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April 17 2012

13:00

The New York Times’ Well blog gets more vertical with a redesign

What you might call the verticalization of The New York Times continues today with the relaunch of Well, the healthy-living section edited by Tara Parker-Pope. Like DealBook and Bits before it, Well has grown in prominence enough to get its own branded identity and look — one that stands out from the 60-plus other blogs the Times offers. (Compare its look to The Lede, The Caucus, or India Ink, which all use variations of the standard Timesian blog look.)

Well’s new look makes it look more like an independent website than another Times blog that might get linked from the nytimes.com front page now and then. Along with a single top story, the design promotes four editor-selected stories up high, pushes comment-heavy posts in the sidebar (“Well Community”), pushes tools, quizzes, and recipes up high, and lets readers slice Well’s content by subtopics (Body, Mind, Food, Fitness, and so on). Most stories get bigger and bolder art than the old design allowed; text excerpts are shorter, allowing more stories per vertical inch. Twitter and Facebook sharing tools are prominent on each post, even on the front page.

Like Bits and DealBook, Well’s new look and feel is more reminiscent of what we associate with a blog and not a topic section of a newspaper website. As with Bits, The New York Times logo is shrunken to a mere 123 pixels wide, greyed in the upper left corner; the Well logo gets the big, 540-pixel-wide play.

Along with the new look, Well is getting additional resources. Aside from Parker-Pope, Times writer Anahad O’Connor will join Well as a full-time reporter, and the site will still have writing from other Times contributors and staffers Jane Brody and Gretchen Reynolds.

The transformation of Well has been in the works for several months and was first announced by James Follo, the Times chief financial officer, during an earnings call in February, where he said the company’s digital strategy called for expanding “some current content to drive increased engagement levels and additional points of access and create some entirely new homes for content.”

Well, with its inclusive view on health including fitness, medical care, dieting and more, seems like a logical choice for the Times to try to build off their existing work to grow a new audience. It’s a topic area that has the ability to develop a following as well as attract advertisers; it’s been a pageview standout at the Times for years, with Well stories regularly hitting the most-emailed list.

When I spoke with Ian Adelman, director of digital design for the Times, he said it was important for Well to develop its own identity independent of the Times while still being associated with the paper. “That balance between giving room for that specific content to breath, exist, and surface more and maintaining a consistent presentation of the Times a is a little tricky,” Adelman said.

That’s why Well, like Dealbook and Bits, has what you might call “light branding” from the New York Times, and why the navigation bar and other visual cues found on the rest of NYTimes.com are mostly missing. It’s also why there’s more elbow room on the page, on the Well home as well as story pages, giving art, multimedia, or discussion from readers a its own prominence. Adelman said the design is informed by editorial needs and doesn’t follow the templates you find on the rest of the site. For sites like NYTimes.com, those common templates are useful because of the sheer volume of information that moves across their pages each day. But the newer microsites within the Times architecture require more freedom, Adelman said.

“When an entity is contained within the bigger shell of The New York Times, there’s a little less room for things that are unique to that content environment to surface and breath in ways that make sense,” he said.

What’s unique to Well is that the content may be more disconnected to the day-to-day news cycle than Dealbook or Bits, where analysis and essays are intermixed with daily reporting. Well has seasonal recipes, fitness tools, and health quizzes, the type of material that can easily be tied into a news cycle and trends. But it also has stories with a long shelf life that can draw eyeballs over extended periods of time. (A piece on what works when trying to lose weight is guaranteed Googlebait for years to come.) Adelman said they redesigned the site with that in mind. “There are a number of new features that will be added — things that are not so much about news, but about the Well experience and creating a platform for people to get that and stick around longer,” he said.

It’s likely Well is not the last section from NYTimes.com to be turned into its own mini empire. As the Times continues to work on its digital subscription framework, the incentives are stronger than ever to create dedicated audiences who want to keep coming back to a part of the site. The Times has a long history here: It was Abe Rosenthal back in the 1970s who expanded the print paper by adding so-called “soft sections” — Weekend, Sports Monday, Living, Home, and the like — that would appeal to specific niche audiences. That strategy, despite initial misgivings, has made the Times a lot of money over the years. So while building verticals online may be associated more with the Huffington Post, Gawker Media, or Vox Media than with any newspaper, the Times realizes the need to structure appealing containers for specific kinds of content. For the developers and designers at the Times that translates into more experimenting with how the company presents its journalism, Adleman said.

