standards for waste services in local government.

The Local Digital Waste Standards project was a year-long investigation, working with five trial partners to co-design and implement common data standards that could then be adopted nationally to enable every local authority to use digital tools to improve the quality of their digital citizen-facing waste services.

Streamlining and standardising waste services would have the knock-on benefit of reducing call volumes and failure demand. But the longer-term vision was that authorities could then work together more effectively (e.g. neighbouring boroughs collecting bins from two sides of the same road) as well as move between suppliers more easily.

A common data standard would also increase transparency around the performance of services, and of suppliers which could improve the ability of authorities to evaluate their own performance as well as that of their suppliers.

Critically, our overriding hope was for this project to feed into the ‘Government as a platform’ services vision so strongly advocated by GDS’s Mike Bracken in March 2015.

What we did

A discovery workshop with each council led by service design expert Sarah Prag allowed us to build a map of both the human interaction and the technical infrastructure of waste services from end-to-end.

We also met three leading waste service technology providers, looking in detail at their digital solutions and the data they exchanged with councils.

From this, we developed the digital specifications for local waste services that included:

  • Data models of the main entities that define a waste service (service, round, container, site, etc)
  • Common taxonomies (container types, materials, events)
  • An API standard, based on REST principles, derived from the abstract data models and reference taxonomies

We then iteratively refined the standards through consultations with suppliers as well as reference tools like edoc and WasteDataFlow. And to test the design’s robustness, we built two prototypes:

  • An API implementation, which communicated with both the Bartec and Whitespace waste management systems
  • Contributed consultancy to build a user interaction for Luton Borough Council which allowed bin collections to be checked and missed bins to be reported via the reference API

The technical specifications were built in the open using Jekyll, hosted on GitHub Pages. The API specification was documented using RAML and a simple tool used to generate Jekyll pages from the RAML document.

Wider Impact

This project was one of the first projects of its kind to deliver across three major themes:

  • Demonstrating a process for iteratively developing common standards across a number of local authorities
  • Making the business case for implementing standards across local government
  • Delivering technical specifications to demonstrate the potential

A commercial supplier took one of the taxonomies and reused that with one of their public sector customers. Supports that notion that the work we developed was adopted in real world applications

Several strong financial and technical arguments for further development and rollout of open data standards and APIs in local government were identified by the project:

  • An estimated £505 million could be saved over 14 years by adopting standards.
  • Standards can enable improved systems integration, supporting more effective channel shift and stimulating innovation.

A standard isn’t really a standard until it’s adopted and, towards the end of the project, the idea of a second rollout phase to deliver the outputs to a number of councils was investigated. But it was not possible to resource this at the time so the Local Digital Coalition was formed to manage the project assets and learnings and continue the work of encouraging collaborative projects in local government.

We’re optimistic that the work begun by this  initiative will continue to live on and perhaps in the future will contribute to a world where the Government as Platform vision can become a reality.

Watch the video summary, or see the project backlog for much more information about the project:

Impact for Folk Labs

This project was a valuable experience in several ways:

A deeper understanding of AddressBase and the management of addresses was invaluable working with Guildford Borough Council on a project to deploy an API for address lookup and for the finer details of address handling in the proptech app Chimni.

Also looking at the flows of materials and waste, more through a circular economy lens, led to a number of successes for Folk Labs over the following year:

  • Awarded a Hub Westminster cleantech scholarship for our Open Resources proposal
  • Won the first Ellen MacArthur Foundation hack_DIF circular economy hackathon
  • Won the “data and analytics” category of the InnovateUK Sharing Economy challenge

Jekyll

Jinja2

Foundation

GitHub Pages

Sinatra

RAML for REST API specifications

Code generation of API docs

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