The amazing data probe helping journalists make sense of Manchester’s smoggy Bonfire Night

The Sensemaker project allows the Manchester Evening News and researchers at UCLan to gather real time data around issues impacting local people. Paul Gallagher, executive editor (digital development) with Reach plc explains more

This is the chart that remembers the 5th of November.

Data taken from an air quality sensor south of Manchester shows clear peaks in particulate matter in the atmosphere in the lead up to Bonfire night last week.

Anyone in the city on Tuesday evening will have been aware of the thick, smoky smog created by the countless fireworks and bonfires on a still and clear night.

But how bad was the air quality? And which was the worst night for bonfire pollution over the first week of November?

Journalists at the Manchester Evening News are working on a project to help answer these and other questions about how data sensors can be used for local news.

The Google-funded SenseMaker project held a public workshop on Wednesday evening in Manchester city centre just as the bonfire night smoke cleared.
Among those who attended was Scott Davies, a software engineer who has installed the pollution sensor at his home near Stockport.

He shared the chart (above) generated over several nights leading up to Bonfire night to illustrate how data can be used to illustrate a local news story.

The graph shows how levels of PM10 began to rise from the 29th October, reaching a peak at 19:38 on the evening of Sunday 3rd November and then rising again on Bonfire night.

SenseMaker is a joint project between the Manchester Evening News and the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, funded by the Google GNI scheme.

So far, the engineers at UCLAN have built two home sensors to measure air quality and also developed software which detects and analyses what colour clothes people are wearing in a crowd.

The M.E.N. has supplied the home sensors to the Levenshulme Bee Network in South Manchester, a community group campaigning to create better spaces for walking and cycling and to improve public areas.

The Sensemaker public workshop invited people to pitch ideas to the project

Campaigners hope to use data from the sensors to help demonstrate the need for action in their community.
The first set of sensors were built after journalists and news editors at the M.E.N. pitched ideas for how they could use data for local journalism.

But at the public workshop on Wednesday evening, the SenseMaker team opened up the project to the wider community inviting academics, campaigners and technicians to contribute their ideas.

The meeting at the Federation, a co-working space established by the Co-op for digital and social innovation, was hosted by John Mills, of UCLAN’s Media Innovation Studio.
It is the first in a number of public events planned for the next phase of the SenseMaker project.

jAmong the ideas discussed were a sensor to count the number of cyclists who use a cycle lane, or one that measures the traffic speeds around a school.

John Mills

John said: “Our SenseMaker workshop was designed to really understand how data could be used by a variety of communities. What types of issues or challenges they face, or where they see the opportunities for data to make a difference.
“We talked about a range of ideas and opportunities that spanned city-wide sentiment, transportation challenges and city livability.

“The plan now is to figure out what sensors could serve these issues, and how might stories and data make a difference to people living and working in the city. We’re hoping to deploy some initial prototypes in the next couple of months.”

The next steps will be assessing audience feedback on uses for Sensemaker

There were also suggestions for a ‘fake news’ sensor and a device which could measure the ‘happiest place in Manchester’.
The ideas will be further assessed by the engineers at UCLAN to determine which will be feasible and can be built and put into action as part of the SenseMaker project, which runs until March 2020.

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The stories behind the stories, from the regional press in the UK

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