“We’ll continue to evolve how we provide really great experiences for readers and finding new and better ways to incorporate more interesting materials into the story experience,” he said.

February 03 2012

08:15

Video: Heather Brooke’s tips on investigating, and using the FOI and Data Protection Acts

The following 3 videos first appeared on the Help Me Investigate blog, Help Me Investigate: Health and Help Me Investigate: Welfare. I thought I’d collect them together here too. As always, these are published under a Creative Commons licence, so you are welcome to re-use, edit and combine with other video, with attribution (and a link!).

First, Heather Brooke’s tips for starting to investigate public bodies:

Her advice on investigating health, welfare and crime:

And on using the Data Protection Act:

December 30 2011

22:23

Very public health

Watching the remarkable Xeni Jardin tweet her mammogram and cancer diagnosis, then blog eloquently about it, then crowdsource opening up her own MRI data makes me ask: Why are we so secretive about sickness and health? And what do we lose because we are?

The answers to the first questions are fairly obvious. First, we keep our sicknesses secret, we say, because we fear we could lose insurance. Except insurance companies force us to reveal our medical histories anyway. And let’s hope that Obamacare — may it survive the Supreme Court — succeeds in outlawing the denial of health coverage due to preexisting conditions. Next, we fear that we could lose jobs. Except in cases where a condition would affect job safety, shouldn’t employers be told that they cannot discriminate on the basis of health? Whether or not society chooses to address these issues through legislation, my point is that it’s possible to do so.

The other reason we keep sickness secret — the bigger reason — is stigma. We don’t want people to know we’re ill. But in this day and age, why should anyone be ashamed of being sick? To be clear, I am not saying that anyone should ever be forced to reveal health information. But why should our norms, stigmas, and economic considerations force us not to reveal it?

Imagine if we didn’t feel compelled to hide our illnesses. Imagine if we could be open about our health. What good could come of that?

We could learn more about correlations, which could yield information about causation and even cures. Given large data sets, we could find out that people who get a disease share common behaviors or characteristics. We might gain the opportunity to discover an environmental cause to a local outbreak of, say, breast cancer, enabling a community to fix the condition and prevent more cases.

Of course, I want to emphasize the conditional: correlation *could* help. One data point is never meaningful: That I’ve contracted one heart condition and two cancers since being at the World Trade Center on 9/11 is meaningless — unless there are many others in the same boat, and even then, one mustn’t jump to conclusions about causation. Still, more data is always better than less.

With openness about health, we could do a better job connecting people who share conditions to get information and support and each other. I am on the board of Learning Ally, formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, and at our last meeting, I was struck by the barriers that stigmas put in the way of young people getting the organization’s help. I heard how getting our software on iPods has helped more kids use the service because they no longer have to carry around a special device that marks them as different — stigma. I heard a mother say that school officials warned her that her child would be labeled — stigma — if she got him appropriate services, but she said she’d eagerly embrace the label if it got her son the help he needed.

On my blog, I’ve been in a debate about the recommendation by a government panel that men shouldn’t be given the blood test for prostate cancer anymore because, statistically, it hasn’t been shown to save lives. That’s because medical science can’t yet distinguish between fast- and slow-growing prostate cancer. I say men should get the test. I say we should be talking openly about our prostates as women have fought to talk about breast cancer. More information and communication is always better than less.

The real question is what men choose to do when they find out — through a biopsy following the blood test — that they have cancer. Perhaps more men should choose what the doctors call watchful waiting over surgery. But, you see, the problem is that we don’t have *enough* data to make a good decision. I want to know, based on the largest possible population, how long it took prostate cancer to spread after it was found. Then I could decide how long to watch and wait. But I don’t have that information. So I chose to get the cancer out of me. I could make that choice only because I had the test. I had my own data. If I had the data of millions more men, I could make wiser decisions.

How could get get more data?

Step one is to encourage men to talk about their prostates — and, yes, sorry, their penises — so we disarm the stigma about it and get more men to be aware and get tested and share their experience.

Step two is to create the means to open up and share as much health information as possible so researchers, doctors, and hackers can dig into it and find correlations and patterns and questions worth pursuing, perhaps leading to answers.

When I talk about the principles of an open society in Public Parts, this is what I mean. Rather than reflexively declaring that sharing information about ourselves — our bodies as well as our thoughts and actions — is dangerous, we must stand back and ask what benefit could come from such data, now that we have better technological means to open it up, gather it, and analyze it.

