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Data provided by citizens can be a valuable (and often overlooked) source of information for local authorities, helping them to develop services around what matters most to residents.

While this type of data has traditionally been scarce, our report shows councils are exploring new ways of finding out how their citizens think and feel about where they live, and what they would like to change - both by asking them and by harnessing citizen-generated data.

Bristol’s damp-sensing frog project is an example of this in action.

What is it?

The Citizen Sensing project is all about using data to understand and respond to identified social problems. The scheme came from a series of discussions with residents, run by Knowle West Media Centre and Bristol City Council, about the issues that mattered most to people. Damp housing was cited as one of residents’ biggest concerns, and became the focus of the first pilot project.

The design phase explored a number of ways to measure levels of damp in people’s homes, as well as ways to help them deal with the problem. While damp-sensing frogs collect data on conditions within properties, residents are also empowered to submit and access other types of data to develop a clearer picture on what leads to damp and how this can be managed.

How does it work?

Residents who volunteered to take part in the project were given a frog box. In the middle of the frog’s back is a temperature and humidity sensor, connected to a Raspberry Pi 3 computer, which collects data every five minutes and saves this to a simple database.

A website gives the householder information on environmental conditions, such as the current temperature, humidity and ‘dew point’ (the highest temperature at which airborne water vapour will condense to form liquid dew). Residents were also given ‘lily pads’ to keep a diary of events that might lead to damp - for example, when someone is showering, cooking or washing clothes. This information, combined with the data from the sensor, helps the council (and residents) better understand what conditions create damp and how best to respond.

What are the benefits?

While it’s too early to measure the full impact of this ongoing project, the project is already providing residents with knowledge and resources to help them solve issues of damp or challenge landlords to take action.

Longer term, the council hopes this will become one of a number of initiatives that empower residents with the tools and know-how to solve some of the problems they face.

Photo credit: ‘Damp-busters’ frog sensor - The Bristol Approach to Citizen Sensing, Knowle West Media Centre.