Aims of the project:

  • Deliver a new way to develop a digital heritage collection
  • Expand the digital content about Edinburgh held by Edinburgh Libraries
  • Raise the profile of Edinburgh Libraries as a forward-thinking service
  • Meet the wider aims of the Nesta Open Data Scotland programme
This project sat with the Open Data Scotland collaborative programme which involved European local government partners as part of Nesta’s Code for Europe Programme, together with a small number of Scottish city and regional authorities as well as creating a network of developers who are integrated with the government authorities.

The programme supported the development of new digital services which solved real issues. These useful digital services were built on an ‘open’ basis, meaning they offer both open source content and digital frameworks, so they can be copied, adapted and brought to scale.

Open Data Scotland aimed to add social and economic value to communities, developers and local government through opening up data sets. The four Scottish local authorities involved – Edinburgh, East Lothian, Clackmannanshire and Aberdeen – tackled specific issues in their communities and tried to solve problems using digital technology.

Four technology developers were employed as Code for Europe Fellows and engaged with developers across Europe sharing their project, knowledge and skills.

The focus of the project for Edinburgh was Edinburgh Collected (https://edinburghcollected.org), a responsive web application that enables citizens of Edinburgh to share their memories of the city. Citizens can add their own memories, browse those belonging to others and gather memories together in scrapbooks that can then be shared. The content is searchable and is fully moderated by the Libraries division. It allows citizens to add to the city’s open data store, which can then be used through an API by developers looking for location-aware media of the city. Through building this application, and reviewing other similar projects we were also able to put together a guide for other developers looking to work with a Council. We also carried out a flash hack in a week to help one of the council departments get some quick feedback on an application that they were putting a proposal together for. We included the project in a hack event and as a result a free-lance developer created a module which would allow images to be sent as postcards from the site.

The application’s code is available on GitHub.

Main benefits:

  • sharing existing open data from the Capital Collections digital repository
  • crowd-sourcing new heritage data
  • writing and sharing newly produced open data
  • offering a platform and digital support to organisations and groups across the city for their own heritage data
  • developed a platform that’s shareable and reusable
  • shared agile techniques training with teams in the Council
  • held the Council’s first flash hack, a proof of concept that developed a prototype for a new app over a week’s intensive activity. We have embedded this approach in our working practices

The project used agile and co-design approaches to develop the new service, as well as involving local citizens in the development and test phases.  The programme was collaborative so we had the benefit of input from three other developers and a shared designer as well.

Key challenges and how were these overcome:

  • Although the Libraries team were experienced at delivering digital projectsthis project was run using strict Agile and this was a steep learning curve for the team who had to meet its requirements as well as continuing with existing work. The team were interested and open to the approach and re-structured priorities to ensure they could support it.

    As the product being developed would be completely open source and would create new open data from the beginning awareness sessions were carried out internally and externally so that there was wide understanding of the nature of this service and the opportunities it would offer. This avoided negative perceptions developing.

    There was also a steep learning curve around understanding the build for the application and the requirements beyond delivery.  As the Council did not have a developer in-house, the external developer built the product to be as robust as possible so that it could run with minimal support.

Key success factors:

  • Creation of a new digital service to expand Edinburgh Libraries existing heritage collections and raise the libraries profile
  • Created a new approach to promoting and generating open data for Edinburgh (and beyond) that can be re-used by anyone
  • Explore new approaches to project development and delivery

Key learnings:

  • It’s essential to have a sponsor who can support the project and sustain it post delivery
  • Project scoping is critical as there is a resource commitment for the project beyond paid for developer/designer time. Scope should be as detailed as possible and potential dependencies such as user testing, meetings and external commitments for team members
  • Make sure your entire team is in place and committed from the start – you will lose valuable time catching up and coping with delays if not
  • Agile planning techniques are great for this type of project but you must allow time in the project plan for the regular stand-ups, iterations and reviews
  • Build a responsive web solution first – it avoids support implications of multiple apps
  • Have a clear plan for marketing, embedding and sustaining your project
  • Have a wider strategy that your project sits within, to achieve maximum benefit.
Organisation: The City of Edinburgh Council

Commissioning agent: Nesta for the overall programme

Delivery agents: Nesta, Armoin Ltd

How long has the project been operational: Just over 2 years
How long the project took from concept approval to implementation: 1 year
Funding: £25,000. The Service department provided match funding to Nesta’s budget
Picture courtesy of: Edinburgh Collected, Edinburgh City Council
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