Only then can we balance the benefits and risks and decide, as a society, how open we want to be, how open we should and need to be — and why. That is the kind of discussion about privacy and our changing norms I’d like to hear. Let’s not just talk about what can go wrong now but also what could go right.

December 06 2011

22:50

Last Call for Entries for the 2012 Vodafone Americas Foundation Wireless Innovation Project & mHealth Alliance Award

December 31 Deadline Rapidly Approaching for Competition with $650,000 in Cash and Prizes for Wireless and mHealth Solutions



The Vodafone Americas Foundation and mHealth Alliance announced the last call for submissions for the annual Vodafone Americas Foundation Wireless Innovation Project™ and the mHealth Alliance Award, a competition designed to spark innovation and help solve pressing global issues. Proposals will be accepted through December 31.



"So far, we’ve received very unique and exciting solutions, and we’re encouraged by the caliber of the applicants who have submitted proposals," said June Sugiyama, Director of the Vodafone Americas Foundation. "This is the next generation of wireless innovation that can make a critical impact for problems facing millions of people around the globe.”



The Vodafone Americas Foundation™ launches the Wireless Innovation Project™ annually with a partnership with the mHealth Alliance. There is over $650,000 worth of prizes for solutions in the fields of education, health, access to communication, economic development, and the environment. Winners will acquire vast recognition as the frontrunners of a national competition. The partnership with the Vodafone Americas Foundation will last for three years following the presentation of the award.



Projects should be global in scope and must be at a stage of research where an advanced prototype or field/market test can occur during the award period. Proposals are due December 31, 2011, and winners will be announced at the Global Philanthropy Forum in April 2012. 



If you or someone you know is interested in applying, you can begin the application process at http://project.vodafone-us.com/application/questionnaire.php. Details about eligibility, the application, information on past winners and more can be found at project.vodafone-us.com. More information about the mHealth Alliance and its work can be found at mhealthalliance.org.




ABOUT the Vodafone Americas Foundation™
Vodafone Americas Foundation™ is part of Vodafone’s global network of foundations. It is affiliated with Vodafone Group Plc, the world's leading mobile telecommunications company, with ownership interests in more than 30 countries and Partner Markets in more than 40 countries. As of March 31, 2011, Vodafone had approximately 370 million proportionate customers worldwide. In the U.S., the foundation directs its philanthropic activities towards the San Francisco Bay and the Metro Denver Areas where most Vodafone employees live and work, and where it strives to make a positive and enduring impact on the community. The Foundation is driven by a passion for the world around us. It makes grants that help people in the community and around the world lead fuller lives.
 


ABOUT the mHealth Alliance
The mHealth Alliance champions the use of mobile technologies to improve health throughout the world. Working with diverse partners to integrate mHealth into multiple sectors, the Alliance serves as a convener for the mHealth community to overcome common challenges by sharing tools, knowledge, experience, and lessons learned. The mHealth Alliance advocates for more and better quality research and evaluation to advance the evidence base; seeks to build capacity among health and industry decision-makers, managers, and practitioners; promotes sustainable business models; and supports systems integration by advocating for standardization and interoperability of mHealth platforms. The mHealth Alliance also hosts HUB (Health Unbound), a global online community for resource sharing and collaborative solution generation. Hosted by the United Nations Foundation, and founded by the Rockefeller Foundation, Vodafone Foundation, and UN Foundation, the Alliance now also includes PEPFAR, HP, the GSM Association, and NORAD among its founding partners. For more information, visit www.mhealthalliance.org.

July 01 2011

18:26

Smartphone Sensors Could Revolutionize Digital Magazines

We've all done those personality and health quizzes in magazines. You know, the ones where you suspect that answer A will categorize you as the personality type you're trying to avoid, so you choose B instead.

Everyone does that, right?

These evasive strategies for magazine quizzes, though, could be a thing of the past as smartphones and tablet devices evolve to incorporate a variety of new sensors that will keep us honest. While they might not be able to assess your personality yet, sensors are rapidly becoming capable of detecting all kinds of information about you and your surroundings. These sensors will not only change digital magazines' editorial content and advertising, but also lead to entirely new ways of authoring content and serving readers.

