Data Journalists Engaging in Co-Innovation…

You may or may not have noticed that the Boundary Commission released their take on proposed parliamentary constituency boundaries today.

They could have released the data – as data – in the form of shape files that can be rendered at the click of a button in things like Google Maps… but they didn’t… [The one thing the Boundary Commission quango forgot to produce: a map] (There are issues with publishing the actual shapefiles, of course. For one thing, the boundaries may yet change – and if the original shapefiles are left hanging around, people may start to draw on these now incorrect sources of data once the boundaries are fixed. But that’s a minor issue…)

Instead, you have to download a series of hefty PDFs, one per region, to get a flavour of the boundary changes. Drawing a direct comparison with the current boundaries is not possible.

The make-up of the actual constituencies appears to based on their member wards, data which is provided in a series of spreadsheets, one per region, each containing several sheets describing the ward makeup of each new constituency for the counties in the corresponding region.

It didn’t take long for the data junkies to get on the case though. From my perspective, the first map I saw was on the Guardian Datastore, reusing work by University of Sheffield academic Alasdair Rae, apparently created using Google Fusion Tables (though I haven’t see a recipe published anywhere? Or a link to the KML file that I saw Guardian Datablog editor Simon Rogers/@smfrogers tweet about?)

[I knew I should have grabbed a screen shot of the original map…:-(]

It appears that Conrad Quilty-Harper (@coneee) over at the Telegraph then got on the case, and came up with a comparative map drawing on Rae’s work as published on the Datablog, showing the current boundaries compared to the proposed changes, and which ties the maps together so the zoom level and focus are matched across the maps (MPs’ constituencies: boundary changes mapped):

Telegraph side by side map comparison

Interestingly, I was alerted to this map by Simon tweeting that he liked the Telegraph map so much, they’d reused the idea (and maybe even the code?) on the Guardian site. Here’s a snapshot of the conversation between these two data journalists over the course of the day (reverse chronological order):

Datajournalists in co-operative bootstrapping mode

Here’s the handshake…

Collaborative co-evolution

I absolutely love this… and what’s more, it happened over the course of four or five hours, with a couple of technology/knowledge transfers along the way, as well as evolution in the way both news agencies communicated the information compared to the way the Boundary Commission released it. (If I was evil, I’d try to FOI the Boundary Commission to see how much time, effort and expense went into their communication effort around the proposed changes, and would then try to guesstimate how much the Guardian and Telegraph teams put into it as a comparison…)

At the time of writing (15.30), the BBC have no data driven take on this story…

And out of interest, I also wondered whether Sheffield U had a take…

Sheffiled u media site

Maybe not…

PS By the by, the website relaunched today. I’m honoured to be on the editorial board, along with @paulbradshaw @nicolaskb @mirkolorenz @smfrogers and @stiles, and looking forward to seeing how we can start to drive interest, engagement and skills development in, as well as analysis and (re)use of, and commentary on, public open data through the data journalism route…

PPS if you’re into data journalism, you may also be interested in, a question and answer site in the model of Stack Overflow, with an emphasis on Q&A around how to find, access, and make use of open and public datasets.

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

4 thoughts on “Data Journalists Engaging in Co-Innovation…”

  1. As an aside:
    I wanted to do a ‘hyperlocal’ take on this for my blog so I could run with a story on the changes for Bournville Ward. Prior to the Guardian’s brilliant data work I was just faced with a table in the leaked Boundary Commission’s PDF so I manually turned that into a google spreadsheet to show all the Birmingham changes.

    Later, I then stripped out the relevant KML (using Google Earth to help me) from the Guardian map to create a Northfield-only map for my blog (using GPS visualiser). There was probably an easier route to all this but anyway, here’s a piece of hyperlocal data journalism:

    1. @dave that’s really interesting… what steps were involved in getting and processing the KML? (I’m trying to compile recipes…)
      By the by, here’s a way of using the Guardian spreadsheet as a database, eg searching for new constituencies with ‘Birmingham’ in the name:

  2. Hi Tony
    Your search would needs to add an ‘or sutton coldfield’ as that’s also a Birmingham constituency.

    On the Guardian map I took the KML link and opened it up in Google Earth. That showed all the constituencies so I found the Northfield consitutency, right-clicked on the outline, ‘save as’, which produced a KMZ file containing just the outline for Northfield. Google Maps through up an error when importing so instead I use GPS Visualiser ( to upload the file and create the map to my spec (defaulting to open street map and set to specific width).

    This creates a html file. To use it on your website you need to put your google maps api into the box on the map input page (or manaually replace the code in the html file, instructions in a commented out section on the file). is a self host wordpress install so I upload the html file (I use the media library bit of the CMS to do this but could FTP it also), and the just add the iframe html to place the picture in the blog post.


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