20th February 2013

Open data, big data, big changes


Today we have a great guest blog from GeoVation winner, Ed Dowding who tells us what Sustaination is aiming to achieve and how they will be doing this using gathering and using open data:

Imagine if there were a shop in which you knew that everything had been sustainably and fairly sourced.

If you picked up an apple, it would be from the nearest, most viable orchard; if you choose burgers, they would be locally produced from locally grazed cattle; and if it was February the tomatoes would be preserved ones – you’ll savour the anticipation of fresh ones when they’re back in season. In the meantime there’s winter stews to enjoy.

Wouldn’t it be great to shop there? I’d love to know that the money I spend isn’t creating hardship for a farmer – it’s generating livelihoods; it isn’t polluting the planet – it’s actually purifying water; it isn’t hindering future generations – it’s actively enriching the soil; and, in short, that we’re doing the very best we know that we can do.

That’s the vision we’re working towards, and that’s the vision GeoVation is helping us achieve.

So how do we do it?

We’re working on two complementary projects:

1) Foodtrade —  a business-to-business food trade network. It’s  really simple: if you’re a food business (of any size or type, from farm-to-fork) you tell us where you are and what you buy or sell. We’ll try match-make you with others near you. We also do a lot of other clever stuff, and we’ll be launching that soon.

2) I Want Better Food — a new type of campaign site where we help consumers and businesses work together to create a better food system.Image of the Website I want better food

The timing really couldn’t be better (unfortunately). The recent horse meat scandal has brought to mind, again, that we need to take more responsibility for our food.

So how does I Want Better Food work?

Well, you know how Clubcard and Nectar collect information on what customers are buying, and then use this to improve the offers they make to them? We do a similar thing, but for the benefit of all the small businesses who can’t afford to collect their own data.Image of Options on I want better food website

People visit the website, put in their email and postcode, and then say what they’d like from their food providers.

There are options around food (eg local, seasonal, cheaper), how we buy it (later opening hours, less packaging..), and where we want to buy it from (independent shop, supermarket, veg box..)

We take all this data, analyse it, and create ‘heatmaps’ of demand, so when we have more data you’ll be able to browse an area and see what people there would like.

We use this to encourage local companies to take action in response to this visible demand. A company can know that “there are 95 people in your catchment area who say they want longer opening hours”. We can then help them take it a step further with “if you start trialling longer opening hours, we’ll email people locally who asked for it, let them know, and encourage them to support you”.

It’s about the mature approach of realising that we need to work with the companies to help them change. Local, independent producers, processors, and retailers are the best way for us to have a healthy and resilient food system which creates meaningful livelihoods. But it’s a struggle to run a small business, but they are the ones who stay open when it snows, buy from local farmers who keep the pastures green, and put fresh vegetables on your plate every day – without scandal or protest.

And if we can make it easier for them to put good food on the shelves and menus, I think that’s the least we can do.

Please add your voice to www.iwantbetterfood.com