Location Services Have Room to Grow

Many consumers already use location-sensing tools, such as GPS features on smartphones, to find nearby businesses. Some magazine and media applications have also integrated location-based features that display relevant content for a user's local area. But there's a lot more that can be done with location information as sensors improve, and as media companies take fuller advantage of what they will offer.

iphone-location.jpg

Location-based services still have space to evolve, said Wayne Chavez, an operations manager for the sensor division of Freescale, a semiconductor company that is developing a variety of sensors for mobile devices, among other products. Chavez said improved location sensors and related applications will combine both GPS data and magnetometer readings to determine the device's orientation and know which way the user is facing. That detail allows greater customization of information.

For example, imagine a tourist taking a picture of a notable building. The picture can easily be geo-tagged already with today's GPS sensors, but new sensors and related applications could gather more information, including "what direction you took the picture from. It can tell you based on your previous interests and queries what's around you near that building. You might be around the block from another historic building," Chavez said.

Software on the device -- such as, perhaps, a local magazine's app -- could then use the sensor's data to push to the user details of how to navigate to that next location of potential interest, as well as ways "to read more about a historical marker, at any length, with instant access to that media," Chavez said.

Magazines' editorial content could even dynamically change to reflect more detailed location information. Joseph J. Esposito, an independent media consultant, offered an example of how it might work.

"If you're reading a future edition of The New Yorker, maybe a story about a young couple that falls in love in New York, and you're walking along, then the story changes because you just walked in front of a Mexican restaurant," Esposito said. The story could update its content to harmonize with the reader's location and activity.

While some digital magazines have already experimented with contextual advertising based on location data, Esposito said the use of this sensor information eventually "will start to have an editorial direction as well."

google-earth-dot.jpg

There's room to improve contextual advertising based on location, too, for digital magazines and other media applications. Chavez suggests that location data could eventually be combined with information from "the cloud" -- online compilations of user information -- for more precise targeting.

"I see many providers saying, based on the location of your handset and your history, I can pre-filter and stream to you information that might be relevant to you," he said.

Sensor Publishing

Esposito's example of the dynamically updated New Yorker story, mentioned above, is just one way that sensor data might alter magazine content. As Esposito puts it, our phones are, in reality, sensors that we carry everywhere we go. Users of sensor-equipped mobile devices could serve as passive authors of projects that gather, analyze and present data from these sensors. Esposito calls this "sensor publishing" to distinguish it from crowdsourcing because it doesn't require participants' active involvement.

Digital magazines and other media applications could collect sensor data -- such as location, temperature, ambient light or other readings -- and find ways to incorporate the data into stories, or to make them stories in themselves.

"We become carriers or hosts, collecting data passively all the time," Esposito said. "It's different from how we like to think about our phones, but there's also passive use of the phone, when it picks up temperature or humidity. When you're collecting information from 350 million phones, now it's starting to get meaningful. Those little data aggregation points start to mean something."

Esposito noted that all types of sensors -- anything scientists use in laboratories, including spectroscopes or Geiger counters -- could eventually be incorporated into mobile devices, making all kinds of data-gathering opportunities possible for the creation or enhancement of digital magazine content and other media.

Sensing Health Information

Sensors might also mean the end of cheating on magazines' health quizzes, along with new ways of experiencing health-related content. A range of health sensors are already available and, as their cost falls, media companies could distribute them so that the data users gather about themselves as part of daily life could be integrated into various types of content.

Carré Technologies is a Montreal-based company developing health sensors that can be integrated into clothing. The sensors will interact with mobile devices to collect and analyze health information, and could have intriguing media-related uses.

"People in general are taking more responsibility for managing their own health," said Pierre-Alexandre Fournier, president of Carré Technologies. "It's going to help preventive health [care] ... A lot of this monitoring can be done remotely now because of the Internet."

Fournier said health sensors like his company's are useful for a variety of fitness and health applications, such as games, biofeedback, and health observation.

"The sensors we make are meant to be worn 24/7, so there's a huge amount of data created by just one person," he said. "There are a lot of creative ways to show that data, to make it useful for the users."

One way to experience that data might be to have it integrated with media content. For example, a digital magazine application that collected health data from a reader using these sensors could then offer customized diet or exercise recommendations within the context of the magazine, as well as pool data from users anonymously to produce sensor publishing projects. Articles could describe the activity patterns of the publication's audience, contextualizing the individual reader's activity level within that broader picture, and then offering suggestions for improvement.

iphone-health-folder.jpg

This approach to providing personally relevant health information might be an opportunity for health-related magazines and other media seeking to capitalize on demographic trends in their mobile applications.

"One of the megatrends here is our aging population," Chavez said. "As our baby boomers reach their mid-60s now, many of them are very tech aware, and looking for telehealth solutions, whether that's out of personal interest or clinically driven."

Naturally, there are privacy concerns related to the collection of health and other personal data. "I'm not sure how much people want the media company to have access to their physical data," Fournier said. "Media companies already collect a lot of data on people. I'm not sure how far people will be able to go before they start to react."

It seems inevitable, though, that we'll see more integration of varied sensors into our mobile devices, and more creative applications for them in magazine and media applications, for both editorial content and advertising. What we've seen so far are just the earliest stages of sensors' uses in the media world.

"We [just passed] the fourth anniversary of the iPhone, and it's been transformative. The first app for reading books on a phone came in July 2008," Esposito said, offering a reminder of how recently these digital possibilities have evolved. "All this world we're talking about here is so preciously new. But it's difficult to imagine turning back the clock."


Maps and graphs image by Courtney Bolton on Flickr

Smartphone photo by Gesa Henselmans on Flickr.

Google Earth image by Miki Yoshihito on Flickr.

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Linfield College. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

May 25 2011

14:50

Can Seattle Save the World? Project Argo Event Takes on Global Health

Last month, about 700 people packed an auditorium in Seattle, not for a Microsoft developer's conference, but to discuss whether the city's burgeoning global health movement can eradicate disease and poverty across the globe. It was a live forum sponsored by public radio station KPLU and its Project Argo blog, Humanosphere. The event was provocatively named, "Can Seattle Save the World? (Poverty, Health and Chocolate)."

Town-Hall-full-panel-sized.jpg

It's exactly the kind of event we had in mind when we began working with NPR member stations last year on Argo. We'd been hoping that the offline and online worlds could collide in a way that would lead to serious discussion around weighty topics.

"The idea of community engagement is always something we'd hoped for in a variety of ways," said Jennifer Strachan, assistant general manager and director of public media at KPLU. "Our struggle was, what kind of a topic could draw a crowd around global health?"

For those of us who are evangelists of digital storytelling or espouse certain philosophies at conferences that usually start with, "The future of" in it, this is another way to measure that elusive "engagement" metric we all talk about. Certainly, we can't ignore critical web analytics -- uniques, pageviews, comments. But when you fill a large venue at $10 a head, you've tapped into something important.

Humanosphere blog

KPLU's Humanosphere is one of 12 NPR Project Argo blogs, whose mission is to develop deep content in a niche vertical that's critical to a local community but resonates nationally.

The Seattle-based site draws modest traffic numbers, punctuated with spikes when writing of global health/poverty issues more broadly in the news (see Greg Mortenson's "Three Cups of Tea" scandal).

But on this night, those who turned out to listen and ask questions acted as if they were going to see rock stars, Strachan said.

Tom Paulson, Humanosphere blogger and the evening's host, is most definitely an unlikely rock star. But he's been covering the growing movement in Seattle -- that goes far beyond the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation -- for years as a newspaper reporter at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Paulson brought in experts from the Gates Foundation, the University of Washington, PATH and Theo Chocolates (hence the "and chocolate" in the title).

The event was live-blogged on Humanosphere, videotaped for Seattle's municipal cable TV channel, and tweeted via its own hashtag, #SEAsaves.

Engaging Young People

While Paulson said he's aware that influentials in the global health space like Humanosphere, he noted, "One thing that was confirmed for me is how big a deal this is for young people. A huge number of people in the crowd were college age or in their 20s. I was surprised at the sophistication of the questions, diversity of opinion, and the excitement for the subject matter."

So the question for Humanosphere is what practical effect the event will have on the blog itself going forward. The answer so far is that it has done little to increase traffic on the blog. Paulson admits the evening was long on policy and short on pitching the blog to this crowd, perhaps something he might do a bit more of next time. And yes, Paulson does expect there to be another live event in the fall.

But for KPLU, and its potential funders, the message on this night was there is an engaged community in Seattle willing to engage in a serious discussion about disease and poverty, and that public radio can be the impetus for that conversation.

As to whether Seattle can actually save the world, Paulson provided the answer to the gathering in the first five minutes. "We were kind of kidding around with the title. Obviously Seattle can't save the world. Bill Gates can't even probably save Zune."

February 11 2011

18:08

Steve Williams, Director, Corporate Social Responsbility, SAP

Hi everyone,

As part of the global SAP Corporate Social Responsibility team, I am responsible for managing our worldwide Technology Donation program that provides free reporting and data visualizaton tools to over 900 non-profts each year in 15 countries. We have been partnering with TechSoup for quite a while now and am excited about the many possibilites to engage.

I am most interested in building capacity in the non-profit sector through technology. At SAP we can bring a wide experience in business management along with the skills of 60,000 employees aroud the world that want to contribute. We also have a large developer ecosystem part of the SAP Community Network. We have also been supporting interesting work around impact measurement for non-profits and social enterprises through the Demonstrating Value Project

What I am most interested in from collaborators is understanding how the different pieces of technology (hardware, networking, different software systems) can be integrated and easily consumed by non-profits. I'm also interested in going beyond traditional training on specific applications to helping organizations create strategies and build operational systems that can deliver better results. Finally I want to learn from, and share with, colleagues best practices on engaging employees with technology donations and how to embed these practices into the business so that CSR programs are not "off to the side" but a core part of operations.

You can find me on twitter @constructive and my (infrequently updated) blog at http://www.constructive.net

October 15 2010

10:21

Last chance to VOTE for Tole-rants connect for the 2010 FACT Social Justice Challenge

Today is the final day of community voting for the 2010 FACT Social Justice Challenge. We need your support so please come VOTE. Let us start by saying a huge thank you to all the people who have already voted for the 60 seconds of Hope campaign, your support has been fantastic. 

VOTING requires a couple of minutes of your time. We wish it was easier, so here are some short directions to help make it as quick as possible:

1. Follow our link - Click VOTE and be redirected to another window where you will need to quickly register.

read more

October 13 2010

15:43

Karen Armstrong Tole-rants about compassion. Vote for Tole-rants Connect for the 2010 FACT social justice challenge

Voting is still open for the 2010 FACT Social Justice Challenge and Tole-rants Connect needs your help. Please spare a few moments and VOTE for 60 seconds of Hope.

The Tole-rants movement has garnered tremendous support in its inaugural year from partners such as The Council of Europe, The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, Search for Common Ground, Odyssey Networks, Youth Leader Magazine, and many other inspirational organizations.

read more

October 05 2010

08:11

How mobile phones help improve health services

The use of mobile phones has been increasing at an accelerated rate all over Africa. 

In some regions we have seen the impact on health systems, where health centres are now able to call hospitals for an ambulance when there is an emergency. Similarly, in conflict areas, we've seen family members who are separated and displaced by fighting who are able to find each other again easily and warn other friends and family of danger. It has changed the way people manage their survival in the most extreme situations.

However, mobile coverage comes at a cost, and resources are not available to all. 

read more

July 27 2010

11:15

Reflections on the Birmingham Hacks & Hackers Hackday (#hhhbrum)

map of GP surgeries - first thousand results

Last week I spent a thoroughly fascinating day at a hackday for journalists and web developers organised by Scraperwiki. It’s an experience that every journalist should have, for reasons I’ll explore below but which can be summed up thus: it will challenge the way you approach information as a journalist.

Disappointingly, the mainstream press and broadcast media were represented by only one professional journalist. This may be due to the time of year, but then that didn’t prevent journalists attending last week’s Liverpool event in droves. Senior buy-in is clearly key here – and I fear the Birmingham media are going to left behind if this continues.

Because on the more positive side there was a strong attendance from local bloggers such as Michael Grimes, Andy Brightwell (Podnosh), Clare White (Talk About Local) and Nicola Hughes (Your Local Scientist) – plus Martin Moore from the Media Standards Trust and some journalism students.

How it worked

After some brief scene-setting presentations, and individual expressions of areas of interest, the attendees split into 5 topic-based groups. They were:

  • The data behind the cancellation of Building for Schools projects
  • Leisure facilities in the Midlands.
  • Issues around cervical smear testing
  • Political donations
  • And our group, which decided to take on the broad topic of ‘health’, within the particular context of plans to give spending power to GP consortia.

By the end of the day all groups had results – which I’ll outline at the end of the post – but more interesting to me was the process of developers and journalists working together, and how it changed both camp’s working practices.

The work process

This is a genuinely collaborative process – not the linear editorial-and-production divide that so many journalists are used to.

Developers and journalists are continually asking each other for direction as the project develops: while the developers are shaping data into a format suitable for interpretation, the journalist might be gathering related data to layer on top of it or information that would illuminate or contextualise it.

This made for a lot of hard journalistic work – finding datasets, understanding them, and thinking of the stories within them, particularly with regard to how they connected with other sets of data and how they might be useful for users to interrogate themselves.

It struck me as a different skill to that normally practised by journalists – we were looking not for stories but for ‘nodes’: links between information such as local authority or area codes, school identifiers, and so on. Finding a story in data is relatively easy when compared to a project like this, and it did remind me more of the investigative process than the way a traditional newsroom works.

Team roles

Afterwards I wondered what an effective hackday team might consist of, organisationally. Typically hackdays split people into journalists and coders, but in practice the skillsets are more subtle than that. Being a journalist, for example, doesn’t guarantee that you can find datasets; likewise the range of data we came across made it necessary for someone to keep track of it all (social bookmarking helps) and ensure we avoided distraction – but also were able to adapt and change if a more interesting discovery became possible.

So here is an initial attempt to outline the sort of roles a hackday team might work best with:

  • Coders, obviously – some knowledge of datasets is advantage; having pre-cleaned a dataset even better. For this reason it may be worth using a wiki to lead up to the hackday to identify questions and datasets of interest so that work might be done in advance.
  • A project manager of sorts. Someone to keep track of the focus of the project and the datasets involved or needed (and the progress with those). Again, a wiki might suit this well – or a Posterous blog so that those outside the hackday can more easily comment.
  • Someone with computer assisted reporting (CAR) skills to find datasets.
  • A journalist, blogger or expert who understands the data, e.g. codes, context, etc. – and/or who to speak to to get more data or context
  • Someone to do visualisation. If no one is able, then an alternative might be to assign someone the role of creating the visualisation and as part of that, researching visualisation tools [LINK] and examples.

I’m probably missing roles – particularly within the subtleties of coding – so please post a comment if you can think of others.

What we did

Broadly we had gathered because of a shared interest in health. In discussion we decided that the key topical element was the plan to hand spending power to GP consortia. I’m not sure whether this was too broad a topic or whether that actually made for a longer-term project that we will return to. The initial thought was that we would create a resource that would become increasingly useful as the handover took place.

The first thing we needed was a clean list of all GP practices in GB. By midday Rob Styles had compiled such a list in RDF format, including location, their relationship to the Primary Care Trust (PCT), and their LSOA (Lower Layer Super Output Area) Code. In addition this had a unique URI for each practice code and a URI for each PCT code. These things are important in linking this data to other datasets.

Clare White, meanwhile, was identifying indicators & data to add on, such as life expectancy, income, etc.

Keith Alexander was turning life expectancy into another RDF with area codes as unique URIs, with a view to match to codes from other area using geocoding.

Martin Moore was also tracking down data; Mark Bentley tracked down PCT and SHA populations; and I used my Twitter network to find other sources, while using advanced search techniques to track down a range of NHS data websites (there are, it appears, a lot), including earnings data and translations of industry jargon. Andrew Mackenzie actually used a telephone, calling people at West Midlands Observatory, getting contextual information and leads for NHS data, and working out ONS subgroup area codes & ONS group areas.

If that paragraph has not completely geeked you out, you’re doing well.

I bookmarked most of the data sources I found at http://delicious.com/paulb/data+health. Here are just a selection:

The results

By the end of the day we had a national map of all 8,000 GP practices (the first 1,000 shown in the image above) – quite an achievement in itself, but not headline-grabbing yet. To give us an editorial angle for the end-of-day presentations, Rob searched for a spreadsheet of mental health prevalence and came up with the headlines that Manchester was the most ‘phobic’ place in Britain, and the Isle of Wight the least.

The next step would be to add GP population information (taken from an FOI response on What Do They Know) and Quality and Outcomes Framework data (scraped from the GP practice results database). There may be ways to match results from the GMC database of medical practitioners to practices too, while FOI requests could add more specific information, and I’ve since been sent links to other potentially interesting datasets.

The Scraperwiki blog gives more detail on what the other projects produced – all of them were hugely impressive. Andy Brightwell blogged about their leisure data project – which “hoped to find out more about the relationship between population density, deprivation and the provision of leisure facilities” here.

Both links provide further insight into the possibilities of data journalism in just one day.

Thankfully, it’s not going to be just one day. Podnosh have already organised a Speed Data event, and there are further hack days planned for Birmingham – specifically around health – by Talis and NHSlocal.

July 24 2010

08:50

Wireless Access for Health Project Works to Improve Public Health Care in the Philippines

On June 22nd and 23rd Wireless Access for Health (WAH) announced the results of its first year piliot project at public events in Moncada and Makati, Philippines.

WAH is a broad public-private partnership in the Philippines that has succeeded in enhancing a locally developed electronic medical record system and introducing it into four rural health units in four different municipalities in Tarlac Province, Luzon. The enhanced system is capable of generating and transmitting all 23 reports required for the Philippine Field Health Service Information System (FHSIS) over the SMART 3G mobile phone network.

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June 07 2010

15:45

Shortlist announced for Mind Journalist of the Year 2010

Mental health charity Mind has announced the shortlist for its annual media awards. The prizes, which commend excellence in reporting on mental health issues, include journalist of the year and student journalist of the year.

Those nominated are as follows – the comments on individuals come from Mind’s awards team:

Mind Journalist of the Year Award
Edward Davie, British Medical Association News
“Edward Davie submitted a series of articles on the issue of private healthcare providers refusing to treat NHS patients with psychiatric conditions. Davie’s articles were noteworthy for the depth of personal investigation involved and the clarity with which he highlighted this tricky area.”

Nick Morrison, the Times Educational Supplement
“Nick Morrison demonstrates a deep understanding of stress and mental well-being at work in a feature on the mental health of teaching professionals. Packed with first-hand experiences of teachers from all walks of life, this honest account is a wake up call for the education sector.”

Alexi Mostrous & Ben Macintyre, the Times
“In a frank and exposing article Alexi Mostrous and Ben Macintyre investigate mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder among current and former soldiers, and present revealing insights from ex-service personnel who have experienced mental distress.”

Barry Nelson, the Northern Echo
“Local journalist Barry Nelson writes on topics ranging from stigma and PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] to the use of art therapy as a mental health treatment, showing the many ways in which mental health can impact upon people’s lives both directly and indirectly.”

Deborah Orr, the Guardian/G2
“Deborah Orr recounts her experiences shadowing professionals involved in sectioning patients under the Mental Health Act, producing a sobering take on the challenges faced daily by mental health workers and the realities surrounding the process of admission to psychiatric care.”

Max Pemberton, the Evening Standard and the Daily Telegraph
“Max Pemberton’s columns explore the stigma and misunderstanding that still persists around mental health. A doctor as well as a journalist, Pemberton presents different perspectives and incites readers to think differently about how subtle mental health discrimination can sometimes be.”

Patrick Strudwick, the Independent
“In an in-depth investigative feature into the world of straight-to-gay conversions where homosexuality is seen as a mental health problem, Patrick Strudwick challenges the reader with controversial questions such as whether tighter regulation of counsellors and psychotherapists is necessary to protect the public from abuse at the hands of therapists.”

Student Journalist Award
Jennie Agg, Student direct Mancunion (University of Manchester)

Daniella Graham, Gairrhydd (Cardiff University)

Laura Mackenzie, Leeds Student (Leeds University)

Adam Walmesley, Exeposé (University of Exeter)

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May 14 2010

15:39

A Challenge to Create Mobile Solutions In South Africa

Vodacom Challenge LogoVodacom is hosting three challenges to support people who are using mobile technology to solve problems dealing with education, health, or community information that are deployable in South Africa. Their hope is to find projects that can demonstrate value for users, ease of use and deployment, scalablability, sustainability, and innovation. The winning teams will receive R20,000 ($2,646) and the winner with the most promise will receive an additional R20,000.

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March 18 2010

09:20

November 26 2009

16:13

Alternative Medicine: Essential Oils

Health Tips. Essential Oils are the basis of Aromatherapy treatment to diseases in a patient. Essential Oils are used to alter or enhance emotional state of mind to achieve goals. The connection of mind with body is a powerful force and Essential Oils are used to make use of this force in their way to providing treatment to a patient.

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November 06 2009

15:08

Visualising the Guardian Datablog

I’m doing a regular weekly visualisation for the excellent Guardian Datablog, the front-end for an amazing library of statistics and data, lovingly hand-gathered by The Guardian.

My first post is about Deadly Drugs.

There’s been a furore over here in the UK about the dangers of illegal drugs. The Government has sacked its most senior drugs advisor, Dr Professor Nutt, after he claimed cannabis was no more harmful than alcohol. And that horse-riding, and specifically ‘equasy’ (Equine Addiction Syndrome) was riskier than taking ecstasy. (Statistically he’s correct. His study here.).

Anyway, digging at the numbers behind his statements and how drugs are reported in the popular press, I found some stuff I didn’t expect about drug harms.

Check out the article on The Guardian blog for detail and data. You want both right?

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